Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Early Childhood Educators' Narratives: Relationships, Not Activities

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Early Childhood Educators' Narratives: Relationships, Not Activities

Article excerpt


This article discusses some findings from a collaborative, inter-cultural research project that used a narrative inquiry approach aimed at generating stories of practice through a shared meaning-making process (Clandinin & Connelly, 1991). The study was conducted over 18 months and we worked with three Aboriginal early childhood educators from different locations and contexts (a regional Northern Territory child care centre catering for Aboriginal children, an informal preschool in a remote Western Australian Aboriginal community, and an Aboriginal community near Darwin). A small critical reference group of Aboriginal early childhood educators responded to taped and transcribed conversations we had with the primary respondents. Their responses and original tapes and transcriptions were returned to the primary respondents to check for accuracy, fairness, and relevance of interpretations. Our aim was to document Aboriginal early childhood practitioners' knowledge about teaching young Aboriginal children through the stories they told of their practice. The practices that Aboriginal early childhood practitioners perceived as valuable became the focus of the stories. We intended that these stories and the practices they described could form a bank of instances to which other early childhood educators, particularly non-Indigenous educators, could refer in order to work more effectively with Aboriginal children. It is important to note, however, that the practices we report here should not be read as representing an essentialist Aboriginal approach to working with young children. Rather, they can be read as site specific, to be engaged with, debated, and retold according to other contexts.

A critically important outcome of this research is the emphasis practitioners and critical reference group members place on interactions between adult and child and between children themselves, rather than on `culturally appropriate activities'. Although there is considerable evidence to suggest Aboriginal people in many different cultural settings value relationships very highly and teach children from birth about the complex kinship system (Hamilton, 1981; Butterworth & Candy, 1998), initially we did not make the connection between this and practices in Aboriginal early childhood settings. We have used some excerpts from our taped and transcribed conversations with two Aboriginal early childhood educators (Beth and Ann) and one of the reference group members (Jan) to illustrate the importance Aboriginal educators ascribed to the relationships they had with children and parents. Pseudonyms have been used to protect participants' identities. As white researchers undertaking research with Aboriginal participants, methodological issues associated with this kind of inter-cultural research were considered to be central. These issues are discussed in the companion article by Fasoli & Ford, Indigenous early childhood educators' narratives: Some methodological considerations, page 12.

Relationships--not activities

There is a notion commonly held by non-Aboriginals that Aboriginal people have the same cultural beliefs no matter where they are from in Australia. Non-Aboriginal educators attempting to incorporate Aboriginal perspectives often do so in superficial and stereotypical ways (Stephenson, 1996). This was noted by one of our participants Beth. She explains:

   Beth: We had a [non-Aboriginal] staff member who did not realise that the
   kids that come from different areas have different ways, that the kids down
   that area believe different things from the kids up north.

   Lyn: Can you give an example of that?

   Beth: Well, she just believed that all Aboriginal kids were the same and
   they all believed, in the same things.

In order to understand how Aboriginal early childhood educators were teaching their children, we asked questions about their programs. …

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