What Works - The Work Program

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Drouin Primary School, Victoria

We go forward now, we don't go backwards

Context | Beginnings | The process | A formal agreement


Context

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The township of Drouin is in Gunai/Kurnai country, at the heart of what is now a pastoral and dairying community in the West Gippsland region, less than 100 kilometres from Melbourne. The population of the town is about 8000.

Drouin Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 school, with an enrolment of about 200 students, 22 of whom are Indigenous. The original school buildings were designed by Walter Burley Griffin and a program of renovation and rebuilding is currently taking place.


Beginnings

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Lyn Keating

In 2008, the first two priorities in the Gippsland Region of the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) were the development of strong, supportive leadership and the introduction of Koorie perspectives in the curriculum.

But when Michael Smith (Regional Koorie Education Project Leader) met Principal Lyn Keating to discuss a curriculum project, it became clear that the primary issue was building relationships between Koorie parents and community. It was obvious that those relationships as they stood were very negative and counterproductive for the students' education.

As it happened, an opportunity had arisen to talk to Sandra Brogden about the support that What Works could offer to bring the school and Koorie community together.

As Sandra put it later,

I think in this situation, people were ready for something ... not necessarily to sit down and talk but they were ready for something. And I don't know that they knew what it was. Because there were such big issues in the school.


And Lyn Keating agreed, saying,

We just did not understand each other and there certainly was not a trusting relationship between us. I only seemed to be making contact with parents about negative things, like behaviour issues. I wanted to make things better, but I didn't know how to do it.


Initially, meetings were held with the school leadership and the Local Aboriginal Education Advisory Group (LAECG) separately. A lot of negativity was expressed in both groups, but it was agreed that a first meeting of Koorie parents and the school leadership should be held. At that stage it was not clear whether the process would lead to a formal partnership.

The first meeting was very intense. To ensure that the process began on a positive note, parents were asked to focus first on the good things that the school was doing. Lyn remembers what happened.


I was very nervous personally and I didn't want it to backfire. I was worried because the misunderstandings were there, and I thought both sides were guessing what the other side thought, without really knowing.

There could easily have been arguments, but the strategy of the facilitator [Sandra] was to keep it positive. She asked the parents to think about what the school was doing well and they could think of a lot of things. And I was able to say, honestly, that I've made mistakes and that I needed their help to understand Koorie ways better. I honestly wasn't at all at ease when we started, but it was something I really felt needed to be done. Once I realised that even though parents had some problems with the school they do acknowledge the things that are going well, I felt we had common ground and could begin from there.


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I think it was honestly the first opportunity the parents had ever had to talk like that. And the way the facilitator teased out the discussion encouraged everyone to have a say so we could all get a clear understanding. I really want to acknowledge her role as an independent third party here.


The critical importance of the independent third party is also outlined by Michael Smith, Lyn Keating and Regional Koorie Education Development Officer, Vera Briggs in this one minute video.


The process

In between the series of meetings that followed, Koorie Educator Terrylene Marks did a lot of work outside the school, talking to parents and encouraging them to get involved.

There was also a series of meetings with parents to talk through a lot of general issues about schooling. Some people couldn't attend every meeting, so the facilitator ensured that each gathering began by going over what had already been discussed. The set of What Works 'Partnerships' publications for parents and communities were used as aids in discussions.


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Terry Marks

In one meeting, for instance, the value placed on education by Koorie parents was examined, after it seemed to have been questioned in a previous meeting. That meeting also focused on Koorie students as learners and the role of the school and parents in achieving the best possible outcomes for them. The discussion covered such topics as 'what we believe our Koorie children need', 'how Koorie children learn', 'what stops Koorie children from learning', 'what we want Koorie children to achieve' and 'what needs to be put in place by both the school and the community for this to happen'.

During the process, solutions and suggestions from within the group were encouraged. Parents felt affirmed that their views on education of and for their children were valued, and school personnel felt that their contributions were valued and what they were already doing in the school was recognised by the parents.

At the same time that these meetings were taking place, the School Council was regularly informed about what was happening, and took a keen and supportive interest. The support of the School Council was important in maintaining momentum.

But how important was it that the process moved towards a formal partnership agreement? Sandra comments:


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In a way, it wasn't the written agreement in the end that was important, it was the process of building relationships, of people getting to know each other and working together. But when there is a written agreement it has to stay alive. By no means is it finished when you sign it off. You have to keep working at it, and keep revisiting it.

And getting to the point of a written agreement takes ... as long as it takes! People who think that you can set a timetable at the start are wrong. It takes as long as it takes.


Sandra sums it up in this one minute video.


A formal agreement

Getting to an agreement in this case took about six months. At the end, those involved agreed on a set of points that had been important in the process.

A signing ceremony took place in March 2009 and was attended by over 100 people, including Koorie community leaders, Aboriginal musician Kutcha Edwards, local politicians and Regional Office staff. School Council representatives took part and all the students, teachers and other school staff were present as well. Lyn remembers it like this.


The process of getting there was the hard bit, sometimes, but in celebrating the process at the end we had a magnificent day. Almost all the Koorie families were there, and non-Koorie parents as well.

We had a 'Welcome to Country' and a Koorie dance group from Sale, followed by a few guest speakers. Merle Rose [parent] got up and told her story and I really appreciated that because it showed how she felt about the process.


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And then Kutcha Edwards sang and he really involved the kids. He got a couple of them out of the audience with clap sticks and two others who play the didgeridoo. It was so uplifting, and he was still singing while people came up and signed the actual agreement.

The children were all there and involved and we celebrated at the end with a sausage sizzle and morning tea. I was on a high. There was a great feeling in the room.


A range of other positive outcomes has been identified subsequently. Lyn, Assistant Principal Mick Hussey, Terry and Merle talk about the partnership process in this two minute video.

footprints

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