It’s your child’s right to have their special needs and their culture respected at school.
Respecting culture helps your child feel learn
For many children, part of going to school is making friends with children from different cultures. Every student needs to learn the school rules, and how to mix with other children. But your child also has the right to have their cultural ways understood and supported at school. This includes every side of their cultural identity, be that Aboriginal or another culture.
“Be assertive. Be proud. Your cultural needs and your child’s cultural needs are something that’s very important in the outcome – in the long run. Don’t give up.” – Suzanna
When your child feels respected at school, they can feel comfortable and calm in the classroom. Instead of worrying about doing the wrong thing, they can put their energy into thinking and learning. When this doesn’t happen, it can affect how they feel about school, and stop them learning. Stacey saw this happen with her older boy.
“It’s a terrible thing, but he’s eight years old, and he knows where he’s gotta speak white, and where he’s gotta speak black. I believe that’s his main insecurity at school. He just wants to be himself, but he just doesn’t know how to be.” – Stacey
Educating non-Aboriginal school staff
Sometimes, schools intend to be culturally sensitive to Aboriginal children and families, but their non-Aboriginal staff might not have a good understanding of Aboriginal cultural ways. They may tell a child off for behaviour that the child doesn’t intend as disrespectful, but is just their way of communicating, or sharing and caring for others.
You can ask for support from a Koorie education worker. They can help non-Aboriginal staff understand more about the culture, and how to work better with children and families. But often, the parent or carer might have to be the one who explains, as Stacey did to help her older son.
“My boy is so culturally aware of who he is. In his eyes, he’s a blackfella. He loves to be outside, he loves to be playing, be in the dirt. He’s the type of blackfella, he’s like, ‘Me miss, me miss!’ The teacher last year was putting that he’s being disruptive. His new teacher is more culturally sensitive. She is putting it down to – Koorie kids, that’s how they are. She’s letting it go. Not taking it personally. They’re understanding it a little bit more.
“And that’s because I went up there and explained to them, ‘That’s how he is. He’s not being disrespectful. It’s not directed at the teacher personally. Because he’s got so much culture in his head, and so much knowledge. That’s his whole demeanour – like, he’s a blackfella first and a little kid second.” – Stacey
Ideas for how schools can support children’s cultural needs
There are many ways schools can support the cultural needs of Aboriginal students. Here are some ideas from families and from other resources.* If any are relevant to your child, you could raise them in a meeting with the school.
- Community shared care is also practiced by children. Some families find it helpful if siblings or cousins are able to check in with each other at school. If a child is distressed, it might help them to be with a sibling or cousin.
- Sometimes, Aboriginal students might gather in the playground – this is about being with their mob, checking in and talking about business. It is helpful if teachers understand and support this as something children might do, which helps them feel good at being school. It can help them feel calm, and that helps them to learn.
- Sometimes, children are away due to family cultural responsibilities, such as funerals. If the school knows about this, they can give the child support when they return; help to catch up on schoolwork, but also time and support to deal with grief and loss, including time with their mob in school.
- Cultural events and festivals are very important for all Aboriginal children, including those in out-of-home care. Schools can support children’s attendance by being flexible in how they deliver personal care or aide support.
- Children have the right to feel respected and safe at school. Staff and students should always speak out against any form of racism from other students, staff or families.
- Aboriginal culture is a strongly visual culture. School can use visual tools to help explain concepts, such as pictures, maps and diagrams. This will benefit all children in the classroom.
- Aboriginal ways of learning are based on respectful relationships, group learning, storytelling, relating lessons to real-life situations, observation and practical trial and error. These are all good practices in any classroom.
*See the Secretariat of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care (SNAICC) booklet Foster their Culture: caring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care.