Time out to connect to country

28 November 2011

A new program of immersion in Aboriginal culture is being used to help educators inform and transform teaching and learning practice in the classroom.

Establishing genuine relationships with Aboriginal students by learning about their cultural, linguistic and family backgrounds is at the heart of the Connecting to Country program, which was completed for the first time last month.

Fifteen principals and 48 teachers from 15 schools in Hunter Central Coast region participated in the five-day professional development program.

The program is being rolled out incrementally to other regions until Term 4, 2012, in consultation with regional and local Aboriginal Education Consultative groups (AECGs).

Cultural immersion

Connecting to Country comprises three days of intensive, in-the-field cultural immersion focusing on local Aboriginal culture and history followed by two days of professional learning where principals, newly transferred teachers and new scheme teachers translate what they have learned into quality school leadership strategies and teaching practices.

The immersion program, developed by the NSW AECG, aims to have participants develop a true and deep understanding of who their students are and what their students' individual stories involve.

The professional learning days are facilitated by the Aboriginal Education and Training directorate in conjunction with regional Aboriginal Education teams.

Hunter Central Coast regional director Robyn McKerihan said Connecting to Country would have an impact on an individual and system-wide level and would go from strength to strength.

Developing a greater understanding

She said principals and staff in her region - home to the Hunter and to the Central Coast regional AECGs - not only gained a greater understanding of the cultural values that were really important for their Aboriginal students but also had the opportunity, in a non-confrontational, mutual setting, to develop really strong local partnerships and relationships.

They gained a much greater understanding of local inter-agency support, how the communities were working with those local agencies and also what community resources - both places and people - were available.

Ms McKerihan said the program gave them a new insight into how to embed cultural awareness and recognition of prior learning into a teaching and learning program.

 "From the AECG perspective, they were just delighted to see the level of engagement of staff and principals in their world," she said.

"[The AECG members] were keen to see how they could effectively implement a true and enhanced partnership ... in a school to enhance the learning of their kids.

"It really is about stepping back and seeing the learning journey of kids from the perspective of the community as well as the educators."

There are 143 schools participating in the initiative, including the 88 government focus schools listed in the current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan.

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