Welcome new Qld Education Minister

This week I welcome Cameron Dick as the new Education Minister in Queensland. My message to him is to emphasise three things in relation to Indigenous education. 1. High Expectations. 2. High Expectations… and 3. High Expectations.

It is so important that every person at every level of the Education system has high expectations of our children. Anything less is collusion with a stereotype that Indigenous children are underachievers. I have seen so many examples from so many schools around the country to know that this is simply an unfounded belief.

Another thing the new Minister must understand is that many Aboriginal children, and many Torres Strait Islander children, only encounter Standard Australian English when they are at school. This has dramatic implications for how schools and classrooms should be resourced. The best way to explain this is to consider what happens in an exceptional school like Goodna State School, led by Margaret Gurney. At Goodna where many children come from a range of language backgrounds, speaking a language other than English at home, a specialist language teacher coaches, models and mentors other teachers in methods to teach to children for whom English is a foreign language. Sometimes that specialist withdraws students for one on one work. This is precisely the type of technical and specialist approach that must be considered in many schools where Indigenous children are speaking a different language at home.

Another very important point to understand is that most Indigenous children are in rural, provincial and metropolitan areas, not in remote areas. This is not for a moment to say the needs of remote children are less important, as indeed the data says there is much work to do with remote children. But if all children in remote schools suddenly got ‘A’s on their reports we would still not close the gap because of the sheer volume of children in other rural, provincial and metropolitan areas that need attention.

The final point I will make, although not the ultimate point, is that positive change occurs in schools where there is quality leadership, quality teachers and quality relationships with parents. We have to stop grasping at ‘snake oil’ strategies that may be politically sexy, and look like we are doing something yet delivering very little. The best example of this is the ‘cut welfare payments’ to make kids go to school. Politically it looks like something is being done here, but when you get beyond the anecdotes about improvement, you quickly realise that we are spending tens of millions on this strategy for a slight shift, when there are other schools, such as Lockhart River and Kowanyama that are seeing dramatic improvements and there is no FRC, no SEAM trials, just quality leadership, quality teachers and quality relationships. Why would we spend tens of millions on ‘snake oil’ when we can get better results for nothing but quality?

There is more to know and understand of course… What are some of the things you think the new Minister, and indeed any politician should know about a better way forward in education for Torres Strait Islander children and for Aboriginal children?

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3 Responses

  1. You are doing a grand job Mr. Sarra. My primary school had all of those High Expectations and Creativity and caring teachers for us working-class kids which provided a foundation in my life.
    A decade earlier my husband had teachers who told the students not to expect much, and accused him of plagiarism of a poem he wrote at 6yrs. He spent 30 years touring Australian schools with puppet theatre in education with emphasis on Australian environment and joy of learning.
    (www.juliemcneill1.wordpress.com)
    Have a great year,
    Julie, Brisbane Valley.

  2. Hey Julie..thanks for the good wishes. Everyone remembers a teacher from school. I sent a message out to teachers about high expectations in the lead up to the Indigenous All Stars match recently. In case you missed it I will post it below. Make sure you take the time to check out the links attached. Thanks again for touching base and I enjoyed checking on your website… Looks like you have covered some miles.

    As part of the lead up to the Indigenous Youth Summit, and the All Stars Rugby League match, the Stronger, Smarter Institute has developed two Community Service Announcements to be shown at the game and on Channel 9 and Foxtel.

    I am exceptionally keen to share these announcements with you before they go to air as they offer a very simple message to young Indigenous students.

    Billy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN67-QpJxoo

    Michaela: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXu7vtDfuZk

    There is nothing new about a message trumpeting the importance of high expectations in our classrooms and schools. The literature abounds with research to articulate what happens when we have high expectations of our students. It also articulates too readily what happens when we have low expectations.

    For my part, let me explain why I think this message is so powerful.

    I speak to thousands of people in my travels and often I will stop to ask them if they remember a teacher from their school days. Most of us don’t remember all of our teachers and how they made us feel; but everyone remembers at least one teacher that made us feel great about who we were, or one that made us feel like dirt.

    Even the most elderly person can usually tell a story of a teacher who said ‘You won’t amount to much!’, or one who said, ‘Hey, I reckon you can do this!’

    Even as you read this email, I am certain you are recalling the names and faces of a teacher from your own school days who made you feel great, or made you feel something lesser.

    This is the magic and power of our profession! We can get children to believe in themselves, even when they don’t.

    Unfortunately the flipside of this is also true. We can stifle the confidence of children to the extent they stop believing in themselves. This is why we must never underestimate the magic and power of our profession.

    Let’s stay determined that in our daily exchanges with children they walk away knowing that we believe something positive about them.

    Finally, as if our profession was not powerful enough, one other thing is worth understanding very well.

    We control how they remember us!

    How will you be remembered as a teacher?

  3. My main teaching role has been as a mother and now I have provided the State with an RN and and Primary Teacher! In different circumstances I would have been a teacher and proud to be so – homelessness, mental illness etc all took their toll on getting the piece of paper.
    My teachers had high expectations of me, but I was shocked on my wedding day in 1984 Melbourne when my old year 12 Human Development and Society said that her and another teacher were so disappointed – they had such high hopes of me! i.e. not marriage and babies!
    (They were both married and when they saw my beautiful belly gave them the urge to procreate!)
    I have been a part of theatre-in-education for many years but I have had to retire, as I can’t keep up the pace. However, with first grandson on the way my frustrated teacher dna will resurface at times, and I can’t help myself offering stimulus to my daughter for her classroom activities.

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