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TRANSCRIPT: Tales4Teaching ep. 71 – Embedding the Acknowledgement of Country in pre-service teaching: a transformative approach

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Intro: Welcome to Tales4Teaching, a podcast where we explore stories with purpose in higher education. We will share expert insights, engaging interviews, and thought-provoking discussions that will inspire your teaching.

JOAN: On behalf of Deakin University, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the unceded land and waterways on which you are located. I acknowledge the Wadawurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners on which this podcast was recorded, and I pay my respects to elders past, present, and future. My name is Joan Sutherland and this is Tales4Teaching brought to you by Deakin Learning Futures.

Welcome to today’s episode where I’m excited to have not one, but two guests today to talk about their work embedding the Acknowledgement of Country into the curriculum for pre-service teachers. I’d love to welcome Jo and Glenn from the School of Education here at Deakin. Welcome.

JO: Hi Joan. How are you?

GLENN: Hi, Joan.

JOAN: Thanks for joining me. But to just get started, I’d just like to introduce yourself and your role at Deakin University.

JO: Okay. You go first Glenn.

GLENN: It’s great that we’re here talking about the GLO8 initiative. I’m a lecturer in literacies and language in the School of Education and with some background on researching with Indigenous peoples across Australia. Yeah.

JO: Glens, an Associate Professor. Not that I want to correct him, and So am I. I’m also in language and literacy education at Deakin. My focus is always on secondary English. I’ve been doing just a range of work on the curriculum and have done some work in embedding the cross-curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into the English curriculum.

GLENN: Can I just add that we’re positioning that we’re both non-Indigenous Australians and one of the things we do with our students in language and literacy is look at the language of our positioning. One interesting thing there we do is how do we describe ourselves? Are we non-Indigenous Australians or are we settlers?

JO: And part of when we do these conversations with our pre-service teachers, we think about notions of invitation and what that might mean and the complexity of that. Even if maybe you’re a recent immigrant, you’re still an uninvited settler from the legacies of colonization. Our students find that challenging. But part of the discomfort of that is actually to understand that if we’re going to really be able to teach the true histories of Australia as teachers in schools, we actually have to walk on this journey to understand how we’re positioned in the moment, on the ground in the country.

JOAN: Great context that you’ve actually provided there, because I saw your presentation at the Deakin Teaching and Learning Conference last year, what really struck me was your passion and enthusiasm for building the confidence, as you said, there’s a lot of discomfort, there can be around these conversations. How to actually build the confidence in teacher specifically in your curriculum. To build the confidence for Acknowledgement of Country and ways of knowing and positioning yourself as you mentioned to Glenn on one of our previous conversations, you have highlighted that the Acknowledgement of Country is a basic skill required of all graduates and professionals. How have you embedded the Acknowledgement of Country into your curriculum and build that confidence? And build the confidence in your students to be all right with discomfort in this space as well?

JO: The units we’re talking about, both language and literacy units, Glenn and I’ve worked really closely together in the development of the curriculum in the units. If you think about it, here we are in Australia, the official language, English, which is colonizing language. It is the language which has colonized the continent. In the work, the first thing that we do is we actually start to think about the subject as subject English, and about English itself as not being a naturalized thing that is unquestioned. There’s a really Important step, I think. In the secondary course, Glenn can talk about some of the first moments in language, literacies and learners, but we start off looking at the idea of wominjeka to the course like welcome to the course. We look at how in building B and Burwood, it’s written on the carpet outside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander room. We go and look at that and we think about how that language was spoken here for 80,000 years. 60,000 years, and all of a sudden, it’s been cut out of it, and English has been papered on top of it.

GLENN: I think coming back to the purposes of the unit as well, language literacy and learning, we look at the ideas of where the students are coming from in terms of place as well, and what language was spoken on that country before invasion, and hopefully after invasion as well. For that, it’s a real good positioning for the students to know. Do they know the names of the language groups who were originally on the place where they were learning to grow up? And how did some of that language infiltrate into their schooling? And if not, why not to start asking questions about where they actually getting an education in literacy and language? Or were they getting an indoctrination into what Jo said before about the colonized practices of English. And just that revelation and their positioning and how they are then accountable to the learning in the curriculum and how they might be positioned to teach that learning of the cross-curriculum priorities that we’ll talk about the future. How well they are positioned to actually teach those cross-curriculum priorities if their education wasn’t as optimal as what it should be around, the Knowledges of what the Country’s name was, where they were growing up, and some of the language that was or is still spoken on the Country where they could be educating on.

