Beyond Cultural Competence: Relationships Focused Pedagogy Through Collaborative Community Engagement

Year: 2015

Author: Burgess, Cathie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The term cultural competence suggests a vocational approach to measurement, benchmarking and accountability that accredits professionals with adequate proficiency to work in cross-cultural settings. Within an educational paradigm, this simplistic, surface-level approach undermines the complex and deeply humanistic dimensions of teaching and is thus inadequate for measuring teacher quality in these settings. Working with the most disadvantaged students in the Australian education system, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, brings a sharp focus to what quality teaching and effective schooling might look like. The political rhetoric of ‘Closing the Gap’ that popularises quantifiable targets set by limited external assessment regimes as the panacea for addressing Aboriginal disadvantage has tended to aggravate unrealised expectations as this fails to address the systemic marginalisation of Aboriginal students as part of the ongoing impact of colonisation. Research here and overseas provides evidence that culturally responsive relationships-based pedagogies built from collaborative engagement with students’ families and communities, underpinned by a rejection of deficit discourses about Indigenous students and ‘students of colour’ are more likely to improve educational outcomes for these students.
This paper analyses the innovative Connecting to Country program run by the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) which highlights the transformative nature of community-controlled teacher professional learning on local history, culture and issues for developing new approaches to teaching Aboriginal curriculum, students and engaging with local families and communities. As teachers embed these approaches into their daily teaching practice developing in the process a pedagogical cultural identity as part of their professional self, Aboriginal students’ identities and cultures are affirmed and culturally inclusive learning environments become places of belonging creating conditions for improved educational, social and cultural outcomes for Aboriginal students. The significance of this approach lies in the potential for a model for educational excellence that “values Australia’s Indigenous cultures as a key part of the nation’s history, present and future” (Melbourne Declaration, 2008).