Changing Thinking, Changing Practice

a unique initiative to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous students

Dr Tracy Barber

Earlier this year a group of schools got together with the UTS Jumbunna Institute to embark on a new initiative – the Indigenous Education Forum – with the aim of generating new thinking and approaches to Indigenous education and supporting Indigenous students.

The Forum focusses on advocating for Indigenous voice and leadership in each organisation’s context. It provides a space for members to generate new ways to think and act to advance the outcomes and experiences of Indigenous students, based on both scholarly research and the expertise of practitioners, particularly Indigenous scholars and Indigenous school staff.

In November Forum members met to reflect on the year and where to next in 2022.

‘I’m glad to be part of a Forum where there are people who have such a wealth of knowledge and genuine desire to want to see some change in this area’,

Wongutha man Linden Brownley, Indigenous Coordinator at The Scots College

Maree Graham, a Wiradjuri woman and Director of Indigenous Students and Community Engagement at Jumbunna agreed

‘we’ve been able to share knowledge in a really culturally appropriate and sensitive way in a trusted environment. That’s really important because in my view, that’s the way we learn and can improve or change processes’.

Maree Graham

Each Forum meeting involves professional learning and related discussions around key Indigenous education issues. There is a huge diversity amongst the Forum schools explained Lachlan McDaniel, a Wiradjuri man and Indigenous Higher Degree Coordinator at UTS. Because of this there’s ‘no single pathway or a silver bullet to address the challenges and to make improvements to practices in engaging with Indigenous peoples’ and the Forum has to take a diverse range of approaches to make it relevant to each school’s environment.

The Forum is proving a valuable resource for members. ‘I feel like it’s opened up a creative space for us to test out new ideas and take on new perspectives. I think the Forum has been good for that, as a Forum for ideas’ explained Dominic Wilkinson, Learning Enrichment Coordinator at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview. The Forum ‘is quite unlike anything else’, said Dr Sarah Loch, Director of Research and Development at Pymble Ladies’ College.

‘No one’s saying they’re the expert, everyone’s saying they want to get better and they want to learn. I think you’ve created that tone and connected people. It’s building our network and building our skills in a safe and useful way that matches where we’re at and where we want to go, and we have colleagues in other places who are on that journey as well’.

Dr Sarah Loch, Director of Research and Development at Pymble Ladies’ College.

Lee Taylor, Indigenous Students Coordinator at Kinross Wolaroi School, put it simply that ‘for myself it’s good to be able to have a chat and learn’.

This is supporting change within schools. ‘It’s given me more confidence in getting things done, because I have this support as well and hearing other people’s successes and thinking “yeah we can do that too”’, said Justine Kolliou, Coordinator of Indigenous Education at The Scots College. ‘Each time we’ve met I’ve always had takeaways and things to challenge me and get me thinking and it’s been incredibly valuable and I’m very grateful for it’.

Kate Howie, Indigenous Education Leader at Pymble Ladies’ College, agreed. ‘I feel that there’s been something in every meeting that’s a real strong takeaway, whether it’s someone’s presentation or something that someone else in the Forum has mentioned that I’ve been able to put into practice’. This has included guidance around working with community and engaging families, including in developing the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

Forum members are committed to continuing in 2022, with a focus on involving students and families. Ed Morgan, Indigenous Coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, is keen to translate the valuable dialogue into ‘clear vision and productive action’, involving sharing learnings more widely and producing resources to support ‘culturally safe responsibilities and actions for each school, as a foundation of our pursuit of and commitment to Reconciliation’. Maree Graham captured the mood of the meeting:

‘I hope in the future that we can further collaborate on ways that benefit the sector, that’s something I hope the Forum can do’.

Maree Graham

Personally I’m deeply grateful to the Indigenous members of the Forum and Indigenous presenters for so generously sharing their knowledge and providing us with leadership and direction. I’ve come away from each session energised by the honest and lively dialogue and the passion of every single Forum member to achieve positive change for Indigenous students and families. I’m really looking forward to building on this in 2022.