Paving the way for educational justice through reconciliation - Education Matters Magazine
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Paving the way for educational justice through reconciliation

Sharon Davis is a proud Aboriginal woman from both Bardi and Kija peoples of the Kimberley who is committed to enhancing education experiences for Aboriginal students, families and communities.

As a judge for the Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali Awards, Davis says she loves how education has the power to shape future generations.

“With many of today’s youth growing up to be tomorrow’s health workers, politicians, law makers, educators and policy architects, a racially literate and culturally responsive education is crucial for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,” says Davis.

The Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education Awards is the only national awards program in Australia that recognises and celebrates educational environments implementing outstanding reconciliation initiatives.

Reconciliation Australia, in partnership with the BHP Foundation, holds the awards every two years.

Having worked in Indigenous education for several years, Davis has spent a large portion of this developing ways to influence systemic change across education systems, schools, and with individual educators.

“When done the right way, reconciliation in education is hard yakka, so it’s really important to celebrate the successes. As a nationally recognised accolade achieved through an evaluation process, the Narragunnawali Awards go hand in hand with my work in educational change. As soon as I heard about the awards, I was super keen to get involved,” Davis explains.

Davis says that since she has been involved in the awards, she has approached each application with an open mind, as she believes all school communities are on their own journey with reconciliation.

Important factors Davis looks into, beyond the application include the background of an educational facility, the Country they are on, the makeup of the local population, staffing and what levels Indigenous staff are employed at in the school

“Reconciliation in education is about truth-telling across the school year and throughout the curriculum. It is about embedding equity measures in school enrolment, staff employment and school improvement policy and practices,” she says.

“Reconciliation in education involves non-Indigenous educators addressing racism in their practice and enacting anti-racism with students. It is about amplifying the voice of Indigenous children and young people, and empowering all youth to proudly practice activism.”

Davis says she gets the greatest buzz seeing nominees stand up against racism in schools and with their communities, which is one of the the reasons she continues to work in this space.

The 2019 Narragunnawali Awards schools category winner, Maclean High School, located in northern New South Wales, was commended for developing strong, longstanding and ongoing relationships with their local community.

Over the years, the school has enabled respectful consultation and collaboration with local Elders and the Aboriginal community to implement strong cross-curricula learning projects with a focus on local perspectives.

“The River of Learning project was a special highlight for me. An initiative developed by Yaegl Elders, Maclean teachers and Macquarie University’s National Indigenous Science Education Program, students and staff travel together to local sites and learn through Indigenous Knowledges about both culture and science taught two-ways by Elders and science teachers,” Davis says.

“The program has been going for over 10 years, and it was highlighted that nearly every  student and staff member at Maclean had participated in the program.”

Since winning the award, and as a result of response to COVID-19, the school developed digital resources for staff and students. National Reconciliation Week was celebrated through a series of  podcasts. Part of the prize money went to purchasing a GoPro that students used to record their own Acknowledgements of Country or Welcome to Country. These are shown every Monday morning to the school, at staff meetings and before P&C meetings.

Covering schools across the Government, Catholic and independent sectors, finalists are acknowledged for the way they strengthen relationships, build respect, and provide meaningful opportunities in the classroom, around the school, and within the community.

The winners of each category will receive $10,000 in prize money, the opportunity to be part of a short film, a feature article in the Narragunnawali newsletter, and a commemorative trophy, all in recognition and support of the school’s reconciliation measures.

Authentic, positive relationships are foundational to learning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

“Our kids want to know that they are important to the teacher, and that the teacher sees them and their identity,” Davis says. “Our communities need teachers and schools to show that they care for us, not just about us. Acts of educational justice, like employing Indigenous tutors, targeted resource allocation, remunerating community members to share knowledges in the classroom, and setting targets for Indigenous participation on school boards and other advisory groups pave to way for quality relationship building.”