This paper summarizes the findings from the first phase of a three-part project which, overall, investigates what Aboriginal students perceive as the qualities and actions of effective teachers and subsequently seeks to determine the impact of the enactment of these identified qualities on educational outcomes. This first phase of the research was centered on gathering accounts of quality teachers and teaching practice from students, parents and their teachers from phenomenologically aligned interviews. Similar and contrasting themes among these three groups are presented, with the intention of exposing potential mismatch in perception of the construct of ‘quality’ teaching. Finally, we present implications of this research in light of the more recent development of professional standards for Australian teachers that seek to define and evaluate high quality teaching.
- Explicit within the release of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APSTs) is the attention to knowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and, in response, the practices that attend to students’ cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for students.
- The findings from this study suggest that although teachers show some consideration of practices responsive to their Indigenous students’ requests, the knowledge and low-inference demonstration of practice that students and parents seek to see evidenced by teachers of this study is insufficient. This finding is exacerbated by the fact that the teachers in this study were mainly early career teachers likely to have been exposed to issues embedded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and the tenor of the APSTs in their more recent pre-service teacher education.
- Teachers showed a limited awareness of the linguistic, social and behavioural capital that is necessary for success in mainstream classrooms; and the assistance most of our participating Aboriginal students identify as necessary for negotiating the demands of classrooms. Further, teachers showed a limited awareness of the importance students and, especially, parents place on cultural inclusion and affirmation, especially in regards to promoting an educational experience that validates cultural identity.
- In response to parents’ views, teachers show a limited awareness of how historical and negative educational experiences continue to impinge on parent, and, subsequently, student engagement with schooling.
- It was apparent from the small amount of correspondence amongst students, parents and teachers that dialogue amongst our participant groups around these quality practices is necessary. Ultimately, this action needs to be initiated by teachers in order to understand and enact the practices that will improve outcomes for all students in their classrooms. As their study progressed, the researchers were finding for their participant teachers this was not a comfortable process – although they did understand, based upon students’ and parents’ comments, why seeking and enacting a pedagogy of difference starts with them.
- The researchers were hopeful that ongoing research will contribute to a common understanding and language for discourse which will make the low-inference actions of quality teacher practice more tangible for our nations’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.