26 April 2021
26 April 2021
This was a good news story that we just had to share. You may have seen it making its way around social media. It’s a report from the ABC on a school that’s made some incredible changes, proving that great education is not one size fits all. Australian students can benefit from teaching Aboriginal culture in primary school - and in turn, the wider community is strengthened too.
A small outback school on the far-western edge of the NSW-Victoria border, Dareton Public School was in trouble. Serious behaviour incidents were rife, teacher stress was at an all-time high, and there was chronic student disengagement. Not a whole lot of learning was getting done, and there was a massive disconnect going on between teachers and students. It wasn’t uncommon to have classroom evacuations and suspensions due to troubling student behaviour.
Enter the circuit breaker – Michael Coleman, an experienced principal fresh from Byron Bay. By taking an unconventional approach and making Aboriginal culture a central part of the learning experience, he saw unbelievable changes happening in record time.
Having students disengaged from their learning and their broader community means that these little minds are desperate for something to connect with. Being disengaged from learning also impacts behaviour – something Dareton Public School staff were only too familiar with. The teaching and learning that was going on just wasn’t the right fit – something was off, something needed to change.
Being an outback school with Indigenous students, connection to culture was crucial. The local language, Barkandji, is now taught once per week to a captive audience who are taking their learning home with them to share with extended family and friends. Signs around the school are bilingual too – written in both English and Barkandji language. By sharing their learning with the broader community, students are helping to keep this language alive for future generations.
In fact, Principal Coleman believes traditional Aboriginal culture should be a part of every aspect of school life at Dareton Public. And it’s through this connection to culture, family and the land that children have found true engagement and a sense of pride and belonging.
With a greater focus on wellbeing, the school also employed a service dog named Sheekie to be in the classroom. When students feel anxious, frustrated or upset, Sheekie provides a calming distraction to help the child ground themselves and regulate their emotions. This has played a huge role in reducing the number of behavioural incidents at the school, as has the introduction of mindfulness sessions in the classroom.
A focus here is on what we know, who we know and how we know it. Understanding and shaping the national curriculum in a way that works for students who have previously disengaged from formal learning means that new and innovative approaches to pedagogy (learning) can take place both in and outside of the classroom walls.
Playing together in the yard, making music, sharing meaning, engaging in sports activities – all of this now takes place from a shared understanding of history and culture. Teaching Aboriginal culture in primary school has quite simply changed the lives of these students.
It was an absolute thrill to note that photos within the original article showed Dareton Public School students sitting on one of our mats, The Yarning Circle, designed by De Greer Yindminicarlie, Wiradjuri artist.
We proudly offer a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island mats, each one authentically designed by Indigenous artists with a deep understanding of their own cultures. Our aim is to celebrate, preserve and cherish this rich heritage.
Watch the story yourself here. We can all do with as much good news as we can get :)