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Reflections Magazine : Issue 50
19 REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • AUTUMN 2013 - ISSUE 50 In 2001 the director of Napranum preschool, like leaders in schools and centres in many indigenous communities, struggled to get parents involved in their children's learning. Regular meetings and organised activities for parents at the preschool were not well attended. Despite what could be perceived as disinterest on the part of the parents, the director had a strong belief that the parents cared about their children and wanted them to do well at school. Establishing trust was the first and most important thing that the director felt she needed to do, and this meant taking the time to build relationships with parents through personal connections and links to the community. She engaged initially with the indigenous staff at the preschool and through them made connections with parents and the wider community. The current director agrees, "So long as you know someone, or so long as you make that connection, that personal connection, everything's going to work out fine. [To establish trust] ... you need to become aware of the community, about cultural things, about language differences ... You've got to have respect for their culture and their community in the first place, and then you've got to be able to demonstrate that you've got respect for their culture and community." The genuine respect the preschool director had for parents and the community influenced her approach. Taking an influential local community member with her, she knocked on doors and engaged parents in conversations about early literacy learning. She described her approach as, "It's not about telling somebody how to do something. It's about saying how we're going to do this together. It should always be from the approach of, this is where we are, these are some of things we'd like to do, so how are we going to get there as a team." When several mothers expressed interest in assisting their children's literacy development, the director seized the opportunity to investigate existing early literacy programs with them. She gained funding from the local Rio Tinto mine to fly with a mother to Melbourne to investigate the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY). The Napranum mothers found this, and other existing early literacy programs, unsuitable for their children. So the director set about engaging parents to work with her in order to develop the PaL program. One of the parents, who was instrumental in developing PaL explained, "PaL is a success because we knew the Hippy Program wouldn't work [within our community] ... I said our children are not going to understand that ... we need to do our own. And we did it our way, you know." Another remarked, "We made the game. We took it, tested [it] with our kids. We're sitting there and writing things down and saying, Oh, we should change it this way, this way and that. And then we went back [to the preschool] and said, Okay. This is the game. This is how you're going to play the game because this is how the kids played it." PaL today is run by a board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and employs a program manager, coordinator, and local community tutors. The partnership at Napranum, characterised by shared responsibility and leadership in an intercultural space, appears to have had an empowering effect resulting in power to, rather than power over, these parents. Early results indicate that children's involvement in the reading activities with their parents is making a difference to their literacy development, attendance and participation at kindergarten. Note: PaL won a 2012 Deadly Award for its contribution to Indigenous education References: Taylor, R. (2003). An indigenous perspective on evaluations in the inter-cultural context: How far can one throw a Moree boomerang? Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 3(2), 44--52.
Reflections Magazine Issue 51