JO: Leading from that is the links that we make to the languages map of the continent. That I suppose leads into one of our first Acknowledgment of Countries where we acknowledge that before invasion there were 280 languages with up to 700 dialectical variations. For some students, this is the first time they might have ever thought of that. Looked at the AIATSIS map and thought about all that linguistic diversity, very high levels of linguistic diversity.

JOAN: It sounds like you’re really asking students to critically think and challenge what they’ve been, I suppose taught and ways of being, essentially. How do they deal with that experience? How do you deal with that discomfort with students?

JO: This is something I think Glenn has mentored me in really, is just by putting yourself on the line, really because as uninvited settlers we’re also in the position of being part of the disruption. For my students who have all majored in literature, their identity is around being an English teacher. As we negotiate those ideas together has it has quite a powerful effect, actually, on the students in getting them to recast themselves with this. In doing it, I talked to them about how much I love English, how I also acknowledge that it’s such a strong colonizing language all throughout the world. And my family as Irish people, were colonized by English and it was a force of violence and humiliation. As we unpack this as a class, many of the students come from backgrounds where that is also the case. People, students who have come from other areas of the world that have been colonized.

JOAN: so, students can bring their own experience forward.

GLENN: I think too, is we look a bit about the histories of the teaching profession as well. And look at how they’ve been movements in the past that have made the profession more inviting for marginal people who are hopefully at the centre in the future. If we look at movements in feminism over the years and things like that, the profession has been much more accommodating over the years. It’s still not perfect. There’s been movements of social justice that have happened in the past to gift the teachers now as to what they’re entering. It’s a more inclusive profession now. That project of being accommodating and inviting to marginal folks hasn’t finished. It’s a work in progress that people in the past have given the teaching profession, and we’re still in the process of supporting that work into the future.

JOAN: In your language and literacy units, now, what did you do – I know in the conference last year, you explored what you did week in, week out. You presented different activities that you did each week. Can you explore those a little bit further to show how teachers, how you’re embedding it in your curriculum for language and literacy?

JO: Yeah. We begin with deconstructing the language map and thinking about that idea of the displacement caused by English. Then each week, we go through with a different aspect of an Acknowledgement, that can link to some part of what we’re doing in the unit for that week. We look at the unpacking the Uluru Statement one week for example, and looking at how that plays out in terms of looking at how we’re respecting Elders into the future as well. And saying how can we, as a profession, support future endeavours of what self-determination are to be? We have a focus on early literacy in one we can, we look at an Acknowledgement of Country through play school that week sets the tone for looking at early learning language. We also look at the conundrum of social justice and tensions in the teaching of literacy one week. And we look at a video by Ziggy Ramo who does a retake of the Paul Kelly song Little Things. We unpack that each week we’ve got a themed Acknowledgement of Country that fits with the content that we’re teaching. It sets the scene and hopefully Indigenizes the curriculum where we’re looking at how do we embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the curriculum for that week. Asking questions along the way of how does this normalize embedding these ideas into the content of language literacy and learning?

JOAN: There was so many examples and I love how you’ve got that threaded narrative versus just doing it one week and then that’s it. And go along with the curriculum. You’ve really done a seamless narrative throughout the semester. How did you actually do that? What was the design process, I suppose to actually get to that point? Because there is a nice theme and leading into what you’re talking about each week and there’s such considered thought about what you’ve introduced. And even I love how excited you get, the examples you’re really thinking about, the experience and the whole experience from a student perspective as well. How did you come to this design?

