Supporting our Gawura Families and Students with Staff Cultural Training

23 January, 2023

Aboriginal cultural training has profound impact on our staff

Staff from St Andrew’s Cathedral and Gawura Schools’ have spoken about the profound impact of cultural awareness training as part of their professional development programme in 2023.

The comments come after cultural awareness training was conducted by Aboriginal Education Mentor and Elder, Anaiwan Woman Pam Widders along with Head of Gawura John Ralph.

More than 100 staff were present when Pam shared the pioneering story of her grandmother in Armidale during the time of the White Australia policy.

The Aboriginal Education Mentor shared resources to help with educating Aboriginal children, communicating with Aboriginal families, and creating awareness among the broader community.

Daniel Mallison, Head of Salisbury House said: “My initial impression was that I was disturbed even as a history teacher how little I knew of the story of Aboriginal treatment in Australia.

“It was helpful to be given ideas of what is offensive language – some of those words that we are taught to use even in our teaching degrees can be considered offensive.

“It got my mind racing especially as a Psychology teacher and we teach cross cultural implications of mental health– the idea of how we can incorporate Aboriginal culture into what we teach about mental health cross-culturally.”

The training will also allow staff to deliver aspects of their curriculum more effectively. Josie Jones, Drama and Specialised Learning Teacher said: “I thought it was extremely interesting particularly for me as a drama teacher we must teach Aboriginal texts and not having Aboriginal heritage myself it can be often difficult to communicate that information accurately and sensitively.

“It was really good to have such a personal insight into what that era in Australian history meant to somebody who had lived it.”

It is hoped that the training will enable staff to be better placed to support Aboriginal families and to create a more culturally sensitive environment across the whole School.

Sonia Witheridge, Deputy Head of Senior College said: “I think it was Pam’s perspective that was really important and the list of words that she found offensive.  A word like “Indigenous” is something people use so frequently yet can be considered offensive so I internalised the fact that “Aboriginal” is the word that we should be using.”

Our School is uniquely placed to undertake such important training with a First Nations School operating within our walls. This year, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Gawura Schools’ have at least nine First Nations people working on staff.  It is crucial we use the knowledge and resources that we have so close to us to educate everyone about Aboriginal culture and support our entire community.

Brad Swibel, Deputy Head of School said: “I think we can learn from that in that we need to work closely together for the benefit of both cultures. It’s a shameful part of our history that we have and we must work together towards some form of reconciliation.

“It helps to continue learning about Aboriginal education and it helps me to understand by sitting and listening to the wisdom of our Aboriginal Elders and what they have to say.

“Understanding more about parents and families, where they come from and the events of the Stolen Generation. People are still carrying that burden today and it affects their families. We must be sensitive when dealing with Aboriginal issues by being respectful and careful with the language we use.

Gawura is a Kindergarten to Year 6 school for First Nations children, located in Sydney’s CBD.

Established in 2007 by St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Gawura is a highly regarded model for First Nations education and was named 2020 Australian School of the Year. Gawura offers students a supportive, nurturing space where they a feel secure, are surrounded by culture and language and can learn at their own skill level.

Gawura is pioneering a model which is actively providing exemplary opportunities for, and restoring the dignity of, local Aboriginal children and their families

All Gawura students are offered a scholarship to St Andrew’s Cathedral School for their secondary education and several graduates have achieved remarkable success in Australia and across the world.

Author: Richard Hansen

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