Make it personal and meaningful: educators and reconciliation

How can early childhood settings incorporate reconciliation through everyday learning? ECA caught up with preschool teacher and educational leader, ADAM DUNCAN, to hear his views on reconciliation. In the lead up to last year’s ECA Reconciliation Symposium, Adam shared his thoughts with ECA on how educators can achieve change towards reconciliation. He expanded on these ideas in a panel presentation at the symposium.

Early Childhood Australia (ECA):  Adam, you will be part of the Day 2 panel ‘What is the role of educators in achieving real change?’ Can you identify a few things critical to the educator role that can achieve a real change towards reconciliation?

Adam Duncan (AD): Personal investment—without being personally invested in reconciliation, forging meaningful connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures can prove very difficult. Becoming invested in reconciliation provides the foundation, in many cases, to better connect and understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being.
Integrate meaningful, authentic and diverse representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures in the classroom. By ensuring that the representations of Indigenous cultures across Australia are authentic, meaningful and diverse, we will be able to provide children and young people with the foundations to form their own understandings of the contemporary, diverse and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, while also avoiding tokenism and cultural appropriation.

Get involved in community events—given the fraught nature of relationships between many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and institutions (including education institutions), it can be very helpful to connect with community through external and community-organised events and gatherings. Whether it is attending a rally focused on Indigenous deaths in custody or Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC Week events, getting involved and chatting with others at these events will provide an authentic and meaningful opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. It will also provide the community with a better understanding that educators are not always asking for information, are actually invested in improving community outcomes, and are engaged with issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

ECA: What is your favourite way to foster children’s understanding of reconciliation and the history of Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples (e.g. through art, singing or stories)?

AD: On a daily basis, we engage with oral storytelling practice that draws on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oral traditions. We also engage in contemporary art-making practice that draws on the work of Aboriginal artists. I have worked with our preschool cohort for the past nine years to develop a suite of contemporary oral stories that draw on the practices of Aboriginal peoples across the country. In several isolated cases, we have contributed both art and co-created story projects to events hosted by my workplace, the University of Canberra. 

ECA: Are there particular approaches or teaching methods that you find children best respond to, in these sessions/lessons?

AD: Giving children ownership of these stories, allowing them to shape, influence and be involved in the telling and re-telling of stories has been a major pedagogical focus for these storytelling and story craft sessions. Providing children with the scaffolding and freedom to research, develop and continue influencing a ‘living’ story not only provides them with an understanding of traditional story and oral history traditions, but also provides them with an experience that relates directly to the ongoing, living and dynamic cultures of contemporary Aboriginal peoples.

ECA: How do you personally incorporate reconciliation into your teaching about reconciliation, the lands of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the history of their cultures?

AD: Being a Biripi man, and having had the opportunity to learn cultural practice from Aboriginal Elders from around Australia, on the University of Canberra campus, I have a unique opportunity to share contemporary ceremony and language with the children at my early childhood service. We acknowledge Ngunnawal people and Country on a daily basis, acknowledging how privileged we are to have the opportunity to live and learn on unceded Aboriginal land. When hosting events, ceremony and delegates from other universities, I also share an acknowledgement of Country in Gathang, the language of my people. This is vitally important to me, as it provides a painfully rare opportunity to use my language, which has been an endangered or ‘sleeping’ language until very recently.

ECA: What are the positive changes you have seen in your practice when children become more familiar and develop an understanding of reconciliation in early childhood education?

AD: I have heard anecdotal feedback from parents that suggests children with whom I have worked in the past have continued to show interest in, and commitment to, building their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Engaging in cultural practices and connecting with Aboriginal community has led to children sharing their knowledge of, for example, Acknowledgement of Country ceremony with their later school communities. In one particular instance, a child who was particularly interested in our reconciliation programming challenged the views of their kindergarten teacher, who held different ideas about the concept of Country and the living nature of Aboriginal cultures and communities. Giving children the tools and knowledge to educate others, including adults, is one of the most fulfilling and positive outcomes of the reconciliation work we do, in my opinion.

ECA: Finally, what are your ‘high hopes’ for your panel discussion at the 2019 ECA Reconciliation Symposium? That is, what would you most want participants to take away from your session at the symposium?

AD: I hope that the mix of returning early childhood professionals and newcomers to the symposium scene, will benefit greatly from the varied and experienced input from the panel members.

Our reconciliation community works hard to share our knowledge and experiences with one another, and I hope that some of the ideas shared will be taken up and implemented by our colleagues attending the symposium. Most of all, I hope that the symposium discussions spark the passions of attendees to continue to innovate and experiment in the reconciliation space, working to benefit the children in their care, their colleagues’ practice and the engagement with reconciliation across the broader community.

ECA recommends

ECA Research in Practice Series, Acceptance, justice and equality: exploring reconciliation in early childhood education and care
By Catharine Hydon and Adam Duncan

This edition of the Research in Practice Series aims to support early years practitioners in exploring reconciliation with young children. Starting with insights into the history of reconciliation in Australia, the book provides ideas for reflection and action towards a reconciled Australia. You can purchase or subscribe to get a copy here.

Free reconciliation resources

Adam Duncan'
Adam Duncan is a Biripi man, whose ancestors were traditional custodians of the Manning River region of north-eastern New South Wales. He was a part of the team that developed the Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning program to support early childhood educators in their exploration of reconciliation. Adam is an early childhood educator, storyteller, educational consultant and artist. He currently works as a teacher and educational leader at Wiradjuri Preschool and Child Care Centre at the University of Canberra (Australian Capital Territory). Adam is also part of ECA’s Reconciliation Advisory Group.

3 thoughts on “Make it personal and meaningful: educators and reconciliation”

    Michelle Jose says:

    Thank you Adam for sharing your culture and experiences, much appreciated in helping to improve my practice personally and that of others I am sure.

    Adam Duncan says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I’m glad my small contribution is helpful to our community.

    I hope to see you at the symposium!

    Michelle Jose says:

    I would love to be there Adam, but I live just out of Mildura and won’t be able to make it this year, but will be watching for any news from the gathering!

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