Reconciliation the Narragunnawali way
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 5, 10 July 2020, page no.16
Queensland teachers and students play a vital role in embedding reconciliation in our public schools, an active commitment that focuses our communities on relationships, respect and opportunities. It can be challenging to identify processes through which to reflect and connect, and that’s where engaging with Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali team can help.
Townsville’s Heatley State School, like many others in Queensland, has used the Narragunnawali online platform (https://www.reconciliation.org.au/narragunnawali/) to support its reconciliation commitments and develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
The school has been on the path to reconciliation with a whole-of-school approach since 2005. When Reconciliation Australia (RA) introduced the concept of RAPs, Heatley SS was supported to participate in creating its first RAP, which was then published on the RA site. Having participated in the RA process, the principal and key staff, including the school’s community education counsellor (CEC), were then able to give input to RA when the organisation was designing its online platform for schools. Heatley SS recently created its new refreshed RAP using Narragunnawali.
Principal Louise Wilkinson said: “The real brains behind our RAP is our school’s CEC Patricia Burns – Miss Patty as we fondly call her. She is one of the few CECs working in a primary school in Queensland, a job she has done since 2010. Miss Patty is respected within the local community and the school’s families and is recognised as integral to helping all school staff bridge the home-school divide. She has worked tirelessly with the North Queensland Regional CEC, Aunty Joan McKay, to progress our school’s RAP, and last year, after some trial and error, we moved our RAP fully into the Narragunnawali process.”
Heatley’s CEC has worked collaboratively with the principal and taken a lead role with the RAP working group to put in place sustainable and authentic RAP initiatives. The RAP working group is made up of the principal, CEC, teachers, teacher-aides, and parent and community members. Together they have renewed and revitalised the school’s commitment to community and to reconciliation.
Visitors to the school notice that the power of relationships and recognition of difference as a strength are integral to the school’s strategic direction and, importantly, present in day-to-day practices.
Staff at the school are provided with regular learning opportunities about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures, histories and languages. Feedback from these sessions shows many staff appreciate that there is still so much to learn. Teachers especially have a strong desire to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures are embedded and taught to all students throughout the whole school curriculum. The head of curriculum regularly consults with the CEC about protocols and ideas that can enhance curriculum work.
Every student gets to participate in reconciliation and annual cultural celebrations that are supported by the school’s Indigenous parent reference group. Families are invited to join in and this significantly contributes to everyone’s appreciation and recognition of Australia’s First Peoples.
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have been represented in the school’s student leadership positions over many years through their own merits, in 2019 Heatley SS formalised and added a new layer of student leadership by recognising Indigenous leaders as part of the whole school student leadership structure. Selected by the CEC, these Year 6 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students work with her and non-Indigenous students to assist in the positive promotion of the school’s RAP actions.
The impact of Heatley SS’s reconciliation work is best summed up by these Indigenous student leaders who, in a feature article in the local paper, talked about how they feel about being leaders within their school:
“We feel like we belong.”
“I feel like we are part of our school, we learn about our culture, participate in Indigenous activities, I feel like we belong and achieve more.”
“It’s special being an Indigenous student at our school, and I feel inspired to achieve academically.”