The Stronger Smarter Philosophy

*From the National Indigenous Times

“The Stronger Smarter philosophy honours a positive sense of cultural identity, acknowledges and embraces positive community leadership, enabling innovative and dynamic approaches and processes that are anchored by high expectations relationships. High expectations relationships honour the humanity of others, and in so doing, acknowledge one’s strengths, capacity and human right to emancipatory opportunity.”

Cherbourg State School is the genesis of the Stronger Smarter philosophy and as I reflect on this I am always so proud of the efforts of Cherbourg’s children, parents, Elders and community. At the Institute we always said we wanted to change the tide of low expectations of Indigenous children in Australian schools and so it is important to acknowledge just where that ripple started.

Together we created a high expectations school culture with the Strong and Smart philosophy. In part it is fair to say I led the journey while always remembering what it was like for me as an Aboriginal student in school. Mostly it was positive, but after leaving, it became exceptionally clear that in an academic sense I had been sold short, and I had sold myself short.

Today at the Stronger Smarter Institute we are determined to get children to see and understand some of those things I just didn’t see when I was at school. Low expectations. We are also determined to get teachers and school leaders to understand the power and magic of teaching.

All of us, no matter how old we are, will remember a teacher we had at school. Even the oldest people can recall a time when they were at school, when a teacher made them feel ‘no good’ about themselves, or ‘deadly’ about themselves. This is what I mean by the power and magic of teaching.

If it is so powerful then, as teachers, school leaders and parents, we must be determined that our classrooms are sacred spaces in which our children can dream about being anything they want to. It doesn’t even matter if our children aim for the moon and miss because they still might land amongst the stars.

Doctor Kelvin Kong once told the ABC that his “darkest memory from childhood is coming home one day after being taunted race.. and feeling absolutely shattered about it. And I had a bath and I was scrubbing myself, trying to get rid of my brown skin.”

Today he says he’s “Strong, black and proud. I’m a strong man because of my family. I’m a proud man because of my family… nothing gives me more pleasure than to walk around and let everyone know who I am and what I represent.”
Imagine when our first Indigenous Prime Minister, is interviewed! Wouldn’t it be deadly to hear him or her say, “My family and teachers always believed that I would go on to do great things. They expected me to achieve and I expected that of myself.”

Of course our Indigenous children will not all go on to become doctors, lawyers, Prime Ministers. But every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child has the right to be strong and proud in their cultural identity and feel strong and smart in the classroom.

I’ve said it many times, and you will hear it many more until the ‘tide of high expectations’ becomes a tsunami that educators cannot ignore.

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.

I will never forget the smiling proud faces on the Cherbourg students on the parade ground chanting their strong smart war cry, knowing very well that it meant they had to be working extremely hard in the classroom so that it was more than just words. I hope that they will never forget that moment too.


One Response

  1. Dear Dr. Chris,

    I am in the middle of your wonderful course and enjoying the refreshing, non boxing approach you have to indigenous education in Australia. I can see a PD I could put together for the staff I work with at my school. Thank you Niki

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