If we want to engage parents and community members in the school, we need to build working relationships based on trust, mutual respect and inclusiveness. That doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to get to know each other and create an atmosphere in which everyone feels safe enough to express views openly and honestly.
Be clear that the education of the students must be the central focus. So gatherings should allow mutual sharing and the opportunity for community members to talk about their aspirations for their children and their expectations of the school. Developing these contexts in which people listen to, and understand, each other is the key and the basis for a shared commitment to the education of the students, both as a group and individually. That's what the partnership will be all about.
Gatherings might be informal or formal, but we suggest that informal ones might be most effective in the initial stages. They need not be elaborate. We have seen schools spend an inordinate amount of time and effort organising a big event, only to find that, despite its success, the process was not sustainable. Instead, take advice from community members about what form gatherings should take.
Just as you wouldn't expect uniformity of beliefs, attitudes or behaviours among non-Indigenous parents, don't expect it among Indigenous parents. Some will feel comfortable about attending mainstream-style (usually formal) events but other will not. If they don't, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't engaged with the school community or interested in what is happening in the school. The key is to provide multiple and diverse opportunities for each family's participation.
Remember, too, that positive working relationships cannot be built without getting to know the local Indigenous community and recognising and valuing their cultures. Be aware that Indigenous communities have their own dynamic and that gradually coming to understand differences in interpersonal communication styles is vital.
But don't feel that the task is all too difficult! Indigenous communities are just as interested in their children's future as other people and most of them just need the right opportunity to get involved and work with you.