Building confidence about First Nations contexts in the classroom
Expert Contributors, First Nations Culture and History, First Nations Voice

Actioning research to build confidence about First Nations contexts in the classroom

Building confidence about First Nations contexts in the classroom

The release of the Australian Institute for teaching and school leadership report has made identifying cultural inclusion in the classroom and reviewing teaching practice a requirement. Dr Tracy Woodroffe discusses what teachers can do to ensure professional development is relevant to their classroom practice.

When busy with work and the general hum drum of every day, we can find it very difficult to make time for ourselves. The idea that we should spend even more time on work doesn’t always sit well, and teachers can already feel overwhelmed with the happenings in their classroom. However, as teachers, we are expected to participate in a certain amount of professional development to enhance our practice, perhaps even apply for a promotion, and meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

With the release of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) report on Building a Culturally Responsive Australian Teaching Workforce, being able to identify cultural inclusion in the classroom and reviewing teaching practice becomes a requirement. AITSL will be releasing resources in the coming months. These resources will ‘help teachers understand their level of cultural responsiveness and improve or enhance their practice’. According to an AITSL communication dated 26 July 2022, the resources and the work done in the Cultural Competency Project are a response ‘from the profession to be better equipped to provide culturally safe learning environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and to teach about their histories and cultures’. This statement indicates that teachers may still feel underprepared to teach Australian First Nations students and First Nations content, hence the need for the resources.

So, what can teachers do to ensure professional development is as relevant as possible to their classroom practice?

Teachers can be researchers in their classrooms, not researching the children but examining themselves. Teachers as researchers is not a new concept, but often, teachers’ time gets taken up with other seemingly more urgent matters. Good teaching must include time management and balancing the act of teaching with developing the art of teaching. Taking time to reflect on practice and then making time to try doing something different is the start of an action learning process. Plan, Act, Reflect and Learn are the critical components of an action learning cycle. To begin the action learning cycle, you must start with reflection. Reflection may be a sticking point. Which aspect of cultural responsiveness, cultural competency or cultural safety should you reflect on? There are times when we don’t know what we don’t know. Initial questions might help, such as – what do you think you know already? What resources could you use to find out more about the concepts?

How are they relevant to you as a teacher, your classroom, and your practice? Reflecting will help you focus on areas you are unsure of and perhaps assumptions that you hold about the concepts that are not necessarily correct.

Using a mix of your reflections and identified areas of potential learning combined with AITSL resources, when released, will provide you with a good starting point for further developing your skills and knowledge through an action learning research cycle to enable you to be confident in your cultural responsiveness. Once you have reflected and identified an area of potential learning to work on, planning is next. What are you going to trial in your practice, and how will you evaluate the outcome? How much time are you going to allocate to the activity? What will success look like? Once the plan is set, you can act on it. During the action stage, you will need to keep anecdotal notes similar to a learning record. The cyclical nature of the process means that we will reflect further on the outcome before deciding what else to tweak in our practice, and the cycle can start again.

Teaching requires rigorous processes of measurement and adjustment as part of the teaching and learning sequence. The goal is to be the best teacher we can be to provide the best learning for all our students. Providing more resources to assist teachers in being culturally responsive is reasonable, primarily if research and teachers’ sentiments identify feelings of being unconfident or under-prepared. The test will be if teachers access the resources and take steps to be researchers in their classrooms, committing to reflecting on practice and implementing action research as advocates for change and improved educational outcomes for Australian First Nations students.

Dr Tracy Woodroffe is a Warumungu Luritja woman with years of experience in the field of education – Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. The majority of that time has been spent in the classroom teaching and in associated leadership roles. She is a lecturer at Charles Darwin University who coordinates, develops and delivers teacher education units about teaching Indigenous learners and the importance of Indigenous knowledge in education.

This article was originally published in Education Matters Magazine – to read the issue download it here. 

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