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Working with guest speakers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Inviting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guest speakers to the school offers students authentic and appropriate learning experiences. But how do you know when you need to employ cultural teachers or community speakers in your classroom?

Aboriginal education staff and Torres Strait Islander education staff around Queensland can help develop connections with appropriate people within local communities. These staff:

  • hold many roles in schools, districts and dioceses
  • can provide valuable insight into the local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community/ies
  • help with identifying appropriate cultural and community teachers and following the correct protocols and practices for inviting cultural teachers into your classroom.

Cultural considerations

The following should be considered when establishing and maintaining relationships with Aboriginal communities and Torres Strait Islander communities to be able to invite guest speakers into schools:

  • Aboriginal social and cultural conventions are different from Torres Strait Islander social and cultural conventions, and all should be respected and observed. Discuss the appropriate protocols and guidelines relevant to working with these different communities with your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education contacts.

  • Remember that the information you gather from Aboriginal peoples and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples represents their stories and lives. This information must be treated with respect and is not open to generalised interpretation.

  • Always ensure that the community people you talk with understand how materials will be shared and used. Intellectual property rights and transfer of this knowledge should be respected in educational settings. Ensure that your guest is aware of your intentions, and has given permission for any recordings or other use of materials.

  • Be aware that asking sensitive questions of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples can bring up painful memories. Try to gauge reactions and body language. Events from the past that may seem like ‘history’ to you, may represent difficult memories or intergenerational trauma for the individual or community you are working with.

  • Although it is always best to negotiate a guest speaking commitment in person, it is useful to provide a written summary of the main questions and issues to be raised during their session, and the date/s and time of the event. This helps eliminate misunderstandings.

  • Involving Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people within a classroom context benefits both the local community/ies and the school. Students’ learning experiences are enhanced by their understanding of Aboriginal knowledges and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and, over time, positive relationships will be fostered between communities and schools.

Negotiating with guest speakers

Planning for guest speakers requires consideration of the following:

1. Allow time

  • Make arrangements well in advance to allow your guest to consider your proposal.

  • It is important to negotiate rather than impose a program. Be flexible — you will need to accommodate their existing commitments.

2. Cultivate positive relationships

  • When making contact, it is culturally appropriate and courteous to make an initial face-to-face visit. This can be arranged through your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander education contacts (school/regional/district/diocese).

3. Collaborate to develop the learning experience

  • It is best to involve the guest speaker before, during and after the unit of work or course of study. Knowledge gained from contact with the local community through discussing cultural concepts can often help to clarify teachers’ understanding and make learning experiences both culturally appropriate and authentic.

  • Consult with the guest speaker about key elements of the experience such as group size, location, and any materials required.

  • Some Elders and community members may prefer to remain in their home or community settings. They can often explain connections to Country and the environment by showing specific sites and sharing stories of the land. Sharing this understanding in such a way is culturally appropriate and an effective learning experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of working. Just remember to consider the additional logistical aspects to organising this.

4. Negotiate remuneration

  • It is respectful to offer guest speakers payment for sharing their cultural knowledge. Not all will wish to charge, but offering demonstrates understanding and valuing of their cultural knowledge.

  • Some speakers may have a set rate of pay and others may need help deciding on a pay rate. Seek advice from your Aboriginal education workers and Torres Strait Islander education workers.

  • Payment for out-of-pocket costs should always be made. You will need to negotiate matters such as transport to and from school, meals, and payment for materials provided as well as remuneration for your guest’s time. It is usually best to bring these matters up at the second meeting, rather than the first.

On the day

1. Manage the event

  • When preparing students for the visit, plan appropriate questions to ask the speaker/s.

  • If the guest speaker has elected to work with small groups, plan rotations and activities for the students when they are not with the cultural teacher.

  • During the activities, class teachers should remain close enough to offer support if needed, and to ensure that interactions are positive.

2. Acknowledge Country and speaker

  • It is advisable to draft the introduction that you will give your guest and check it with them before delivering it.

  • Before the speaker’s presentation, start with an Acknowledgment of Country, then introduce your guest.

3. Take care of the speakers’ needs

  • Offer your guest speaker the same respect and courtesy as any other teacher.

  • Ensure that the environment is comfortable and appropriate.

  • Speakers may wish to bring a friend or relative for company or assistance, particularly on their first visit at the school. This should be encouraged, as it supports the speaker during their visit.

4. Harness local knowledge

  • Whenever possible, involve Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander helpers to accompany the class on relevant excursions. They can advise on preferred behaviour and protocols for the visit, and following their advice will increase the likelihood of a successful visit and a future welcome.

After the guest speaker’s session/s

1. Thank the speaker

  • To demonstrate an appreciation of the knowledge shared, students should be invited to thank the guest speaker.

  • A thank-you card and/or gift after the session may be presented.

  • Do not allow students to rush away after a session, leaving the speaker alone. It is polite to help gather up materials and equipment and see the visitor off the school grounds.

2. Schedule the next visit

  • If a follow-up session is required, make the arrangements immediately, and make contact to confirm the date and time a few days before the next visit.

3. Share student work

  • Invite guest speakers back to the school for any public sharing of relevant student work.

  • Other community members may also enjoy visiting showcases of learning and knowledge gained through the shared experiences, such as an exhibition, public expo or drama performance.

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