Dr Tracy Woodroffe explains the power of equipping pre-service teachers with sufficient experience in Indigenous context.
Pre-service teachers look to their supervising teachers for guidance and see them as examples of good practitioners.
This is the accountability that supervising teachers carry in return for their supervision payment. Some might argue that they supervise purely for the love of it, and their dedication to the profession.
Whatever the case, the responsibility of demonstrating professional practice is not to be underestimated.
This becomes even more relevant considering the 2018 Network of Academic Directors of Professional Experience (NADPE) Report findings about Indigenous-specific Australian professional standards for teachers 1.4 and 2.4 regarding knowing Indigenous content and how to teach it and knowing Indigenous students and how they learn.
Professional standards and the potential of supervising teachers
The NADPE Report, commissioned by the Australia Council of Deans of Education, investigated pre-service teacher practicum experience, and determined that pre-service teachers were not being given sufficient experience in Indigenous contexts, that pre-service teachers were still reporting to feel unconfident or underprepared to teach Indigenous learners, and that it was highly unlikely for supervising teachers to even mention standards 1.4 and 2.4 to their pre-service teacher.
What does this mean for the teaching profession?
It means that there is untapped potential for supervising teachers to change the current situation and help lead the charge in improving pre-service teacher capacity, and ultimately impacting on Indigenous educational outcomes.
This cannot happen without initial teacher education providers sharpening their focus on Indigenous outcomes, in line with Federal Government annual NAPLAN reporting and Closing the Gap 2020 revised targets.
I would also argue that it cannot happen without Indigenous educators’ input and mentoring.
Indigenous knowledge and perspective
Indigenous educators are in the unique position of being able to see the Australian education system through two world views.
They know what is expected by western standards and can also see the areas of need pertaining to improving educational outcomes for Indigenous students.
This knowledge is a cultural understanding that is important to Indigenous people but perhaps invisible to someone else.
While this is the case, Indigenous educators should not be expected to shoulder the responsibility for educational change.
Without a consensus and action, the current system will continue unchecked and be a mediocre version of something that could be truly inspiring.
As recommended in the NADPE Report, more research is required into the Indigenous-specific specialised aspects of Initial Teacher Education and opportunities to improve the communication and professional development between pre-service teachers and supervising teachers.
The Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Initial Teacher Education Association (AILiTEA) was set up to advise the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) about this specialised aspect of Initial Teacher Education.
AILiTEA was developed as one of the key professional mechanisms required for success of the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiatives (MATSITI), which ended in 2016, citing the need for many more Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Initial Teacher Education to be identified, and the necessity for an association of expert Indigenous educators to advise on such matters.
Conditions for change
Indigenous educator voice and mentoring, working in conjunction with supervising teachers and pre-service teachers focusing on Australian professional standards for teachers 1.4 and 2.4, while departments and initial teacher education providers sharpen their focus on improved Indigenous educational outcomes should create ideally optimal conditions for positive change.
As usual there are limitations to consider and prepare for.
The first limitation could be the small numbers represented in this workforce of Indigenous educators to provide comment, support or mentoring.
Added to this is the fact that not all Indigenous educators may wish to participate or take on the extra load.
Secondly, to make impact and effect change, you must be participating in the system in question.
Therefore, Indigenous voice and mentoring would need to be translated across into system processes already in place.
There is not always a direct translation. For example, it may be difficult to transpose Indigenous voice to fit within the standards, or for the importance of this to be understood.
Indigenous educator mentoring may have cultural elements that are not necessarily recognised in current leadership pathways.
A third limitation could be a lack of knowledge about what is already in place or under development in various state education departments and initial teacher education providers to improve Indigenous educational outcomes. A differentiated approach would be required to achieve the best results.
Reiterating the NADPE Report findings, more research is essential into practicum experience and the impact on teacher confidence and capacity in demonstrating professional standards 1.4 and 2.4.
These two professional standards are not the only ones that are relevant to the success of Indigenous students, but they are the two recognised Indigenous-specific standards that reinforce the importance of Indigenous culture in education.
They are a baseline, or a benchmark of professional practice and it is not unreasonable that they should be a starting point for transformation.
Australia has a bright future and Indigenous students should feel that they are a part of that.
It begins with education and the opportunities that arise from educational success. Supervising teachers (non-Indigenous and Indigenous) in collaboration with Indigenous colleagues, are important players in the development of a culturally responsive teaching workforce.
The examples that they set for pre-service teachers are crucial.