• Teachers at the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy have agreed to return to the township. (AAP)Source: AAP
First Nations educators from Australia and New Zealand have come together to promote Indigenous leadership within schools.
Ella Archibald-Binge

13 Oct 2016 - 4:50 PM  UPDATED 18 Apr 2017 - 5:30 PM

Ironically, it was a lack of encouragement that propelled Dyonne Anderson into a successful teaching career. 

During her schooling, the Bundjalung woman never had an Aboriginal teacher, and the teachers that she did have set low expectations. 

"That motivated me to actually go into teaching and look to see how I could actually make a difference to the lives of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids," she says. 

Ms Anderson has since held various roles within the New South Wales education system, most recently as Principal of Cabbage Tree Island Primary School and president of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals Association (NATSIPA).

In October 2016, NATSIPA joined forced with New Zealand's Te Akatea Maori Principals Association for an inaugural conference in Brisbane, to celebrate Indigenous leadership in education. 

'If you don’t feel your culture and your identity is celebrated, why would you want to come to school?'

"Sadly it’s very rare that a non-Aboriginal kid, as well as an Aboriginal student, gets to see an Aboriginal face leading their school, and that should not be the case," Ms Anderson says.

"If you don’t feel that you belong anywhere, if you don’t feel your culture and your identity is celebrated, why would you want to come to school?

"If you’ve got Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are visible, who are sharing, who are proud, that’s where we’re going to make a difference."

A 2014 report shows just over 1% of Australia's teachers are Indigenous, compared to nearly 5% of school students. That equates to around 3700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, compared with 176,000 Indigenous kids. 

While the statistics are marginally better in New Zealand, there's still a long way to go in terms of Maori leadership, says Te Akatea Maori Principals Association vice-president Myles Ferris.

"We want to promote and actively encourage more Maori teachers, more teachers of our language, more educational leadership," Mr Ferris says. 

"What we’ve found in our education system, it is a very euro-centric model, so a lot of the attitudes beliefs, pedagogy don’t really met the needs of our Maori children.

"When you have someone of Maori descent leading a school, those things generally tend to change and we brown it up basically."

Five-year-old hit for speaking Maori at school

Like Ms Anderson, Mr Ferris is driven by his family's historical experience of the schooling system. 

When his father was five, he was hit for speaking Maori, the only language he knew, in school. As a consequence, he's no longer a fluent speaker of his native tongue. 

"Educators really need to understand that the decisions that they make, the words that they use, the way that they talk to our Indigenous students can make or break their careers, their futures," says Mr Ferris. 

"They have a huge amount of power when it comes to raising up, or chopping down a child."

Conference organisers hope that sharing knowledge across countries will help to support, celebrate and encourage more First Nations teachers. 

Dr Chris Sarra of Stronger Smarter will be appearing on The Point Education Special – Wednesday 19th April at 9:30pm on NITV straight after Testing Teachers.

Testing Teachers features six teachers and three public schools, all with one aim: to make a difference in young lives. The documentary starts 19 April at 8.30pm on SBS and will be available on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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