An Identity-Centred Approach to Closing the Educational Gap
An educational proposal for the
An Identity-Centred Approach to
Closing the Educational Gap.
Inspiration and Dedications
• This research would never have taken place if it
wasn’t for three important people.
• 1) Djeralena and Jaleel Weatherall: My Aboriginal
Language students (Bundjalung) 2011.
• 2) Yunupingu. The first Aboriginal Principal in the
N.T. and world renown Musician.
• 3) Xtrata and the DEC of NSW: for providing me
with the Premier’s scholarship to undertake this
Those who inspired this identitycentred research; My Deadly students!
So what is an identity-centred
• Such an approach is about recognising and
valorising IDENTITY as fundamental to any
person’s educational success.
• So what does this mean simply?
• It means that perhaps the educational systems
currently in place have been looking at education
from student-centred, content-centred or
teacher-centred perspective to the detriment of
Identity and the power it has to uplift the
marginalised and afford them the educational
successes they so rightly deserve
O.k., so tell me more about this
‘identity’ idea of yours……
Identity; it’s what you are, it’s you being, your
innate sense of self…..it’s what gives meaning to
your entire existence……..
O.k., but does this really matter at school?
Well, imagine that you are at school for a
moment Johnny. How’s it feel………..
Feelings about school and the impact
• It feels great, says Johnny.
• O.k. so Johnny, can you tell me about your
• Yeah, that’s Bill, Jack and Tom, and then
there’s Sarah! Oh, I remember her!..
• “Johnny, focus!
• Oh, sorry. But what’s your point of all this?
Johnny’s typical view
• Well, keep looking around the room Johnny, what
faces do you see? What common histories, stories and
culture do you see???
• Oh, most of us, we’re just a bunch of Aussie’s kids ya
• Oh, so how many of you were Aboriginal or migrants
from another country?
• Ah, none…..not the main group at school anyway.
• Oh, I see. That’s a pretty common view Johnny, but
what was your school identity really like….how did it
make you feel……what kind of connection did YOU
have to school.
The delusion of no connection
• Ah, not much. School wasn’t really my thing. I went into plastering
with Dad at 16, so was just a place I had to go, so I made the most
of it socially.
• But what about YOUR school culture Johnny…..did you ever feel out
of place just from being you, just from the colour of your skin, the
way you talked, the things your did and said that we a bit different
to most? Did your school environment constantly remind YOU that
you were a guest in a foreign world….a world of learning that was
so different from your world at home. Did you often struggle just to
get to school because you had so few people you could connect
with culturally, interpersonally or just plain naturally….and how
many of your teachers looked like they could be your dad, your
brother….your uncle…and how many spoke YOUR lingo??????
Johnny’s not following…
• Ah, I’m not following you…..
• No, you’re note Johnny. Maybe ‘cause this is my story
Johnny, and NOT yours…….. Maybe identity was in
your favour at school Johnny, yeah, it was what it was
eh!……..You fit the bill for what a proper thinker,
proper behaviour, proper lingo and proper values.
• But just imagine if my mob, my deadly Mob were all
about at school. I reckon things would have been
different eh. Yeah, it woulda made all the difference,
but we’ll never know….I’m stuck behind these bars
see….just like so many of my brothers…..
So what questions did Johnny raised
after the conversation?
• 1) Does Identity, whether overt or covert, really
play a major part in our educational success?
• 2) If you are likening identity to race, aren’t you
just polarising people and making it about US
versus THEM? Isn’t this sending us backwards as
• 3) Isn’t the idea of a mainstream ‘white’ culture
just an illusion. Isn’t Australia just a melting pot
of numerous colonies and cultures that make
Australia the multicultural mecca that it is? i.e.
does Identity really matter?
The Power of an Identity-Centred
Approach to REALLY close the
• My answer to Johnny is, we’ll lets find out!
