Thumbs up for Lansvale East Public School’s Indigenous teachings

Checking in: Lansvale East's year 4/5 yarning circle. There is no hierarchy in the circle; everyone is equal. Picture: Chris Lane
Checking in: Lansvale East's year 4/5 yarning circle. There is no hierarchy in the circle; everyone is equal. Picture: Chris Lane

The bell rings at Lansvale East Public School and the first subject is not maths or English.

It’s time to check-in.

Every day, in every class, the school utilises the Aboriginal cultural custom of a yarning circle to start the day as a way of empowering kids to embrace their individual cultural perspectives and heritage.  

Based on four key principles – honesty, integrity, courage and respect – pupils are given the chance to share how they are feeling in a verbal or non-verbal way.

Thumbs up means you’re doing good, to the side means you’re OK and thumbs down mean you are feeling not too well.

The Champion witnessed a year 4/5 yarning circle on Wednesday with one pupil sharing how he was happy that his cast was now taking off his arm, while another was sad because they didn’t get enough sleep.

It’s all part of the school’s focus to build high expectations relationships to improve educational outcomes for students. The yarning circles are also completed by the teachers on a weekly basis.

Principal Rebecca Challenor said it was about improving the “authentic learning” environment.

“Kids come to school with different stories. We don’t know what has happened the day before and what is happening in their lives, so it is all about making those connections,” she said.

“There are no responses during the check-in. There is no judgement and everyone is respectful and patient. During the day the teacher will complete a walk-talk with the student to find out how they can help them and what they can do in ways of support.

“It also develops empathy for their peers, because the peers then get to understand each other and they can see how they can help one another, so ultimately for our future we’re developing these students with not only a rich understanding of our Aboriginal culture in a respectful and honest way but they’re also getting a rich understanding of each other and each other’s culture to promote an inclusive environment. 

“It’s about building the relationships through trust and understanding with a cultural perspective with the yarning circles and the check-in which are Indigenous way of sharing.”

Lansvale East’s building of the Indigenous perspective in the classroom comes as new figures reveal the number of Indigenous students in western Sydney is growing three times faster than the area’s general student population.

New analysis by the Stronger Smarter Institute – which aims to improve educational outcomes for children from Indigenous and other cultural backgrounds – show since 2011, western Sydney has seen a 19 per cent increase in the number of school age Indigenous children.

In comparison, the total number of school age children in western Sydney has risen by only 6 per cent for the same period.

For the first time in 10 years, Lansvale East have enrolled three Indigenous students for 2018.

Stronger Smarter Institute chief executive Darren Godwell said the Indigenous student boom is taking place within western Sydney’s already culturally diverse population of students.

“The growth of both western Sydney’s multicultural and Indigenous communities means it’s becoming more important than ever to ensure that students don’t need to leave their culture at the school gate,” he said.

“Real learning can only take place if our children are able to bring their whole selves to the classroom, and this is what we hope to help western Sydney teachers continue achieving.

“Western Sydney has a rich cultural heritage. We believe this is a strength that can and should be celebrated in the classroom. This means fostering high expectation relationships, a strengths-based approach and a positive sense of cultural identity.”

According to the NSW Department of Education, 65 per cent  of all government school students in Sydney’s west come from a language background other than English.

At Lansvale East, that number is 92 per cent. 

Ms Challenor, who completed a Stronger Smarter leadership program, said it makes embedding cultural into the classroom –  like the yarning circles – vital

“It makes that connection between home and school more effective and it allows us to build that knowledge of the student but also get to know them and then we can embed the cultural perspectives because we also want them to know who they are and be proud of their identity which is another big focus of Stronger Smarter, which is being proud of who you are and having that strong sense of identity and that smart sense of I can actually hack it with anyone in the world,” she said.