JO: When we talked about it being a basic skill, we really believe that it is a basic skill for teachers, that every single educational professional needs to be able to feel quite confident in giving an Acknowledgement of Country. Also, I suppose part of the motivation needs to be meaningful. I think I said in the presentation, I went to Catholic schools, where we just recited off all these prayers like blahblahblah. Often you do see people delivering an Acknowledgement of Country as though it’s something that they have to do. What we’ve tried to do is to make it very meaningful every week. And also, to make it into, I suppose, an experience that is a bit ritualistic, that is not repetitive. Glenn and I worked with a couple of other researchers from Deakin and a team from the University of Tasmania and the Aboriginal academic we work with from the University of Tasmania, she used to always say how much she loved the term First Nations and putting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ideas first. She used to always say that. So, we have that idea of starting every week with the Acknowledgment, but also something that emerges from that in secondary English method, this year I’ve put like a paper, or something written by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person as the first texts. We explore after that, because I did some work for the Victorian Associations of Teachers of English on the texts that were being studied in schools. There weren’t very many that were by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors. That is an extension that we’ve done in the secondary area as well. Actually, I also made it accessible this year. The GLO8. I made it part of the second assessment that everybody has to plan part of their curriculum to address the cross-curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. In all the literature, it shows how much hesitation there is for teachers to incorporate the work, incorporate the cross-curriculum priority into their everyday practice. We really want our students to be able to overcome their hesitation and to actually do that work. That’s really our main motivation that people can actually do the work that is their job, really.

JOAN: Yeah, well, it starts with awareness, doesn’t it? And being aware and the knowledge of what they can do and building that confidence and being comfortable with discomfort, I suppose, and yeah, acknowledging it and actually implementing it into their practice. Glenn, did you have any other comments on that?

GLENN: Thinking the design and how we came to outcomes that we did was just recognize the site of the teaching, whether it be online or face to face, was a site where it did qualify for an Acknowledgement of Country where it was a gathering of people. If we were to do this at the start of the unit or just each week, and by doing it each week, we recognize that a good way to frame the learning is a good way to embed the GLO8 learning each week. But not to do the same ritualistic Acknowledgement, but to recontextualize it for each week’s learning.

JOAN: I love that because it gives people different perspectives as well. And not just this is what we have to do, tick a box, because it’s not about the ticking off the box actually providing different contexts to make it meaningful for different students as well. That in itself is powerful, it’s well considered. And I just love the narrative that goes through the whole unit. You’ve mentioned around how you’ve gone through the design and the importance of embedding it throughout. What can other teachers take from what you’ve done to embed the Acknowledgement of Country or other components around Indigenous Knowledges into their curriculum?

JO: I think across all of the areas of the University, everybody is training professionals to enter into different parts of society. And for every professional Australia now, being able to give Acknowledgement to Country, I think is a basic skill of that profession. Beginning and thinking through it, then taking on some of the ideas that we did about thinking about, well, how does that apply to health? If we start to acknowledge the land but also acknowledge the health responsibilities of the profession, that can actually help to begin the conversation because part of it is about awakening all of the students to their own responsibility in this and their own positionality. If you work from the place of the discipline that they’re excited to enter into, that actually is what will enable them to feel connected to the idea of Acknowledging Country.

GLENN: Yeah, if the GLO8, it’s all about engaging ethically in a professional context with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, then deconstructing learning in any discipline each week and working out how can the learning about and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be embedded into that somehow? That’s a good place to start. And then are their resources that could be sprinkled throughout, and we’ve done it with the Acknowledgement of Country, but there could be just as, um, valid reasons to use something else that really connects their own professional discipline contexts to learning.

JOAN: Because I’ve heard it said many times before, It is everyone’s responsibility, not just in the teaching profession or this professional, that profession. And that’s part of GLO9 is bringing that awareness to everyone. That everyone has a responsibility in this space as well to think about ways in which they can embed different perspectives. Are there any resources that you’ve leveraged or that you have that anyone else could leverage to support them in their teaching?

JO: The AIATSIS website is really good, and we’ve used the Uluru Statement from the Heart website that has a lot of resources.

JOAN: Look, I want to thank you both for sharing your knowledge today and acknowledge that it is a hugely complex area. But it is again, everyone’s responsibility and that everyone can embed Indigenous Knowledges into their curriculum and take a different perspective. Are there any last comments that you would like to share before we wrap up?

JO: I’d just like to encourage everyone to have a go, you know, overcome your hesitation, like get to know and work on decolonizing yourself step by step. That’s what I like to say.

JOAN: Look, thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it.

24 July 2023

Last modified: 27 July 2023 at 5:02 pm

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