Education International
Education International

Australia: teacher honoured for work with indigenous students

published 10 August 2016 updated 11 August 2016

Teacher unionists have awarded an educator for her outstanding and ‘simple’ contribution to providing indigenous students with quality education, a welcomed respite of positive news amidst the Northern Territory’ youth detention abuse scandal.

Northern Territory (NT) educator Sally Mackander received the Australian Education Union (AEU) Arthur Hamilton Award for an outstanding contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, through her innovative teaching of her school’s Indigenous students, and gaining results by respecting their community and culture. Mackander has recently been appointed principal at Wugularr School in Katherine, NT.

The award is recognised as a remarkable achievement in itself for an inspirational teacher but also because it relates to education and children’s rights in the same  state where serious abuses have been revealed in the region’s youth detention system.

Dialogue with parents

As a teacher with an all-Indigenous class at Clyde Fenton Primary School, also in Katherine, Mackander was aware from previous experience that going out into the community and getting to know the students’ parents would be crucial. But many parents had only ever heard from teachers when there was negative feedback about their children and many others were reluctant to deal with school staff due to their own experiences as children.

Mackander’s solution was simple. With a mobile phone, she took photos of the children’s work and texted them to their parents. “When the children got home, they were able to talk about what they did at school in a positive light, rather than how they got into trouble that day,” Mackander explained. As parents loved receiving the texts so much, they soon started chasing Mackander to make sure she had their phone number.

Marked improvements

With a newly established dialogue between the teacher, the students and their parents, relationships and attitudes became more positive, and the school started seeing marked improvements in attendance, behaviour and academic outcomes.

AEU: Need to “break the cycle of despair”

“Our schools have an important role to play here, particularly with our Indigenous students,” said NT President Jarvis Ryan. They “must champion Indigenous languages and culture and help kids feel proud of their identity … and work with those kids who are at most at risk of falling into the judicial system and do everything we can, in conjunction with families, elders and others, to keep kids out of incarceration”.