12.2 Teacher education

As providers of teacher education, universities have an impact on the classroom experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, experiences that can make the difference between educational success and otherwise. Universities are actively recruiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into teacher education and supporting them during their studies and throughout their professional lives, as well as building the cultural competence of non-Indigenous teachers and school leaders. These initiatives involve collaborations between university faculties of education, researchers and state education authorities at the VET and school levels and aim to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school outcomes.

12.2.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • teachers hold high expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students, and understand the factors that impact on their ability to succeed
  • alternative pathways and aspirational programs promote teaching as a career for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and support them throughout school, university and employment.

12.2.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • facilitating collaboration between education providers across sectors
  • ensuring the continued development of teachers after university through involvement by professional bodies
  • changing low expectations held of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by teachers and schools.

12.2.3 Examples

University of Wollongong – Djinggi Program

In 2011, the University of Wollongong signed a memorandum of understanding with the NSW Department of Education and Communities to pilot the Djinggi Program, which seeks to create a new pathway into teacher education from high school. The program targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Year 10, who are interested in doing teacher education when they finish school. Concurrently with study for the Higher School Certificate in Years 11 and 12, participants undertake a Certificate III in Education Support at a TAFE institute. Their training will include on-the-job experience in primary schools within the Illawarra and South East Region.

The intended pathway is into teaching in an early-years setting or in primary schools, but participants who successfully complete the program may be accepted into any of the Faculty of Education’s five undergraduate teacher education programs. Where students consider options for study in other faculties, support and advice will be provided to them by staff in the Faculty of Education. Those who do not choose to continue on to university will have achieved their Certificate III. The Faculty of Education intends to set aside the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank and accept any participant who successfully completes the program with their Higher School Certificate.

The first cohort commenced Year 11 in 2012. They participated in an introductory camp run at Berry by TAFE NSW and Department of Education and Communities staff, with involvement by Aboriginal staff from the Faculty of Education. Further camps will be held at the end of each term. The role of the university in more general terms, and specifically its Woolyungah Indigenous Centre located on the university’s Wollongong campus, is under development.

The Djinggi Program is promoted in schools throughout the Illawarra and South East Region. The first cohort has 21 participants drawn from across the region. Most of these were current school students, but a small number returned to school in order to participate.

University of Wollongong – Aboriginal Teacher Mentor Training Program

The Aboriginal Teacher Mentor Training Program was piloted in 2011 by the Australian Centre for Educational Leadership within the Faculty of Education at the University of Wollongong. It is jointly facilitated by the faculty and the NSW Department of Education and Communities. It is hoped that it will provide a model for delivery of support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. The program is designed to improve retention of new teachers as well as leadership and career development for more experienced teachers and executives, who will act as mentors.

Mentors are selected by the teacher or their school. They are drawn from experienced professionals of high standing within the teaching community. They receive training for this role and are accredited for learning and leadership development achieved on the program. Intensive training is provided at two workshops at the university—one at the beginning of the program and one at the end. Between the workshops, the mentor and their teacher undertake six months of school-based mentoring engagement.

Mentors are trained to participate in a professional dialogue about classroom programs and teaching strategies, to build collaborative relationships and to use data for professional improvement. They are also equipped with a critical contextual and cultural understanding of the professional motivations and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers.

Relief funding is provided to all participants to undertake the school-based mentoring activities. These include discussion of classroom programs and teaching strategies, and preparation for taking on additional responsibilities across the school. Ongoing evaluation and advice is provided to the mentor by the Australian Centre for Educational Leadership at the university.

Queensland University of Technology – Stronger Smarter Institute

The Stronger Smarter Institute was established in 2005 to challenge a culture of low expectations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children prevalent in parts of the Australian community. The institute delivers programs for leaders within schools and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The leadership program aims to instil the Stronger Smarter philosophy in order to transform schools and communities. The philosophy promotes positive cultural identity, community leadership and relationships that acknowledge strength, capacity and the right to access opportunity.

The institute and its programs are based on tangible stories of success in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. These stories are shared with new participants as a way of demonstrating potential for positive changes in school culture and student outcomes.

A total of 829 school leaders have completed the institute’s core leadership program since it began in 2006. Participants were drawn from 254 schools across the country, 30% of which were in very remote and remote localities.

The institute received corporate support as well as Australian Government funding for the Stronger Smarter Learning Communities project and, more recently, the Focus School Next Steps initiative.

New Zealand Ministry of Education and University of Waikato—Te Kotahitanga

Te Kotahitanga commenced in 2001 as a research and professional development collaboration between the New Zealand Ministry of Education and the University of Waikato (Te Kete Ipurangi n.d.). The program aims to create a ‘culturally responsive pedagogy of relations’, whereby teachers commit to caring for students as culturally located individuals for whom they have high expectations.

The program involves a multi-faceted intervention within the school setting, including provision of professional development to equip teachers to understand their own impact on student achievement, and coaching of school leaders and communities to help them create the right structures for development to occur. After an initial induction, teachers participate in a cycle of intensive classroom observations and feedback, cross-curricular collaboration and shadow-coaching. During training, teachers are exposed to Māori students’ experiences of schooling.

Te Kotahitanga was designed in consultation with Māori students, their families, principals and teachers. It addresses barriers to educational achievement for Māori students in the classroom by establishing an approach where: power is shared; culture counts; learners are co-inquirers and knowledge is co-created; teachers are connected to their students and the community; and all parties share a vision for excellence in Māori education.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies has been working with the University of Waikato to research the transferability of this approach to Australian schools.