Protocols for working with Indigenous people

Non-indigenous teachers teaching in urban schools

a) Incorporating Indigenous perspectives in science

Science provides an opportunity to incorporate Indigenous perspectives. Topics may come up in the context of the classroom or community. It is recommended that you become aware of the Australian Indigenous Studies curriculum policy, and its knowledge and understanding outcomes.

•   Promote understandings that Indigenous people might view the world in valid and different ways. Avoid making judgements when contrasting worldviews.

•   Ensure that Indigenous perspectives lead to an understanding of Indigenous culture, without being superficial.

•   Remember that knowledge production is socially based, that there is no one true way of understanding and explaining the world: explanations arise from culture.

b) Teaching Indigenous students in urban schools

In most urban schools in the NT there are students who identify themselves as being Indigenous Australians. Some of them have lived urbanised lifestyles for several generations whereas others may have recently moved into town only recently. These students as learners may display a range of understandings and attitudes to discipline.

•   Indigenous students are often more independent learners and are used to cooperative ways of learning rather than competitive ones.

•   Traditional ways of learning tend to be more passive for the Indigenous learner than in Western learning, and learners may be assessed on their competence in doing tasks rather than specific knowledge.

•   Indigenous students have many social responsibilities to their community, such as attendance at ceremonies, which may lead to them being absent from class. 

•   Indigenous students may not have the facilities at home to do homework or research projects; their parents may not have experience of students doing these activities. 

Non-Indigenous teachers working in community schools

Non-Indigenous teachers often have the opportunity to teach in Indigenous communities and need to be aware of protocols when dealing with members of the community, Indigenous teachers and students.

•   When seeking input from members of the community, teachers should ensure that they approach the right community member. This is particularly important when taking students on visits to community land.

•   When seeking advice from Indigenous people, be prepared to listen rather than to ask questions.

•   If you have an assistant teacher, involve them in the planning, programming and teaching; part of your role involves being a mentor. You can support the development of the assistant teacher's role in the class.

•   There will be situations where Western and Indigenous aspects of a topic will be discussed in class. Work together with the assistant teacher or community people in a classroom discussion and avoid making judgements either way.

•   Understand that you have a cultural background which differs from the Indigenous people of the community, and that they are attracted to aspects of your culture in the same way as you may be attracted to aspects of theirs.

•   Indigenous students are willing to learn from you but may have different ways of learning and be more independent than non-Indigenous students.

•   Indigenous students have many social responsibilities to their community, such as attendance at ceremonies, which may lead to them being absent from class.

•   Social relationships between students may mean that they are unable to interact with particular students in the classroom.

Indigenous teachers teaching in community schools

Indigenous teachers working in community schools usually share the same culture as their students and generally know how much Indigenous children know about a subject at a particular age. They can expect to

•   be the person to consult with the community and especially older Indigenous people on behalf of the school

•   be responsible for cultural knowledge and advise as to what information children are allowed to know

•   consult with the Indigenous community and curriculum advisers as to what Indigenous children need to learn 

•   develop teaching materials for lessons and be able to understand how best to use them with children

•   take the lead in discussing teaching ideas and methods of programming lessons that encourage involvement of the community and other Indigenous teachers

•   be a resource person who knows what community resources are available for use in the community's education program

•   be aware of certain things which would determine the best time, place and people for an activity and able to advise non-Indigenous teachers of local examples which illustrate ideas being taught

•   be aware that some of the teaching and learning in science will include Western ways of understanding and experimenting.

From NTDE. (1999). Intercultural understandings in teaching science: A handbook for teachers. Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Education.