Aboriginal community educators’ passion, purpose and obligation in leading Learning from Country in the City

Year: 2019

Author: Thorpe, Katrina, Burgess, Cathie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In teacher education, the question of preparing preservice teachers who are able to enact culturally responsive pedagogies and embed Aboriginal Knowledges and perspectives into their future classroom curriculum looms large. Aboriginal community driven, place-based ‘Learning from Country’ experiences are emerging as critical to building preservice teacher capacity and confidence in these important areas. To ‘Learn from Country’ one has to get out of the classroom, walk with and listen to Elders and Aboriginal community educators to explore how Country teaches the relational connections with and responsibilities to Country.

This paper reports on a research project aimed at generating new understandings of how Aboriginal community educators envisage Learning from Country in the City. The urban lens is significant to this research as notions of Country are often dominated by stereotypes of ‘the bush’, ‘the desert’ or ‘the outback’ (Fredericks, 2013), leading to narrow educational representations of Aboriginal people, culture and Country.

The project explores what Aboriginal community educators believe constitute meaningful Learning from Country experiences in the city and how to best enact these in teacher education programs. Aboriginal community educator yarning circles (n=3) and individual yarns (n=8) (Bessarab and Ng’andu, 2010) conducted over a period of one year illuminated each participant’s passion, purpose and obligation driving their commitment to work with preservice teachers. Aboriginal community educators asserted their individual and collective biographies and narratives of place to create space for ‘truth telling’ as an essential element to building a more socially just world.

The Learning from Country experiences bridge the theory/practice divide by enabling experiential and practical knowledge to engage and connect with theory. This critical pedagogical praxis approach provides relational learning paths between Country, Aboriginal community educators, preservice teachers and teacher educators to open up new understandings of classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, institutional structures and their relationship to the wider community (Breunig, 2005; Mahon, 2014).

This research acknowledges and respects community cultural wealth and positions local Aboriginal educators as leaders and innovators prompting preservice teachers to reflect on commonly held assumptions and stereotypes they experienced in their education. Aboriginal community educators articulated the significance to them of having a stake in influencing educational outcomes for their children/grandchildren and enhancing the cultural responsiveness of the teaching workforce.