Teaching in a Remote Community in the Kimberley (BA)
In June 2016, I undertook a three-week teaching placement at … School located within the Kimberley region. The students are Kija people who retain a strong link to country, culture, and language.
Leading up to my placement at … School I conducted extensive research into supporting the educational needs of Indigenous Australian students. I spoke numerous times to my mentor and site coordinator in order to prepare for my teaching round; these communications, along with personal research, confirmed the importance of establishing trust between students and teacher. As a result, I created a video introduction for my students that I posted to their classroom blog. This blog became a platform through which I communicated to the students in the weeks prior to my arrival. This digital introduction allowed me to build a sense of trust and connection, which greatly assisted my transition into the community.
… School is a bidialectal learning environment. Classroom instruction is predominately in Standard Australian English and is bridged through the assistance of Aboriginal Teaching Aides and teacher knowledge of the students’ home language, Kimberley Kriol. Students also participate in Kija language classes, facilitated twice a week by community Elders and a Kartiya (non-Indigenous) linguist.
At … School the students’ home language is openly valued. Literacy blocks provide activities in which students can contrast Standard Australian English alongside Kimberley Kriol. The students are excellent at code-switching between the two dialects. Teachers celebrate this skill through explicit outlining of the process of code-switching, and providing recognition to the students. Throughout my placement, I experimented with code-switching between dialects in order to assist student comprehension.
Attending the Kija language classes was fascinating, and I felt incredibly privileged to be involved in learning a language connected to country. I felt deep pride in seeing my students engage in rich cultural learning. I reflected on the power of seeing and hearing Kija language shared from the Elders to the next generation of young Kija people, and the importance of preserving the oral-based languages of Australia.
My placement at … School provided me with the unique experience of working in an almost entirely English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) classroom. Throughout this placement, I was able to see the implications of language barriers for both teaching and learning. In order to support my students, I utilised EAL/D strategies I have learned throughout my course including the use of visual supports, clear instruction, limited verbal instruction, and non-verbal gesticulation. I dedicated time to learning Kimberley Kriol phrases and words from the students to assist in communication and to extend my own knowledge.
Attendance can be sporadic in remote schools for various reasons. This results in an extremely wide range of achievement levels within the classroom. To meet the learning needs of all students it is essential to differentiate learning and provide adequate scaffolding. Examining student data, ongoing observation and conducting formative assessments helped me to place each student and differentiate tasks according to needs. This experience has increased my knowledge and skills of differentiated learning, and will assist me greatly in my future practice.
Classroom management dominated my initial practice as I struggled to maintain an orderly learning environment in an unfamiliar context. I overcame this challenge through constant reflection, modification of teaching and engaging in professional discussions with colleagues. I experimented with short rotational activities that improved student engagement. I researched a variety of brain breaks that utilised both sides of the brain and found this strategy to be highly effective in bringing the students back from heightened situations. Meaningful use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) was incredibly effective in maintaining student engagement and as a form of extrinsic motivation. The students responded well to positive affirmation so I implemented an in-class monetary system that rewarded positive behaviours. Students were able to purchase class games and time-out rewards with classroom tokens. I found this type of reward to be the most effective for classroom management. This placement provided a setting in which I could explore, develop and implement effective classroom management systems.
Within my grade 4/5-class, I had several students with additional learning needs. This presented challenges given that I was a new teacher and unfamiliar with many of the classroom routines. Through trial and error and mentor discussion, I was able to develop strategies for deescalating physical altercations and recognising student triggers. Several times throughout my placement I felt ill-equipped to manage some situations. I saw myself grow over the three weeks of teaching, and was able to develop an effective behaviour management system that was suitable for this particular learning context.
Prior to beginning my placement I thoroughly researched culturally responsive teaching. … School has a focus on two-way learning: teaching Kija knowledge, language and culture alongside Western disciplines. Community Elders facilitate Kija learning and maintain a strong presence within the school environment. Students participate in learning on country, connecting to places of cultural and spiritual significance. Throughout this learning I observed students (both Kija and Kartiya) to be highly engaged and noted the students’ deep knowledge and pride of Kija culture. I feel very fortunate to have been involved in two-way learning and I can see the outstanding educational benefits for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
As the learning styles of Aboriginal students can differ from those of non-Indigenous Australian students, in this remote setting I needed to deliver learning that met the specific needs of my students. This included presenting learning as holistic rather than incremental. I would always display a finished model of expected work and then explicitly break down steps of the learning process. The students at … School use many non-verbal cues to communicate meaning. During placement, I learned to read the non-verbal gestures of my students and in turn, replicate them as part of my own communication. As my placement progressed I found that I had begun to use my voice less often and as a result, my teaching became more effective.
Remote communities tend to have a high turnover in teachers; therefore it is often the Aboriginal Teaching Aides who have the greatest understanding of the students and how they learn best. I developed a strong relationship with my Aboriginal Teaching Aide who gave me an insight into student living conditions, which helped to explain classroom dynamics. My Aboriginal Teaching Aide was integral to bridging language barriers and providing invaluable support with classroom management. Through this experience, I recognised the pivotal role that Aboriginal Teaching Aides have within remote learning environments. Aboriginal Teaching Aides remain constant throughout the students’ education and provide the link between home way and school way. I found that establishing a strong and respectful relationship with my Aboriginal Teaching Aide was crucial to my teaching practice.
I initially began my Bachelor of Education with aspirations of working in Indigenous education. Throughout my degree, I have maintained these aspirations, which have been strengthened through my placement at … School. I would like to thank ACEN for selecting me as a recipient of the rural/remote WIL placement scholarship. Without financial support, I would never have had the opportunity to teach in a remote community as a pre-service teacher. I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of knowledge I came away from … School with. I extend my gratitude to the students, community members, teachers and teaching aides who taught me so much during my placement. The experience of teaching at … School provided me with deep learning, both pedagogical and interpersonal. I have experienced profound change and significant professional and personal growth that I can apply to any future role in education that I may take.