14 SES 11 A, Community-engaged Teachers and Social Networks to Improve Social Equity
As in many European nations, in Australia community engagement ‘has become the sine qua non of public policy’ (Lawson & Kearns, 2009, p.19). This paper, a collaboration between an Australian Indigenous and a non-Indigenous researcher, probes definitions of community engagement in education policy to illuminate how the term ‘community’ is culturally nuanced.
The call for community engagement in teaching responds to a concern that schools can re-traumatise, re-marginalise, and reproduce the conditions that have been historically exclusionary (Zeichner et.al, 2015). The honouring of community expertise, their funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992), and community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005) are decisive elements in producing teachers who are equity-focused and democratic. With a growing research base, community-engaged education is emerging as one key in advancing educational equity (Clark, Zygmunt & Howard, 2016).
For teachers to be transformational, many scholars are calling for educators to work with and for the communities they serve. However, while policy about the significance of community engagement in education has increased, developing relationships with historically disadvantaged families has not been mainstream practice (Zeichner, Payne & Brayko, 2015) and teachers often have little to no preparation for the social realities of the lives of their students and their students’ families. A significant issue for community-engaged research in education is how to build authentic, ethical relationships with the most historically vulnerable groups, who are often hard to reach, have had poor experiences with schools, and are outside or disconnected from formal systems.
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the most disaffected and marginalised, and their young people are left relying on the few Indigenous staff appointed in lower ranks of the school for support and advocacy. There are also, in Australia, numerous policies including Gonski et al’s. (2018) that reinforce community engagement as a gap in educational policy and practice. The report states that “Schools need support to build quality partnerships to deepen community engagement” (Point 2.8), stating that “While many models of school-community engagement exist in Australia, school-community engagement to improve student learning is not common practice and implementation can be ad hoc”. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010–2014 (MCEECDYA
2011) states that non-Indigenous school leaders and staff must go beyond the classroom and school in seeking to engage with communities (p. 12).
However, addressing this gap in community engagement takes for granted a common definition of community. We know, however, that definitions of community (or more appropriately, communities) are culturally constructed, socially enacted and politically significant. Aboriginal researcher Frances Peters-Little (2000) writes that Aboriginal Australians feel they are becoming losers in what he refers to as the ‘community game’. There is limited literature that privileges Indigenous voices on community engagement within the field of education. This is problematic when a range of state and federal Indigenous education policy approaches commonly refer to Indigenous communities and the need for schools and educators to engage with them.
The aim of this research is to raise discussions about how communities are being defined, in order to produce a more accurate description of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the ‘Australian’ community in an increasingly multicultural, and diasporic era. The objective of comparing and contrasting how Indigenous and non-Indigenous authored policy reports define ‘community’ is to reimagine an education system that provides benefit to these communities and their children in ways that are culturally safe, socially just and self-determined.
This analysis of Indigenous and non-Indigenous constructions of the meaning of ‘community’ is part of a larger research project on community engagement. This paper represents just one aspect of the study; the initial mapping and analysis of Australian policy documents focussing on community engagement in the field of education. Initially we identified key documents written both from non-Indigenous perspectives (Government and Industry) alongside those authored and led by Indigenous people. While many scholars, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have critiqued how policy (mis)represents Indigenous communities (Moreton-Robinson, 2013; Rigney, 2006; Hogarth, 2017) this mapping of the field is different in that it seeks to compare definitions of community where and in the policy context in which they implicitly and explicitly occur. The project began with a desk analysis or mapping of Indigenous education policy over the last ten years. Ten policy documents were selected to represent Indigenous and non-Indigenous policy contributions that were perceived as having had some impact. An Indigenous Discourse Analysis was applied to these documents, defined by Hogarth as ‘a means to challenge the rhetoric within policy that implicitly maintains a deficit view of the potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (Hogarth, 2017, p. 23). This paper reports on our careful and close readings of these ten key policy documents. We assigned codes to the textual documents, seeking patterns, nuanced differences and similarities in how communities were defined and discussed. We subsequently re-examined the texts to interrogate intentions, incorporating aspects of Carol Bacchi’s analytic method, 'what's the problem represented to be? (WPR) (Bacchi, 2009). These questions, focusing on voice, agency and power, align with the Indigenous research methodologies. A unique aspect of our collaboration involves the manner in which we bring our Indigenous/non-Indigenous perspective to our analysis. Each of us individually ‘took a first pass’ at each of the ten selected policy documents before analysing them together. This led to interesting dialogue when we perceived definitions of community differently despite what appeared on the written page. Our ongoing interrogations of meaning became part of the research itself as we both derive meaning from text and construct meaning ourselves based on our standpoint.
We recognise the concept of community is changing rapidly as globalisation and technology impact on how communities interact and form. For this reason, it is important to create a contemporary understanding of how communities are defined and related in order for educators to understand how to effectively engage with them. This preliminary research associated with a larger project on community engagement highlights the complexities – and need for – better understandings of what is meant by the term ‘community engagement’ and how it might be interpreted, enacted and evaluated as it informs and enters policy. While the research is ongoing, some preliminary themes of interest include the following: Community versus communities: Though there is some recognition of the dangers of generalization, non-Indigenous led policy on community engagement in education tends to write about community in the singular, intentionally or inadvertently implying there is such a thing as singular, essentialised ‘community’. Community membership: There is an ongoing preoccupation and ‘policing’ in policy with how Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander Australians can legally or culturally identify that they rightfully ‘belong’ to community. This preoccupation is differently constructed in Indigenous and non-Indigenous led policy. Voice: Predictably, non-Indigenous led policy documents are written in passive voice, with communities defined as recipients and clients in contrast to Indigenous led policies that represent community either as the leaders of knowledge and action or as co-constructers of knowledge in a much more visible and self-determining way. The discursive strategies used in policy writing is one indication of the politics of inclusion. These are just three emerging observations as we continue our analysis.
Bacchi, C. L. (2009). Analysing policy: What's the problem represented to be? (1st ed.). Frenchs Forest, N.S.W: Pearson Education. Clark, P., Zygmunt, E., & Howard, T. (2016). Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools, and Why We Need to Get This Right: A Conversation with Dr. Tyrone Howard. The Teacher Educator, 51(4), 268-276. Gonski, D., Arcus, T., Boston, K., Gould, V., Johnson, W., O’Brien, L., … Roberts, M. (2018). Through growth to achievement: The report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Hogarth, M. (2017). Speaking back to the deficit discourses: A theoretical and methodological approach. The Australian Educational Researcher, 44(1), 21-34. Lawson, L., & Kearns, A. (2010). Community engagement in regeneration: Are we getting the point? Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 25(1), 19-36. Ministerial Council for Education Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA). (2011). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education action plan (2010–2014). Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. Moreton-Robinson, A. (2013). Towards an Australian Indigenous women’s standpoint theory: A methodological tool. Australian Feminist Studies, 28(78), 331–347. Peters-Little, F. (2000). The Community Game: Aboriginal Self-Definition at the Community Level. Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Rigney, L. (2006). Indigenist research and Aboriginal Australia. In J. Kunnie & N. I. Goduka (Eds.), Indigenous peoples’ wisdom and power: Affirming our knowledge through narratives (pp. 32–48). Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91. Zeichner, K., Payne, K., & Brayko, K. (2015). Democratizing Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 66(2), 122-135.
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.