Let go on a world trip to all kinds of
Aboriginal nations and Aboriginal schools
around the world, and let’s find out if proidentity processes, practices and pedagogies
really DO make KEY differences. But before
we go, let’s start in here, in Australia!
Acknowledgement of my Research Sponsor:
Xstrata & DEC
My Quest to find Deadly Aboriginal Schools or
Deadly Leaders in Australia.
1. The Colly Crew & Collarenebri Central School
2. Desert Pea Media
3. Cabbage Tree Island Public School & Dyonne Anderson
4. Aboriginal Independent ‘Murri’ S chool, Acacia Ridge.
The Colly Crew: Students of
Collarenebri Central School
Key points from the CCS
& the Colly Crew Visit .
1) If Educational engagement is a national priority for our educational managers and
key stakeholders….we MUST TAKE CREATIVE ARTS AND SPORT TO THE NEXT LEVEL.
What does this mean?
•It means that we cannot simply continue to outsource our sports and arts practises
on an ‘events ‘basis. It’s time to really shake curricula up even more and require
greater EMBEDDED PRACTISE of the KILAS (Key Indigenous Learning areas) of arts
• because these practices precipitate improved engagement and performance at
But what about Maths, English and Science ect.?? Isn’t the curriculum already full?
Yes, but the Colly Crew’s improved engagement , attendance and performance at
school illustrated that we need to explore ways to better integrate MAINSTREAM KLAs
and KILAs within the scope of EXISTING EDUCATIONAL FRAMEWORKS.
Why? Because KILAs are inherently linked with Aboriginal Identity…..and this, I
argue, is the epicentre for educational success! For our people
Key points about visiting CCS & the
Colly Crew. (part 2)
• 2) Ownership of learning experiences, particularly
concerning arts projects, be shared by should be wholly
owned by community, so that single ownership issues do
• This may upset those who have established companies
working hard to develop resources to sell to further their
success…..but we must ask the question, where is the
Colly Crew now? The continuance of such successful arts
initiatives must continue, rather than be discontinued
because of contestations about ownership and rights. In
the next slide, I willl discuss a school that is tackling this
issue head on with great success!
A day at ‘Cabbo’. Thanks Dyonne!
After spending a day working with Dyonne Anderson, the deadly Principal
at Cabbage Tree Island Public School, I quickly learned first hand, just how
important sustainable identity practices are for the Aboriginal students
and wider community.
So what was different about ‘Cabbo’ to other schools then?
• 1) An Elders and Community Learning and Yarning space.
• 2) A Community boardwalk build by the community for the community .
• 3)A High number of Indigenous workers at school.
• 4) A High Expectations philosophy and performance data reflected this.
This means that Aboriginal students at ‘Cabbo ’were, for the most part
either at or above national benchmarks for their key learning areas.
• 5) An Overt celebration of Aboriginality throughout the school and there
were constant affirmations of a POSTIVE and PROUD Aboriginal
IDENTITY. And ….it is this, I argue, that is the imperative we need to
nurture more evidently throughout the secondary level of education.
Deadly Leaders in an Australian Context.
1. Hymba Yumba Hub School, Brisbane
2. Alice Springs CAT centre & Yirara College
3. Lee Musumeci & Challis Early Childhood Centre
4. Graham Blackley & Bairnsdale College
Hymba Yumba Hub School
Mr John Davis,
Principal of Hymba
Yumba, is a proud
Aboriginal man &
This visit proved to set
The model for
Educational Learning Spaces.
We will look at this in detail
later in the presentation.
Our Country: Our Identity;
and issue of remoteness
My visit to Hermannsberg taught me that we really need to improve
how schools implicitly resonate a deadly sense of Aboriginal Identity
within the context of a generic, high expectations educational
What do you mean?
