The power of words: building cultural capacity
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 3, 14 April 2022, page no. 19
The QTU was again the proud sponsor of the Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education category at the 2021 Showcase Awards. Here Preston Parter, principal of state winner Eidsvold State School reflects on the school's language journey.
One of my favourite stories of misunderstanding language was told to me by a local Aboriginal Elder last year. She reflected on a fresh-faced journalist from the big smoke who wanted to report on what life in Eidsvold was like. The journalist travelled from their Gayndah office to Eidsvold and encountered some young First Nations lads in the skatepark. He pulled up and started yarning to the boys.
“What is it like to live in Eidsvold?” he asked. “Yeah, it’s real deadly!” was the reply. The journalist, clearly taken aback, moved on to Apex Park on the main street, where some other children were playing. “Is it really deadly living in Eidsvold?” he asked. “Yeah real deadly, like proper deadly” was the reply.
The journalist returned to his office to check out the crime statistics and formulate his story, which would later be published in the local paper as “Eidsvold, the deadliest town in the North Burnett”. Much to the dismay of the local residents, who lived a quiet life in this town, the story painted a grim picture of ghetto life, Indigenous misplacement and historic criminal activity.
I still laugh at the kids’ attempt to tell the journalist how good Eidsvold is and how badly he missed the mark.
Eidsvold P-12 State School has built a reputation for leveraging diversity and celebrating difference through First Nations language revival.
Like many rural schools, our staff turnover has been a regular challenge to cultural sustainability. Part of our induction process now covers how important connection is for our students and locals. Our teachers either find their time in Eidsvold "deadly" or deadly. Teachers that I still have contact with reflect fondly on their time here, while others reflect on the struggle and misplacement of living rural.
We are not the only school doing amazing work in the language space, but what sets Eidsvold apart is a specific critique of jargon and what that means for everyone within our school.
Looking at current frameworks and pulling apart acronyms may be the lamest pastime ever, but on reflection, are we being critical enough to make change? Are we embedding First Nations perspectives into our curriculum or are we enhancing our curriculum with First Nations perspectives? A simple change in wording within these recommendations sets a high precedent for what a great lesson might look like. Are we sprinkling some pre-prepared resources across our teaching or have we made a concerted effort to engage with our locals to highlight a truer history and paint a better picture of community? Are we building cultural capability or cultural capacity with our staff? Capability almost sounds like a check list that can be ticked off and completed when competent. Capacity is a journey, filling a cup, something that is measurable and able to be built upon.
Simple changes in our own language can dramatically change the outcome for many of our First Nations students and staff. Just because we hold a fancy piece of paper saying teacher, doesn’t always mean we are the most qualified in the room. A personal challenge from me – How do we hand the power back to our First Nations staff after guiding them to be highly valued within our school?
We have frameworks, funding and dedicated staff within our regions to support all teaching staff, from our highly accomplished teachers to Permission to Teach. Where is the investment in our local First Nations mob and what would it look like for them if we had strong mentors championing this work? There are plenty of quick fixes that can become sustainable practices within schools and then consequently become embedded as culture. Acknowledgments, yarning circles, cuppas with Elders, language revival, engaging First Nations experts and excursions are all great ideas.
But what is next? How do you sustain these practices and then privilege diversity? In time, what will those investments in hours and resources look like for your students?
Will you have a "deadly" or deadly effect on your schooling community?