Connecting Cultures…

Jessica Dubois has worked for the past 3 yrs in a remote South Australian community as a primary teacher and Student Learning and Wellbeing Coordinator at Mimili Anangu SchoolIn this enlightening guest post she shares her reflection on an interaction with Year 5 students at my school…

“For a long time, people don’t know that we live out here. They don’t know our stories. They don’t know what we do out here. We need to teach them”.

Sandra, the Anangu Coordinator with whom I work, shared this thought with me recently. We work together in a remote Indigenous school in far north-west South Australia. Sandra recently helped our middle school students share their stories with a class of year 5 students in Melbourne, some 2000km away. As part of the Melbourne students’ inquiry into Indigenous identity, our classrooms were connected to learn about each other’s cultural and religious beliefs and values.

This was the first time our school had been involved in such a learning experience that made use of video conferencing technology – not a small feat in the middle of the Australian outback! While the call was not without technological hiccups, the learning that took place in such a short period of time was invaluable.

Sandra and our middle school students expressed wonder at how a classroom of students in Melbourne knew about us to begin with. How did they contact us? How did this happen? I explained how a connection was made through twitter and how we can use technology like this to connect with other people and classrooms from around Australia and the world. Amazing!

During the call, we loved the confidence with which the Melbourne students asked and answered questions about their religious beliefs. Sandra commented on this and compared this confidence to Anangu culture. Anangu way, according to Sandra, involves asking questions in a round about fashion. Direct questions, especially to ones face, are usually asked only after a relationship has been formed between the people involved, something we were yet to do with these two classrooms. This reminded me of what I was told during my induction to Anangu culture before beginning teaching: “For Anangu people, the wise person learns by careful observation and by personal experience, not by asking questions”. Sandra and I spoke about this at great length. We share the belief that we as educators have the role of providing learning experiences for Indigenous students that help them learn how to belong to and be successful in two worlds. They must learn the values of their own culture (Anangu culture) and what is expected of them in the broader Australian society.

This skype link up helped to provide such a learning experience. Here, our students were involved in asking and answering questions, communicating in English successfully (their third or fourth language) and developing a relationship with a class of mainstream students in Melbourne. In order to do this, they spent some time learning and inquiring into their own cultural stories and beliefs with their Anangu teacher, so that they could share this information with others. Honestly though, we had not spent enough time preparing. We had just returned from a three day whole school sports, dance and singing competition. Time was short but we thought we’d persist with the call anyway. Reflecting on this together with everyone involved from both schools has been a learning experience in itself. We feel better prepared to engage in collaborative projects of this nature in the future and we’ve identified other meaningful ways to enhance the connection between our schools and develop those vital relationships between our students.

This experience made clear for us the importance of valuing Anangu culture and providing our students with opportunities to learn and articulate their histories, experiences, cultural beliefs and values. Sandra supported this idea when she said in reflection; we need to teach our children how to be proud of their culture so that they can teach other people about it. This will be a focus for us as we head into the final Term of the year. Similarly, we have seen the importance of providing a stage for our students to practice and gain confidence in speaking publically and with people they don’t know. We hope that providing these learning opportunities will help our students feel successful in both worlds and gain confidence to effectively code-switch between the two.

I am extremely proud of our students and their teachers for jumping in and giving this a go. What we learnt during the call, but particularly the learning from our reflective conversations after the experience has been incredibly powerful for our growth as educators and our student’s development. Through one small ‘tweet’, a connection was made and a learning journey embarked on. The opportunities for technology to connect people from all educational and cultural contexts are endless; as is the learning our students and yours can gain from such connections.

Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are the two main languages spoken in Mimili. Anangu is the Pitjantjatjara word for ‘people’ and is the word used to identify the cultural group that lives across the APY Lands. So, the local community members in Mimili will call themselves Anangu, to identify who they are and what Indigenous cultural group they belong to. 

16 thoughts on “Connecting Cultures…

  1. This is really beautiful. I hope to connect my Year 12 class with students from a remote and/or indigenous school to help them better appreciate what it means to belong to place, culture and community as part of our study of ‘Belonging’ and the film Ten Canoes. I would love it if you have any suggestions on how to make a connection like this work.
    Such an inspiring story – changing young lives!
    Bianca🙂

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  2. What a wonderfully inspiring story! And a true indication of the power of social media & networking. Of course just what I’d expect from two amazing educators such as @whatedsaid & @Jessica_Dubois🙂

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    1. Pam, I did nothing! The class teacher approached me and said she felt the kids needed to connect and communicate with Indigenous kids, rather than just read about them, and asked if I knew anyone she could contact. I tweeted (well, that’s all I did!) asking if anyone knew a teacher working with Indigenous kids and someone suggested Jessica. I am grateful to have made the connection with her and hope we can maintain it!

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  3. Once again my passion for education is ignited! What wonderful educators we are all meeting. Jessica – keep up you fine work and inspire those students! This is just one of thousands of examples of how educators can change the world for the better!

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    1. Our students never cease to amaze me with their level of curiosity about the world and its people as well as their confidence in sharing who they are. My colleagues, Edna and Rubi helped make this interchange of learning possible. It was well worthwhile.

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  4. Thank you for all of your kind comments! They really mean a lot. This wouldn’t have been possible without @laurencwaller, the classroom teacher in Mimili who worked with her AEW (Anangu Education Worker) to make this happen.

    This experience demonstrated to me again how powerful technology and social media are in opening up our classrooms and sharing our learning with each other. Last week I attended the Australian Remote Teachers conference and was blown away by the learning that is happening in remote classrooms around Australia by amazingly passionate teachers and their students. These stories need to be shared!

    Like you say scccollaborative, educators can change the world for the better! It feels like the beginning of something powerful now – hopefully, more teachers in all communities, including remote ones, will be willing to embrace these technologies and give our students the chance to learn from and share with other children from different contexts. I know our students have so much to offer and similarly, so much to gain from these interactions.

    Let’s keep it going!🙂

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  5. Hi Jessica & Edna,

    I think it’s so important for our professional development to get insights like these into what happens in other teachers’ classrooms and hear teachers reflecting on their experience. Thank you so much.

    Have just posted a link to thison the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Please feel free to post on the page whenever you have anything you’d like to share.

    Best,

    Ann

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  6. Wai palya Jessica,
    Nyuntu palya. Ngayulu Melbourne-nka nyinanyi.
    Great to read your story on Edna’s blog. I think I also met you via twitter at RSCON3? a few months ago. In the 80’s I was working in Docker River/Kaltukatjara. Oh how things have changed. We were lucky to have power some days, and we just went outside when it got too hot in the silver bullet vans. technology was a purple ink roller duplicator that copied your original, usually handwritten and drawn. Bilingual in Pitj.(Hand turned, no power needed)!
    Yes it is a world away, and how strange it must have been to be live with a Melb classroom.
    It would be lovely to have some of the old people with you in the classroom. We used to teach so much anangu way culture, and have every Wed afternoon off to take people out bush to hunt and gather bushtucker. Kevin Wirri would paint the scenes for our big books. He and his son Elton came to visit for the Namatjira show down here in cold Melbourne.
    I am teaching a settlement course to new arrivals, and I will certainly tell them about the centre and the people out there when we talk about multi-culturalism.
    Great to see you sticking it out, way out there in Mimili. Give my love to the people, uwa palya, how is your language progressing?

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