Fostering reconciliation within the classroom
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 5, 8 July 2022, page no.17
Blackwater State High School has been recognised with a Queensland Reconciliation Award for its use of the Narragunnawali reconciliation platform, fostering reconciliation within the classroom, around the school and within the community.
Blackwater is a small community situated in the Central Highlands coalfields in Central Queensland, built around the coal mining industry. It is one of the larger centres near to the First Nations community of Woorabinda. Blackwater SHS has a student body of 376 students, of whom 25 per cent identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and an ICSEA of 932.
In late 2020, the school’s leadership team reflected on the need to build our cultural capability and continue to strengthen our relationships with local First Nations stakeholders. We became aware of the Narragunnawali platform and began the process of developing our own reconciliation action plan. As a significant local institution with both a direct educational and indirect influential status in the community, we strove to use the RAP to foster reconciliation in the community with our students and their families.
We formed a RAP Working Group, consisting of staff, students, parents and community members, and as a group we reflected on current practices and developed a draft action plan to meet the agreed goals of national reconciliation. Key steps in this process included developing a vision for reconciliation with staff and consulting with the wider community on our plan.
The plan was launched at our Reconciliation Awards Night, an event held during National Reconciliation Week (NRW) attended by the mayor, local councillors, local businesses and industry, and First Nations elders and families.
The RAP, which was endorsed by Reconciliation Australia in September 2021, has resulted in the five dimensions of reconciliation being brought to the forefront of the thinking of school leaders and staff when teaching, planning, and making decisions.
Here are some of the actions delivered because of the RAP framework.
- The school has made public statements of commitment to action when addressing instances of direct racism, and has made clear that racial discrimination, harassment and vilification will not be tolerated.
- The school has publicly promoted the constitutional recognition movement and incorporated lessons for all students during NRW.
- The student leadership structure has been modified to elevate the Indigenous Mentor position to school captain level. This position allows a voice for First Nations students and, as a visible First Nations leader, provides a role model to inspire younger students.
- We have purchased fiction and non-fiction by First Nations authors, subscriptions to media publications which highlight national First Nations current affairs and established a dedicated visible display of First Nations texts in the school library.
- Staff cultural capability training has been introduced.
- Staff have been supported in delivering culturally sensitive lessons on the true history of Australia.
- The local Ghangalu language has been incorporated into aspects of school culture.
- All students attended the NAIDOC March to celebrate the rich cultures and histories of First Nations people.
The most significant change to date has been the improved perception of the school in relation to reconciliation, from an inactive institution to a facilitator of reconciliation in the community. In the past, community meetings saw local families raise negative opinions, suggesting that some students were racist, the school did not actively celebrate culture, and that there were inconsistent consequences for First Nations and non-First Nations students.
In the 12 months since the working party was created and began the process of consulting with the community and actively working towards reconciliation, the narrative has begun to change. At recent community meetings, our local First Nations students and parents have spoken up about the positive progress that the school has made towards reconciliation.
We would encourage other schools to consider using the Narragunnawali platform to drive reconciliation in their schools. It is simple and easy to use. We are very proud of the work we have done in the past 18 months but know so much more is required. We hope that our efforts are just the beginning and that we can be a role model for other state schools to act on reconciliation.
To start your school’s RAP journey, visit https://www.narragunnawali.org.au/raps/what-is-a-rap