Mobilising Aboriginal community social and cultural capital to transform teacher professional learning

Year: 2016

Author: Burgess, Cathie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Many teachers struggle to address the unacceptable gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student outcomes due to their own lack of education and knowledge in this area. Moreover, many tend to be fearful of doing the wrong thing or offending Aboriginal people (Maxwell, 2012) and so, in an overcrowded curriculum, find it easier to avoid Aboriginal content altogether. This can be compounded by a lack of understanding of students’ backgrounds, experiences and family/community socio-cultural and historical contexts, resulting in misconceptions and miscommunication between schools, teachers, families and communities.Further exacerbating this problem is the generally ‘ad hoc’ approach to professional learning in Aboriginal education that tends to be ‘bolted on’ instead of ‘built in’ and engaged with largely to meet accreditation requirements. In these contexts, teachers tend to look for instant answers to the Aboriginal ‘problem’ of poor results and/or behaviour without critically reflecting on their role and positioning within an imposed Eurocentric system. This then reinforces deficit discourses about Aboriginal students and their families creating further barriers to Aboriginal student success.In a significant shift in power from the state to the Aboriginal community, the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) implemented a cultural immersion program, Connecting to Country (CTC), for teachers in low socio-economic schools with high Aboriginal students populations. In this program, local AECG’s run a three day professional learning program based on what they believe teachers need to know and understand about Aboriginal students and their families rather than what the education department thinks they should know. This approach acknowledges the significance of local Aboriginal community social and cultural capital in building relationships between schools, teachers, families and communities as a necessary step towards improving Aboriginal student outcomes.This paper explores the extent to which local AECG’s and their members utilise their social and cultural capital in implementing the CTC program and the impact this has on enhancing individual and community strength, capacity and resilience in terms of authentic engagement with local schools. Analysis of Aboriginal community member’s expectations, perceptions and reflections of the CTC experience will also shed light on power relationships in this context.