National Reconciliation Week is held annually between 27 May to 3 June. It’s a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
The National Reconciliation Week 2022 theme, Be Brave. Make Change. is a challenge to everyone to ‘Be Brave’ and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so society can ‘Make Change’ for the benefit of all Australians. For school leaders, it is a call to make reconciliation a priority in their learning communities, not just during NRW, but every week of the year.
Leading Reconciliation in your school
The education system, and school leaders in particular play a vital role in giving young Australians the skills and insight to make an informed contribution to the reconciliation process; and to encourage and support teachers and educators to engage in their own learning, ‘un-learning’ and ‘re-learning’ to build a better future together. In fact, Reconciliation Australia’s landmark 2021 State of Reconciliation in Australia Report consistently asserts education as a driving force in the reconciliation movement.
Historically, the formal education system in Australia has served as a tool of colonisation. ‘’Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, pedagogies and perspectives have been systematically excluded from mainstream education institutions, policies and frameworks,” says Reconciliation Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Ms Karen Mundine. “As a result, generations of Australians have grown up with an inadequate understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and very limited awareness of the true histories of Australia. Education institutions have contributed to a lack of historical acceptance, deepening inequalities and inequities, and disrupting pathways towards reconciliation.”
There have been some recent and important shifts in education regarding the inclusion and understanding of First Nations cultures and of reconciliation in Australian schools. In 2008, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians articulated the need for students to understand and acknowledge the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to learn how to contribute to reconciliation. This was agreed to by all Australian Education Ministers.
The Declaration led to the establishment of an Australian Curriculum which included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures as one of three cross-curriculum priorities. It also resulted in the inclusion of reconciliation in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and Principals. In 2020, Australian Governments recommitted to the importance of reconciliation in education as part of the Mparntwe Education Declaration.
They specifically committed to working in collaboration with the education community to support all young Australians to become “active and informed members of the community who possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.” These kinds of commitments are backed by the findings in Reconciliation Australia’s 2021 State of Reconciliation Report which show that for reconciliation to be effective, in education or otherwise, it must involve truth-telling, and actively address issues of inequality, systemic racism and instances where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are ignored, denied or reduced.
Despite growing support, national commitments, and an increasing expectation within the profession, many school leaders and teachers are still uncertain and lack confidence about what they can do in practice to advance reconciliation. Indeed, the gaps and silences of the colonial education system have contributed to this uncertainty.
Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in education
Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali program is designed to foster knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions in Australian education settings. The Narragunnawali program is available to all government, Catholic and Independent schools and early learning services across Australia. It has curriculum resources and professional learning materials for teachers, created by teachers, along with webinars, a regular newsletter, and an awards program with prizes to further support schools and early learning services to be brave and make change.
Narragunnawali is an entry point to launch a whole-school approach to reconciliation. It contains the resources you need to bring reconciliation into your schools in a safe, structured and respectful way. Narragunnawali is a Ngunnawal word meaning ‘alive’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘coming together’ and ‘peace’. The word narragunnawali is used with the permission of the United Ngunnawal Elders Council.
Reconciliation Action Plans
The Narragunnawali platform will also step through the process of creating a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) for schools. A Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is a formal statement of commitment to reconciliation and can be developed by any school regardless of where it is on its reconciliation journey.
You may be thinking, you are just one school or one individual, but properly equipped, you are more influential than you know. Finally, Mundine suggests think about what you can do within your school to be Brave. Make Change. “It could be fundamental actions such as acknowledging and understanding whose Country your school is on; to challenging colonial perspectives on history, supporting school curriculum changes, or committing to a RAP in your school or early learning service,” she says.
To find out more visit: https://nrw.reconciliation.org.au/