2. Absent teacher ontology: A literature review on the motivations and attributes of teachers working with Indigenous students

Year: 2018

Author: Bishop, Michelle, Durksen, Tracey

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Indigenous students in Australia are made aware they have the worst educational outcomes of any comparable Western settler society, yet despite policy rhetoric, this is not a natural phenomenon. Instead, it is a complex combination of political and socio-historical factors, with research showing teachers to be the primary reason Indigenous students leave/refuse school. Given the critical influence teachers have on Indigenous students’ school engagement, a literature review was conducted in collaboration between two academics: an Aboriginal woman from NSW and a Canadian woman living in NSW to answer the following research questions: What are the motivations and attributes a teacher needs to effectively engage Indigenous students in the learning process? and How can these be developed during teacher education programs? A wide scale search was conducted with 60 articles selected for analysis from the 769 articles reviewed for inclusion in the literature review. The results were organised using the decolonising framework Relationally Responsive Pedagogy which foregrounds axiology and ontology with four key components: Respect (awareness of self/motivations), Connect (interpersonal attributes), Reflect (awareness of knowledge), and Direct (future role). Discussion of the results occurs through ‘yarning’, a dialogical and generative format which has been introduced by Indigenous scholars and is gaining increasing recognition in the academy. Through yarning, we find an alarming absence of ontology in teacher education, despite literature to support the importance of teachers knowing ‘who they are’ when working with Indigenous students. The literature we reviewed creates a sense of urgency in raising awareness of whiteness in order to disrupt the “colonial socialized teacher ontology” (Martin, Pirbhai-Illich, & Pete, 2017, p. 251). While the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers help define the visible behaviours of quality teaching, they do not define the implicit and explicit beliefs and values of quality teachers. Hence, we propose a new Australian professional standard for culturally responsive teaching – one that can help promote teacher quality. It is through the identification and development of key motivations and personal attributes that teacher education programs can ensure graduates possess a professional commitment to effectively engaging Indigenous students in the learning process. Identifying and developing teachers’ understanding of their own axiology and ontology is paramount to ensuring future generations of Indigenous students do not experience systemic and institutional harm in Australia's public and private schooling systems.