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Matthew Cooke, 17299158 ACRP Reflection 1

Examination and reflection of how best to learn, teach, interact, and meet the needs of

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is an important aspect of becoming a

professional teacher. At the beginning of the unit, my main concerns involved learning

correct terminology and meeting teaching expectations, as I thought I had a good grasp of my

expectations to students in terms of delivery and content. However, as the precedent critical

reflection will demonstrate, the learning undertake was complex, multi-faceted, and revealing

of ingrained ignorance and unaddressed privilege.

Early on, it was apparent that my knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

culture was low, as was the notion of culture in general, so development of cultural

competencies was of particular importance. Rather than thinking of this as a hurdle to

teaching, disrupting the requirements of the dominant culture’s hidden curriculum that

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students must otherwise navigate (Rahman, 2013) and

instead adopting an strengths and assets-based focus that values cultural expression, is an

effective means of teaching (Buckskin, 2015). Additionally, a means of integrating such

cultural competency into the classroom specific to my context in western New South Wales,

are the eight ways of teaching outlined by Yunkaporta (2009). These eight ways can involve

mapping to the context of country, use of imagery and stories, modelling texts before

assessment, and community links—all largely used in schools already, but which requires

care and consideration to best support Aboriginal students learning (Yunkaporta, 2009).

Moreover, as revealed through my participation in the Stronger Smarter program,

expecting less from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students is a racist behaviour that

works to the detriment of such students’ learning (Stronger Smarter Institute, 2014). I had

previously considered such practice as teachers simply understanding what students can and

cannot achieve. However, it is clear to me now that this is a detriment-focused outlook

motived by ignorant thinking, and that it is important to promote high expectations for such
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students, and indeed all students, as mandated across all Australian governments in the

Melbourne Declaration (MCEECDYA, 2008).

Furthermore, such culturally responsive practice also involves building positive

relationships with students and promoting engagement with the local community (Buckskin,

2015). However, the importance of enacting community engagement was not clear to me

until consultation during our group visit to a site of Aboriginal significance. Originally, the

group decided upon visiting Red Hands Cave to examine it as a teaching resource, but after

consultation with Chris Tobin, a local member of the Darug people, who explained how

refusal of the Darug people to accept a governmental title rights agreement made

representation of the site problematic and suggested our group examine the kangaroo

engraving at Yellomundee Regional Park (Personal communication, September 12, 2018).

This discussion proved invaluable, and the new direction he provided served as the

“identifying a process” step specified in the guidelines for consultation protocols (Board of

Studies NSW, 2008). The change in Aboriginal site led to further consultation with National

Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) ranger and Darug person, Paul Glass, who indicated that

there were no further protocols for our visit, but thanked our group for contacting him

beforehand (Personal Communication, September 18, 2018). Such contact is of particular

importance given the custodial role Aboriginal people play, the knowledge they hold, and

benefit of community inclusion and discussion (Board of Studies NSW, 2008).

Ultimately, our following of consultation protocols and development of curriculum

resources were successful, though contact with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group

(AECG) may have provided additional information. Through consultation, Paul Glass kindly

provided us with his understanding of the stories associated with the site, while being careful

to note that other stories also exist, and informed us of a separate Kangaroo engraving in

Lawson, linked to the Yellomundee engraving by similarity of design and connection through
Matthew Cooke, 17299158 ACRP Reflection 3

songlines (Paul Glass, Personal Communication, October 8, 2018). From these two sites I

discovered the interconnectivity and persevering presence of Aboriginal culture that still

exists in the Blue Mountains, and begin to understand the complexity of songlines as a

memory code connecting place, people, lore, and knowledge passed on generationally (Green

& Oppliger, 2007; Malcolm & Willis, 2016). In my KLA of English, this allowed for the

investigation of value and meaning through the shared symbolism of the kangaroo at both

sites, as well as examination of the intersection between Aboriginal and Western knowledge


Throughout this unit I have learnt a great deal about being a culturally responsive

teacher. Examination of the White Fragility text, for example, was a consciousness raising

experience that clarified my position as a cultural person and the at times problematic

response I can have as a reaction to privilege being questioned (DiAngelo, 2011).

Specifically to educating Aboriginal students, the importance of setting high expectations for

students and embracing their cultural differences is clearer (Stronger Smarter Institute, 2014),

especially due to my involvement in the Stronger Smarter program. In practice, embracing

and utilising Aboriginal English and code-switching techniques as an asset, and part of

cultural identity, will utilise students’ strengths (Buckskin, 2015). Moreover, incorporating

aspects of Indigenous perspectives into teaching to make the content relatable, such as the

eight ways of teaching (where applicable), is a means of teaching both ways (Indigenous and

Western) that is of benefit to all students (What Works, n.d.).

This intersection of learning became apparent during the group site study, which also

gave me an appreciation for the scope and process of consultation, which I will continue

throughout my teaching career. Such learning and future practice aligns with Australian

Professional Standard for Teaching (APST) which requires an understanding of how best

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students learn, and to demonstrate a respect and
Matthew Cooke, 17299158 ACRP Reflection 4

knowledge of these histories and cultures, in line with Standards 1.4 and 2.4 respectively

(AITSL, n.d.). This multidimensional learning that occurred throughout the unit—from how

and what to teach, to the processes and importance of collaboration, to outlining the standards

and expectations of teachers, and the necessity of reflection and self-awareness of practice

and attitudes—was all especially important for me as a beginning teacher, and will continue

through my teaching career.

Matthew Cooke, 17299158 ACRP Reflection 5


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. [AITSL]. (n.d.) Australian

Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from


Board of Studies NSW. (2008). Working with aboriginal communities: A guide to

community consultation and protocols. Retrieved from https://ab-


Buckskin, P. (2015). Engaging Indigenous students: The important relationship between

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their teachers. In K. Price

(Ed.), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education: An introduction for the

teaching profession (2nd ed., pp. 174-187). Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge

University Press.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3) 54-

70. Retrieved from https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116

Green, R. & Oppliger, A. (2007). The interface between Indigenous and non-Indigenous

systems of knowing and learning: A report on a Dharug language programme.

Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36, 81-87. doi:


Malcolm, L. & Willis, O. (2016). Songlines: The Indigenous memory code. ABC Radio

National. Retrieved from


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Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs

[MCEECDYA]. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young

Australians. Retrieved from



Stronger Smarter Institute. (2014). High-expectations relationships: A foundation for quality

learning environments in all Australian schools. Stronger Smarter Institute Limited

Position Paper. Retrieved from http://strongersmarter.com.au/wp-


What Works. The Work Program (n.d.). Core Issues number 5. Retrieved from


Yunkaporta, T. K. (2009). Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface (PhD thesis).

James Cook University. Retrieved from