In Hermannsberg , there was a school, a hospital, a footy field and
even a police service, which were all very important. But, the number
of Aboriginal teachers, and even Aboriginal Educational leaders in
Hermannsberg were very limited. School, as so many locals expressed,
was still seen as separate from Aboriginal Identity as a whole. That is,
there was clearly a desire by community members for greater
unification of two educational worlds of the local Aboriginal Identity
and general ‘Australian Curriculum’ of the 21st Century. Some
community members expressed that too often one of the two aims
was being lost in pursuit of the other…….and it is this issue that I hope
to redress through an Identity-Centred approach to Aboriginal
So what to do in remote communities?
• From my study tour, I propose that we rethink
how schools in remote Aboriginal communities
cater for the sustainability of Identity-based
employment opportunities and practices POST
• This was based on a Hermansberg Elder
explaining that ‘We are at one with our lands,
and we need to find a way to keep our young
ones here, on Country; and we need to make
sure they can get work that gives them a sense
of pride and purpose in life’.
Yirara College, Alice Springs
Sonia, the Deadly
Aboriginal Teacher at Yirara.
Yirara College: and a yarn I will never
• Upon visiting Yirara College, which has a 100%
Indigenous student cohort, I quicly learned that
there was a high level of transience at the school,
&, perhaps most importantly, that there were
very, very few Aboriginal teachers. Sonia tells me
this story from our meeting place out on the red
dusty plains of her country……..
• Time for change. Time to rethink how students &
teachers develop and maintain a rich, proud and
meaningful identity whilst learning in school.
Centre for Appropriate Technology
(CAT), Alice Springs
A deadly Super Tafe Facility in Alice. This
facility is open to everyone and anyone……..
But, how many Indigenous students are
going? What is the secondary school system
like that precedes this, and is this
influencing the limited number of students
completing their studies…….
And……who are the teachers?......
Again the dire need to more Deadly
Aboriginal Teachers to lead the way….
Strong ownership by the local
Location is opposite the
Yirara School and there are
bridging programs available.
This centre is seen as an
Aboriginal rather than
whole community service.
Challis Early Childhood Centre
& Lee Musumeci , Armadale, W.A.
Graham Blackley & Darryl in
Bairnsdale & Lakes Entrance
Secondary Colleges, Vic.
So what did I learn from two of the
best Principals leading positive change
for Aboriginal Education.
My answer became: DO! Do the change…… look at the context, listen to the people, but
most importantly DO.
Both Principals initiated major reform in their schools t and
Both developed strong ties with the local Aboriginal communities and both worked very
hard to continually improve Aboriginal leadership within the school.
Both worked far beyond their required duties and both sort additional funding, resources
and programs that COULD facilitate improvement FOR Aboriginal people and WITH
Both presented at conferences and continue to send the CLEAR message that we all must
DO ABORIGINAL EDUCATION in all aspects of our teaching, and not jus intermittently.
Both developed strong professional ties and…………………………………… by doing all of these
things, both these inspirational leaders uplifted the ABORIGINAL IDENTITY OF THEIR
SCHOOLS AND THEIR RESPECTIVE COMMUNITIES!
Thanks Graham and Lee!
Aboriginal Schools Overseas;
Is the evidence of a better way for
Today we will explore the school
systems of the following countries:
Canada (Aboriginal School system)
US(Navajo Aboriginal School system)
US (Alaska Aboriginal School system.
Canadian Aboriginal Schools(Pt 1):
Vancouver, Agassiz and Lil’oet.
First Nations House, University of B.C.
The University of B.C and NITEP
• This was such a deadly experience because it
was a program specifically designed to build
up the professional capacity of Aboriginal
Teachers and Networks in Canada.
• Each year more and more graduates were
coming through and they were doing in a
RICH, HIGH EXPECTATIONS, IDENTITYCENTRED CONTEXT! So Deadly.
Sea Bird Island School…..ticks so many
boxes for Aboriginal education
So lets talk why.
2) Buildings and grounds
3) Aborigial Imagery, art, culture, realia,
history…..it’s everywhere in the school.
