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New Project

Building Leaders Building Communities

Commenced January 2008
The Dare to Lead project “Building Leaders, Building Community: Principals and IEWs Working Together”, is about building leadership by engaging Indigenous Education workers (IEW’s) to create stronger indigenous community partnerships with their particular school site. It will involve close liaison between principals and IEWs, identify learning needs in IEWs and provide mentoring and learning opportunities to develop an activity that both brings the community closer to the school and develops skills in the IEW.

Update June 2008

  • The project is underway in several of the ten planned sites
  • The first-phase meetings (in a three-phase program for each site) have been held in Townsville, Gladstone, Darwin and Ernabella (northern South Australia)
  • Other sites to follow: Mt Druitt, Wagga, Bairnsdale, Pilbara region
  • Plans to run the program in Tasmania have been put on hold
  • The concept has been very well received by participants to date especially with its focus on IEWs’ learning and the intent to enhance school-based activity
  • While the original plan was to unroll the three-phase process out over a longer period, the DTL State Coordinators who are facilitating the project in their own states are of the view that a more-compacted delivery time (three to four months) may be more effective.
  • Areas of skill development: A key part of the project is for IEWs to identify areas where they feel they need further skills development so that they can build community connections better. It is if interest that in the activities to date, each of the sites has identified interpersonal skills (building relationships, engaging reluctant participants, dealing with conflict etc) as important areas for their learning. Accordingly, the project will facilitate this in these sites.
  • Partnerships: DEEWR has provided funding for an extension of BLBC into Torres Strait and Mount Isa. This will be delivered in the July-November 2008 period.
  • Contact: Peter O’Beirne, DTL Education Partnerships, 0431772569,


    Two heads are only better than one when they belong to people who are working collaboratively. One of a principal’s greatest assets can be the school’s Indigenous Education Worker (IEW). Likewise, a switched-on and supportive principal is enormously beneficial for an IEW.

    Harnessing the power of effective principal-IEW partnerships and upskilling IEWs to help forge closer community connections is the focus of Building Leaders, Building Community. This is a joint project of Dare to Lead and Dusseldorp Skills Forum and builds on the work undertaken in the previous joint project, Same Kids, Same Goals.

    One of the first events for the new project was held on Bindal and Wulgurukaba land in Townsville at the start of June 2008. Eleven participants attended from the following schools: The Willows State School, Ayr State School, Garbutt State School, Cranbrook State School, Heatley State School and Weir State School.

    Peter O’Beirne, Dare to Lead Queensland State Coordinator, led the workshop. It explored the general role of the IEW and the broad concept of community. However the focus rapidly narrowed, with a close examination of ‘community’ in the individual school situations.

    Representatives from each school identified the strengths and needs of their own school. The principal-IEW pairs also compared thoughts on the strengths and gaps in experience/knowledge for each IEW.

    These two strands – school needs; IEW strengths and needs – were then married. Each school identified a project that will be undertaken and led by the IEW. The requirements of making this project work were compared to the skillset of the IEW. This process identified areas of need for upskilling or further training.

    “Building Leaders, Building Community is not a deficit model,” Mr O’Beirne explained. “It is about enhancing skills and experiences IEWs already possess, building on what you already do, and creating an opportunity to use these skills.

    “This is not about adding on something else that IEWs have to do; it is about developing the IEW in a collaborative way. It is also hoped that Building Leaders, Building Community will help the principal become better connected to the local community.”

    A sketch map was made of Programs, Activities, Strategies in each school. From this list, activities in which the IEW is directly involved were highlighted; and then activities in which the community is involved were highlighted.

    Aspects of the community were analysed including proportion of Aboriginal students, Torres Strait Islander students, and both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; students from other significant groupings such as South Sea Islander, Maori, Cook Islander; Elder support; parental involvement in school through P & C or tuck shop etc; male versus female involvement. There was a close look at what was working well, and discussion around preferred scenarios.

    For example, Louise Wilkinson, principal of Heatley SS, said that they would like to ‘soften the edges’ of their school, a term referring to the difficulties of getting parents and extended family members through the school gate.

    Ray Armit, principal of Cranbrook SS, said that there was good communication within the school but communication had to be improved between the school and the community. He also wanted to see an increase in Indigenous perspectives across the Cranbrook SS curriculum.
    It was suggested by Willows SS that they could try profiling students to assess what their individual strengths are, while all schools said that they would like to increase Indigenous family involvement.

    Each school summarised its proposed project: Volunteer engagement (Weir SS); Student profiling (Willows PS); More participation (Cranbrook SS); Elder bank (Heatley SS); Parent/staff relationships (Ayr SS); Training for Indigenous staff (Garbutt SS). From there, the group looked at the areas of future learning that all IEWs and projects had in common. Assertiveness training, effective communication, cultural protocols, and computer skills including desktop publishing were posited. Collectively, it was determined that the next session of the project in Townsville will feature assertiveness training and effective communication. There will be a third and final meeting of the group later in the year to look at what has been achieved via the project.

    “What I really liked about this workshop was the information and knowledge I gained around the community and the other schools,” said David Williams, an IEW from Cranbrook SS. Formerly a truck driver in Mt Isa, David has had a lifestyle change and started working in the school two years ago. “It is interesting to look at all the things we are trying to achieve as a community, not just as a single school. I want to communicate to our community the benefits of getting involved. When you look at the targets we are trying to achieve, the perspectives of our school and the other schools are the same.”

    Cranbrook SS principal Ray Armit also found the day valuable. “To make community connections you have to go in layers,” he said. “The first layer is employing Indigenous staff. The next layer is to connect deeper with community. I believe that the structure of an IEW and principal together works well, and this group was a good working group.”

    Patty Burns attended Heatley SS as a child and is now back there as an IEW. “We want to get more Elders in the school and keep them,” she said. “We can make this happen because Louise (Wilkinson, principal) will make sure it happens.” By the time the session had finished she had jotted down a list of people to approach and ideas for ways in which Elders might be engaged.

    “This is very timely for us because we are going through a process of reviewing our school’s strategic plan which was instigated two years ago,” