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  What Works - The Work Program

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Echuca College, Victoria

Good relationships and positive feedback to parents

Background | What Works planning | Koorie Cultural Week


Background

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Echuca has a population of over 10,000 and is situated on the Murray River about 200 kilometres north of Melbourne. It is a regional centre for rural services, tourism and manufacturing.

Echuca College has over 1,000 students from Years 7–12 and is the result of the amalgamation of Echuca High School and Echuca Secondary College which happened two years ago. There are about 45 Indigenous students.

Although the college currently operates on two campuses, an extensive building program is taking place at the former Echuca Secondary College site, and by 2009 all facilities will be consolidated there. The site covers over 12 hectares and includes a community sporting stadium which is managed by the YMCA. A campus of the Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE is next door. Consolidation on one site has attracted community support and proposals exist for further sporting facilities to be built on site.


What Works planning

Paul Hon is Campus Principal at the junior school. He discusses some of the issues he sees for the school, and the way planning has been assisted by What Works.

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Paul Hon

Back in Echuca High School days we had a focus on our Koorie kids. We has some good Koorie topics in the curriculum and one staff member per year was going up to the Northern Territory with VUT to work for a month in Aboriginal communities. But in a merged school, with a large building program going on and a lot of other things to think about, we'd lost some of that.

I saw What Works as a wonderful opportunity to start planning again, and I realised that we had new staff members who hadn't had the same background. So here was an opportunity to consolidate and decide what direction we needed to take.

The biggest issue for us with Indigenous kids is really to get them staying at school beyond Year 9 or 10. There are many aspects to that of course and I think the larger school can offer them so much in terms of breadth of curriculum. Even for kids who have left school (or who are on the point of leaving) we're working on getting pre-apprenticeship programs going. But we've got to get them here first. So the challenge is to be able to engage all kids in our curriculum.

Another part of that is to get parents to support what the school is doing. This is the old site of Echuca Technical School and way back in the 70's and 80's many people in the Koorie community didn't have a good relationship with the tech. There's some history there and because of that it's obvious that we need to build some bridges.

In our What Works planning we came up with a target that teachers of Koorie students should make positive contact with students' families at least once per term. Too often we're only in touch with parents when something has gone wrong or the kid is in trouble. In the end we want parents to be comfortable about coming up to the school but we've got to work on our relationships and include Koorie people more. That's the important thing and we've worked on quite a few strategies.


Josh Wanganeen is a Koorie Educator at Echuca College.

Josh Wanganeen

Josh Wanganeen

I've found that the action planning with What Works has really helped me. No matter what I'm doing it's good because it helps to keep me organised and I can jot things down on it that I need to do. So it helps to keep the priorities there.

We need to break down the barriers between teachers and parents. Even if it's just regular, five minute phone calls about good things the kid has done in class, that will help. We're aiming for positive contact with parents once a term at the moment, but we think about once every three or four weeks would be ideal.

I already ring parents quite often. If teachers tell me in the staffroom about things a kid has done, then I'll make a note of it and give the parents a call. Sometimes they think the worst when they get a call from the school, but I want them to get positive feedback when a student is doing well.

I do a lot of home visits as well, and if a kid has been in trouble I try to give the parents some good news when the kid gets back on track. Parents want their kids to be happy at school. It's a big thing for them.

Getting kids coming to school has got to do with having good programs here and the relationships teachers have with the Koorie kids (and their parents for that matter).

The new school building is organised so that a number of teachers are working with larger groups of kids. That means that there are different learning strategies going on and it doesn't always depend on one teacher with one student. That seems to make it easier for a lot of kids and there have been fewer incidents. Maybe it's easier in this setting for teachers to deal with things before they blow up.


Koorie Cultural Week

Paul Hon continues:

Through our What Works planning it was obvious that we needed to introduce staff and students to Koorie culture. We were able to identify just how much of our curriculum time looks at a Koorie perspective.

So our Year 7 team sat down and mapped out a cultural week for the last week of Term 3. Planning started when we had a local Elder come in and address the staff. She told her story and talked about working with Koorie students. Because we’ve had such a large turnover of staff, many people hadn’t heard that story, although she has visited the school before.

During the cultural week students will be doing a range of activities with people from the community. For example, there will be some Koorie sport activities and groups of girls will be looking at the lives of Koorie women in times gone by. Boys will have a workshop about a man’s journey. Then there will be a canoe tree walk with a local Elder and dance with Josh Wanganeen. They’ll be looking at the movie Rabbit Proof Fence and there will be an art workshop at BRIT [Bendigo Regional Institute of Technology]. So it’s very comprehensive.

The week will culminate with a celebration barbecue where students will be displaying their work and we’re hoping the Koorie families will take up the kids’ invitation to come. We’ve got to try and take those opportunities to have the families in to celebrate what’s been achieved, rather than just for student management issues.

This is going to be a fantastic start but it’s something that should happen every year. At the same time, it shouldn’t be something we’ve got to tick off, it’s got to be actually embedded in the curriculum. And we have to get that cultural perspective right through the school. Koorie content shouldn’t be just a one-off.
The way we’ve got our Year 7 structured, we’re well set up for these sorts of activities. The whole relationship between teachers and students has changed just by the way we’ve structured our classrooms as ‘learning neighbourhoods’ with groups of teachers working together. The design of the classrooms helps a lot and the opportunity is there to pick up a theme and really have an integrated curriculum.

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