• 4) Strong Aboriginal Teachers and very strong
• 5) Great Leadership
So what are some challenges that
SeaBird Island Community School
• It’s UNINTENTIONAL segregation because of location.
• It cements many students’ reticence to engage in the
wider world. i.e. every service is available on the band
• It’s false stigma as the “Aboriginal, Low achieving school”
• It’s a partially differentiated curriculum.
This is something that MUST be redressed; as Dr Chris Sarra’s
work quickly taught me….we must play the educational
game with the mainstream tools, rather than create a
subset of them……we just need to play stronger and
smarter with them, to make our deadly learners stronger
and smarter, and prepared for the 21st Century world.
Canadian Aboriginal Schools
(Part 2): Victoria & Duncan, B.C.,
The Navajo Indians & their schools at Rough
Rock, Red Mesa & Rocky Point, Arizona.
Why an identity-centred approach? Where’s
the evidence & who is leading the way?
Hawaii-NZ-Canada & USA leading
the way. Let’s put Australia among
So, what do I suggest we do? T
The full circle moment!
• My Proposal:
Having explored the success, drawback and
challenges of various Aboriginal schools, I
found that the most productive institutional
exemplar of Aboriginal educational reform
actually came from AUSTRALIA.
More specifically, from
Hymba Yumba Independent Hub School.
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 1:
• Because It was Holistically Indigenous-themed without being
labelled an Indigenous or Aboriginal School, per se.
Are you saying that we shouldn’t have Aboriginal Schools then?
No, not at all.
But I am saying that in almost every such school that I visited, and
based on all the yarns that I had with so many Principals,
wherever a school was recognised as the ‘Aboriginal School’,
polarised views , as well as derogatory stigmas, rapidly emerged.
There was also MUCH less educational reciprocity, cultural
reciprocity and, perhaps most poignantly, VERY LITTLE
ATTENDENCE AND LEARNING FROM THE NON-ABORIGINAL
COMMUNITY. There was also a ubiquitous difference in
governmental investment between the non-Indigenous and the
Indigenous schools, which only intensified resentment by the
majority of the non-Indigeneous populace in these regions.
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 2:
• Because it embraced all member of the
Aboriginal Community in explicit ways, and
promoted Aboriginality WITHIN the context
of being AUSTRALIAN.
That is, students, parents and community
members of ANY background could attend
this school without sensing that they might
feel ‘out of place’.
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 3:
• The school was in lands that are OFF Country.
• Are you saying that we shouldn’t build schools on our lands. Lands
that is rightly ours and a place our people identify with?
• No, but I am saying that I repeatedly observed through my study a
pattern of disengagement by the wider non-Aboriginal community
while ever schools were built on Aboriginal or ‘band’ lands. How do
we give our people the best chances in life, if they are segregated
from the mainstream systems from the outset of their educational
journey…..and, as equally relevant, how much are the nonindigenous students losing because they aren’t experiencing
education from an Indigenous methodology?
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 4:
• Because IDENTITY is CELEBRATED in ALL aspects of the
school day, not just during key events in the years calendar:
• ALL subjects from K-12 contain explicit Aboriginal
perspectives that go far beyond syllabus requisites
• More than 50% of the staff identify as Aboriginal Australians
and the school Leader is an Aboriginal person.
• School uniforms portray Aboriginal-themes
• There is an Elders ‘ room that is centrally located in the school
• Language, Sport and Creative Arts are EQUALLY valued in the
school and there is an inherent expectation to utilise these
activities to maximise students’ post-school opportunities .
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 5:
• Because it has strong capacity to run autonomously.
• Do you mean that the ideal school should be an
Independent school rather than a State School?
• No. Not all. I mean that Hymba Yumba would not have all
the success it has today without the Principal and executive
team being able to make local decisions for the school. I
strongly believe that we must enable school executive
teams to make local decisions and, this light, I think that
any state system that allows this to occur, such as the new
NSW DEC’s Connected Communities , is helping our cause
for better Aboriginal Education.
