Indigenous Education: from Hope to Expectation

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the LEAP (Leading Educators Around the Planet) conference on Indigenous Education in Sydney. My presentation focussed on building and sustaining relational trust and was based on my personal narrative of teaching and leading in a remote community school.

I spoke of the need to ensure the balance stays high in the emotional bank account between staff, students and families, as Stephen R. Covey explains.


Making meaningful connections with the community, particularly through sport and learning the local language and culture, has held me in good stead for my work as an educator and has extended me as a person.

My synthesis for trust in my work as a school leader aligns with Covey’s perspective.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”

– Stephen R. Covey


It followed what was an inspirational morning session with presentations from Dr Chris Sarra: Director and Chairman of the Stronger Smarter Institute, journalist Jeff McMullen and Prof Rhonda Craven and her team from ACU. 

After welcome to country by Uncle Chicka and Linda Burney, Dr Chris Sarra spoke of the toxic residue of low expectations that still exists for disadvantaged youth, and in particular for Aboriginal students. The key here is high expectations relationships, as they are far more powerful than just a ‘no tolerance’ approach. All educators in Australia must be wary of collusion with negative stereotypes and low expectations, as they cement disadvantage.

Dr Sarra also spoke of the need to move beyond “victim type” leadership and avoid dehumanisation.

In my view, we should all nurture our multiple senses of being, especially as educators teaching students from diverse backgrounds. As the Australian born son of migrants from Greece and Wales, this multiple identities notion really resonates with me. If one of our identities is devalued or ridiculed, what does this do to our self-concept and confidence?

Students cannot leave their cultural identity ‘at the gate’, and in a multicultural and Aboriginal Australia, not valuing this often diverse knowledge is not just a missed opportunity, but plays a big role in forming the of negative value judgements and identities that children and young people hold for themselves. There really is no place for racism in education and we need to stand by our egalitarian ideals as Australians.

Throughout the morning, I recalled work by Prof. Russell Bishop of New Zealand, who demonstrated that raising expectations and building relational trust with Maori students can have profound impact on their learning. The parallels here are strong.

This is sound theory and although negative beliefs about disadvantaged students may be subconscious, they are still incredibly damaging to students’ self-concept and their outcomes. In addition, Hattie’s Visible Learning notes that the teacher-student relationship is a significant factor in student achievement, with an effect size of 0.72.

This was all backed up by ongoing research from the Australian Catholic University as they presented the effects of self-concept on students’ experiences of school. Rhonda Craven and her team presented evidence on the causal relationship between reading self-concept, learning fun and rapport in raising class participation for Aboriginal students.

This ties in well to the great educational TED talk by Rita Pierson: every kid deserves a champion. She implores us to remember that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”


This is a notion that emerging neuroscience research supports. Last week I was at the Future of Learning Institute in Boston, where Dr Mary Helen Immordino-Yang spoke about the deep connection between cognition and emotion.

“It’s biologically impossible to learn something if you don’t care about it”

– Immordino-Yang

Such evidence only accentuates the role of educators not as transmitters of knowledge, but rather as humanising, guiding mentors, activating not just learning in students but also their interests, self-belief and Growth Mindset.

In closing the day, Jeff McMullen and the panel spoke of continuing inequity and how it prevents us from reaching our egalitarian ideals.

“Inequitably in our education system undermines our chance to think beyond and create a better society”

– Jeff McMullen


In all, it was a great opportunity to meet with passionate educators involved in Indigenous education and LEAP, especially the visiting Canadian, British and Finnish. Incidentally the LEAP peer mentor program that links Australian school leaders with those overseas seem highly effective and receives great feedback. It is also inspiring as a young educator to see highly experienced school leaders as passionate as ever and enjoying their contribution to Australia’s future. This is something I endeavour to retain as I continue my journey in education and life.

Making a Difference


An empowering notion on making a difference

An empowering notion on making a difference

It was great to see Jane Goodall on the Q&A panel of elders last night as she has a truly wonderful perspective on life. The above quote is one my favourites and I try to base my daily mantra on this, particularly for my work in education. The impact that we all constantly make on each other is profound even if we consistently trend towards incognisance.

Like many educators, I am in the empowering yet humbling position of impacting the lives of children and young people on a daily basis. Our species is social in nature – we not only crave interaction it is a prerequisite for our survival and to thrive and learn. Learning may be a cognitive process, but it fundamentally requires feedback and synthesis through interaction with the physical and social world. This is never more obvious between a parent and a child or a teacher and their student.

But against the notion of empowering individual impact and consequence is the astronomical perspective, in which the word ‘inconsequential’ may come to mind. If you haven’t seen the below clip of Carl Sagan outlining the Pale Blue Dot, a picture of Earth from 6 billion kilometres away, it is worth a watch as it is enlightening.

This all may may seem overwhelming (it does for me), and as Sagan states:

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

Despite this, Jane Goodall’s notion holds true. We do just by our very presence in life make a difference in the world, often being reminded of the opportunities there are to make positive changes for ourselves and for others. Working in service professions where helping others is inherent, such as education, is powerful and I applaud those who realise this and choose to pursue dedicating their lives to the benefit of other people. In the end, the image of the pale blue dot, if nothing else:

“underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known: the pale blue dot.

Regardless of who you are, what you do makes a difference. You need to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

Leadership and Principalship

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another” – JFK

At the beginning of last year I began in the role of Principal. I’d had different leadership roles before this, including acting principal for 5 weeks, but there was a clear shift in now having the top responsibility. There were many challenges; the move from peer to line manager, learning new systems, learning HR and building other management skills to name a few.

But as I continued my leadership journey, I really felt to be privileged to be working with such a motivated and cohesive team of educators. Clarifying common purpose and goals was our starting point as when times get tough, having clear purpose is a critical fallback and re-motivator.

To coincide with my new role, I used the SA Inspirational Public Teaching Award grant to begin a Master of Instructional Leadership at Melbourne University. The course was recommended by AITSL and had some excellent professors running subjects. The first subject was Visible Learning with the eminent John Hattie. It was an incredible opportunity to meet colleagues from around the nation and also hear from someone as well versed as Prof. Hattie. Later in the year I completed leading teaching and learning with Professor Steven Dinham, which was equally engaging and reflective.

In the schools of effective leaders, teachers teach well and students learn well.

The above is obviously true, but I would add that in the schools of effective leaders, it is actually everyone who learns well.

Having the opportunity for such professional learning is something that has developed me immensely as an educator. I have many around me to thank for this, but ultimately the educators whom I respect and follow actively seek out opportunities that improve their practice.

Technology is now allowing ever more ways for educators to connect, learn, engage and reflect. There are constantly evolving tools to help to become part of a network of educators, be it though Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, Diigo (social bookmarking) or TeachMeets. An effective leader never thinks their current knowledge base is sufficient and not only reinforces high quality teaching, but also supports meaningful and targeted professional learning as well.