Five Questions with Kellianne Anderson

Kellianne Anderson was Indigenous X host from July 8 to July 22.

I feel I am lucky to have the job I do. Education is my passion and I love being able to make a difference. I work for the Queensland Department of Education and Training as a principal project officer, embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in schools (Eatsips) in the Darling Downs South West Region.

My region covers a large area of southern Queensland, from the Lockyer Valley to the Queensland and South Australian border. The region has a strong Indigenous history, both positive and negative, and I love to hear and share the stories with students, teachers and communities.

My role is very diverse, from assisting schools with curriculum development, delivering workshops to staff about cultural safety in education, different ways of teaching (pedagogies) and different perspectives of history. A large component of my work is to help schools effectively embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives within the school and within the curriculum so that it looks seamless. Embedding perspectives isn’t just about Indigenous kids – it’s about all Australian children, the history of their land and the people who lived here before them.

At a practical level, we help schools identify what Indigenous perspectives look like, not only in the curriculum but in the school itself. It is more than what is taught in the classroom. Indigenous perspectives should be seen across the school, in the administration, on the buildings and reflected in the students.

My colleagues and I work within the classroom, modelling different ways of teaching and assisting with celebrations including Naidoc, Reconciliation Week and Harmony Day through different activities. This is one of the highlights of my work.

Showing students how they can use Indigenous bush tucker and non-Indigenous food is one example of what I do. The students look at what the bush provides, what we eat and what is bought from shops. Then they get the opportunity to make some tasty foods including wattleseed damper, kangaroo kebabs or sample lemon myrtle biscuits. The kids absolutely love it and it’s a lot of fun for the teachers as well!

The Australian curriculum has given so much direction and scope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and history being taught in schools through the cross-curriculum priorities. It allows for teachers to further their own knowledge and pass that onto all students in all subjects and year levels. It’s very different to when I grew up. What the students are learning in the classroom now compared to 20 or 30 years ago is fantastic. It is a lot more open and so much knowledge is available.

There are still so many challenges in schools and education as a whole. One is the generalisation that all Indigenous people, traditions, knowledges and culture are the same across all of Australia. In the classroom, it is easy to get caught up in the assumption that all Aboriginal peoples used boomerangs or played didgeridoo, paint using the same techniques, materials and designs or are interested in sports. How do we break this? It is a question that keeps me going in my work. Being able to ask the hard questions and effectively challenge this. To break down the barriers and open up the minds of others to ideas that we are not “all the same”. It is hard work, but so rewarding. I am always looking to a positive future and there being no “gap”.

Once you lower your expectations of one student, you’re lowering the achievements and limiting the future of that student. I work with a diverse group of schools in the Darling Downs and South West Queensland region of all socioeconomic levels. We have a lot of staff in those schools who have very different levels of knowledge, years of experience and different expectations for their students.

Sometimes it is hard to break through the generational stereotype and challenge the expectations as an individual. Expectations are hard to aspire to when the assumptions are already laid out on the table. This is one of the hardest challenges we all face with work. We all have our preconceived ideas of how things should be, will be and need to be.

The generalisations that surround Indigenous people, including the historical factors, are sometimes the most detrimental to the individual. If we constantly look at the negative and deficit models, there can be no forward movement. Too often we are looking at social issues and their integration with Indigenous peoples rather than the people themselves. Celebrate the successes, showcase who we are and share knowledge to break the stereotypes. One way we are doing this across my region is to run workshops with schools that help staff to gain understanding, information and knowledge to assist them, not only in the classroom, but also in their learning journeys.

But in the three years I’ve been doing my job, I have seen a difference. I have seen the spark of understanding from teachers who didn’t really understand, or have seen what’s needed for the change in their perception. I know of the changes in attitudes to how students, families and communities are treated. I can see the acceptance from school administrators that we are making a difference to their school. I can’t speak for any school outside of my region, but in the schools I work with, there’s a lot less fear of Indigenous knowledge.

We keep fighting forward by ensuring that we maintain high expectations for all students and for ourselves as well.

 

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