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 6:
• Location, Location, Location; It was near several feeder schools of
both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal backgrounds. And the
location is NOT stigmatised as a low-socio-economic region.
• This, I feel, is really important because it suggests that in the future,
more and more non-Aboriginal people will gain an education from a
school that is Indigenous-themed. The shift in the status of the
region has also played a major part, I believe, in changing the face
of Aboriginal Education, as it has finally been situated in the home
lands of Teachers, Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Police Offices etc. In
this respect, Aboriginal Education is being reframed and brought to
the door of audiences that have historically assumed that such
schools were not ‘for them’, but rather for Aboriginal people. It
also allows for Aboriginal Education to have even greater affect
on the social and educational hierachies.
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 7:
• Because it caters for students from Kindergarten age
through to year 12.
So, are you saying we should redesign our schools and
not have separate Primary and Secondary Schools?
No, but I am saying that, for the most part, establishing
an Aboriginal-themed school, or Aboriginal school, has
typically been more common in Primary school
settings. Let’s take a look at some highly successful
Aboriginal schools, or Aboriginal themed schools in
NSW to help us understand a bit more….
Case studies: (K-6) Tabulam & Cabbage
Tree Public Schools in NSW
Both these schools produce outstanding National and state-wide results in
the recent past.
Both have developed a strong culture of HIGH EXPECTATIONS AND
Both celebrate Aboriginal Identity proudly and the both communities
embrace the school as a hub of the region.
But………… what about after year 6???? What happens to our Deadly
djardjums (Children), when they attend the next level?
Sadly, the majority of students find that they are subsumed by a foreign
and vague school IDENTITY whereby their capacity to operate as Deadly
learners is seriously diminished because the school is not inherently
Indigenous-themed in a holistic sense, as is Hymba Yumba and other like
schools. The school leaders are not Indigenous, most of the teachers are
not, and programs for Aboriginal people are often bolted-on or events
based…………clearly it’s time for a rethink, don’t you think?
Why Hymba Yumba? Reason 8:
• This school practises the educational
philosophy of High Expectations. That is, the
curriculum is not ‘dumbed down’ in any way,
but rather is enhanced by Aboriginal
perspectives. It’s a case of additional material
is added to school learning programs, rather
than a situation of providing alternate
programs. In this way, students receive the
best of both worlds, i.e Mainstream and
Are there other schools like this in
Here are some just in NSW…:
•Tabulam Public School.
•Cabbage Tree Island School
•Aboriginal Independent Schools… and there are so
many more…it’s time to network like never before,
and to a united, IDENTITY-CENTRED approach
towards Aboriginal Education in the 21st Century.
The Boggabilla Central School Case
• 1970 Racially Mixed.
• 2013 100% Aborignal Population. Is this really so Deadly…….
• Today in BCS, it’s not the Identity-Centred Approach that I am
trying advocate for…….where is the bicultural balance that
Yunipingu so strongly advocated for???
An effective Identity-Centred approach should integrate cultures
and learning systems, support Australia’s multicultural status
and, most importantly do so in overtly Pro-Aboriginal
contexts. We don’t need to through the baby out, or even the
bath water……we need to RECONCEPUALISE EDUCATION SO
THAT IDENTITY IS RECOGNISED AS AN IMPERATIVE FOR
EDUCATIONAL EQUITY AND SUCCESS, no matter what our
backgrounds may be.
My proposal for new
• What would they look like essentially?
• Where would they be situated.
• Adequate Feeder schools to generate a strong
• What ratio of Indigenous students to nonIndiegenous would there be? (Or should there
• School name: In language…..
• Independent or State? In NSW…I propose State.
We can all lend a hand! An in doing so,
we can lead the way for a brighter
educational future for all Australians,
and, of course, our Mob!