1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What does this descriptor look like at different levels?

Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is the fourth descriptor of the first standard of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

This descriptor is all about supporting our First Nations students. This is a key priority of school systems across Australia, and our schools are a key part of nationwide Reconciliation efforts. Our Australian Curriculum requires a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives, and the AITSL Standards also require that teachers are supporting our Indigenous students.


What does it look like?

At the Graduate level, teachers are expected to demonstrate broad knowledge and understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identity and linguistic background on the education of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

At this level, teachers have only just graduated from university. To graduate with a teaching degree in Australia, you will need to demonstrate that you understand the impact that culture, identity, and background have on our Indigenous students.

At this level your are likely to only have had limited experience teaching in a classroom so the application of this knowledge is not explicitly required.

What evidence can I collect?

Your university will make sure that your assignments give you plenty of opportunities to meet this descriptor at this level. Make sure that you express your learning and understanding clearly so that you can demonstrate that you have met this standard.


What does it look like?

At the Proficient level, teachers are expected to design and implement effective teaching strategies that are responsive to the local community and cultural setting, linguistic background and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

At this level, you now need to show that you implement what you know about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the classroom. What this means will be different depending on where and who you are teaching; some students are very involved in their traditional culture while many feel lost and uncertain. With so many different Aboriginal cultures across Australia, you’re also likely to have a mix of students from different nations who have different needs.

The key part of this descriptor is that it needs to be responsive. You don’t need to know everything about your students’ culture, language and background, but you need to be able to listen and learn from them and their community.

What evidence can I collect?

To provide evidence for this descriptor at this level, you really need to annotate or explain some of the decisions that you are making in your classroom. You may choose to incorporate some Indigenous perspectives in a unit of work so that Aboriginal people are visible in your classroom, giving your students role models and a sense of Indigenous voice.

You may feel comfortable using language or teaching aspects of Aboriginal cultures, but you need to provide evidence for how this benefits your specific students. Because of the breadth in cultures and needs of our Aboriginal students, you need to be able to explain how your actions are responsive to them and their needs.

Highly Accomplished

What does it look like?

At the Highly Accomplished level, teachers are expected to provide advice and support colleagues in the implementation of effective teaching strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students using knowledge of and support from community representatives.

At this level, you will be well-versed enough in the perspectives of Aboriginal students to be able to guide other teachers to be responsive in their own teaching. This could be as simple as discussing a specific student with a teacher and how you’ve managed to support them in finding community connection and developing their identity as a First Nations person. You might also be able to share community connections or suggest some great professional learning that you did, as well as directly helping colleagues work on their teaching strategies.

What evidence can I collect?

As with every descriptor at the Highly Accomplished level, you need evidence that you are supporting other teachers. This means that communication between you and your colleagues is key, whether it’s emails, minutes of meetings, or collaborative documents.


What does it look like?

At the Lead level, teachers are expected to develop teaching programs that support equitable and ongoing participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by engaging in collaborative relationships with community representatives and parents/carers.

This level is where teachers can make big changes for all of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at their school. Being responsive to the needs of our Indigenous students usually means that we need to recognise our own limitations and what impact we actually have on the lives of our students. Sometimes the greatest impact that we can have for these young people is opening doors that they didn’t even know existed.

Links with the community are essential for supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students so that they can explore and find their own sense of Aboriginality. Creating and maintaining these links and opportunities is the best thing that we can do to support our students find belonging and connect to their culture.

What evidence can I collect?

As with the Highly Accomplished level, a lot of the evidence at this level will come from communication. To reach the Lead level though, you will have to have been involved in some policy, procedure, or program change as well.

Documents, feedback from parents and students, and evidence of events that have taken place are all great pieces of evidence that you have reached the Lead level of this descriptor.

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