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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Taking it on: An update on the Dare to Lead project

Dare To Lead is a national project funded by the Commonwealth and led by the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (APAPDC). The initiative aims to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in all parts of Australia. The Dare to Lead Coalition also aims to contribute to the process of reconciliation through improved interaction, communication and understanding across cultures. The project is a core commitment of APAPDC's constituent associations, representing Australia's primary and secondary principals across the Government, Catholic and Independent school sectors.

Dare To Lead commenced in 2000, with a series of national and state forums that involved more than 1300 participants. In 2003 the initiative is being extended and strengthened through the Coalition strategy, which involves schools and other agencies joining forces in a common effort to pursue improved outcomes.

Schools are encouraged to participate regardless of whether they have Indigenous students enrolled. While member schools with Indigenous students focus on achieving clearly defined targets in literacy, numeracy and completion rates, other schools are committing themselves to advancing reconciliation and enhancing teaching and learning about Indigenous Australians. Organisations and agencies other than schools are committing themselves to publicising and supporting the work of the Coalition as well as developing their own initiatives.

Dare To Lead: Taking it on commenced with a national forum held in Sydney in April, attended by more than 250 school leaders from across Australia. A series of State and Territory launches and forums have taken place since then, with more than 600 schools and other agencies having joined the Coalition.

The words 'Taking it on' embody the commitment involved in joining the project. The commitment is not just to offer moral or rhetorical support, but to act. As well as joining the Coalition and supporting the State and Territory Dare to Lead forums, principals and other school leaders have committed themselves to initiating and leading actions within their own schools that will promote the improved outcomes. APAPDC executive member Ed Bray encapsulated this at the national launch by identifying two questions that principals need to answer: What will happen in my own school? What will I make work in my own environment?

School principals, in particular, are key agents of change in improving educational outcomes, as well as the wider purposes of the project. As Jackie Huggins, co-chair of Reconciliation Australia stated: 'Principals can be a lightning rod for reconciliation within communities.'

But for this to happen, principals need to be daring. May O'Brien, chairperson of WA's Aboriginal Education and Training Council put it this way: 'Principals - you are the ones that make your school or break your school. You must have the vision and zeal to make things happen. I dare you to go out on a limb, and make the aims of this project a reality.'

Also, it is vital that principals galvanise their schools and school communities for a long-term commitment, so that the results achieved by the project will be sustainable. This is not an easy proposition, given all the other pressures and challenges that principals need to deal with in their work. Noelene Horton, chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools, told the national launch: 'It is easy to be inspired, enthused to sign up, then become stifled by the busyness of school life. If we sign up, we must be held to account for what we say we'll do.'

The accountability issue is addressed in the commitment given by member schools to achieve defined improvements in student achievement for Indigenous students within a given timeframe. For primary schools, members commit to a 10% or better improvement in literacy performance levels at year 5 by 2006, while secondary schools commit to a 10% or better improvement in Year 12 completion rates by the same date.

All schools that join the Coalition, including those without Indigenous students enrolled, commit to improving the quality of their teaching about the Indigenous peoples of Australia, as well as to advancing the cause of reconciliation more broadly.

There are many practical steps that school leaders can initiate in their schools to support these aims. For example:

  • Building personal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
  • Improving the teaching about Indigenous people and cultures, through incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives across the curriculum, or through discrete studies in particular learning areas
  • As part of this process of improvement, all Dare to Lead Coalition member schools undertake to review their own curriculum related to the teaching of Indigenous issues and perspectives
  • Joining in celebrations including National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week and National Reconciliation Week
  • Acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the school environment, for example by beginning major school events with a 'Welcome to country', or by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where the school is located. Schools might also display local Indigenous art, artefacts and other public signs and symbols as a sign of the Institution's acknowledgment and appreciation of Indigenous cultures.

Joining the Coalition is a voluntary commitment, and there are no negative or punitive aspects to the process, for example if the target goals are not met. There is no financial cost involved, but members will need to commit focus, time and effort.

To read about the forums and launches across Australia or to find out more about the project, please visit the Dare to Lead website, or contact Andrea Harms, Dare to Lead Professional Officer, APAPDC, on (08) 8245 9800 or email andrea@apapdc.edu.au


Subject Headings

Aboriginal peoples
Aboriginal students
School and community
Torres Strait Islanders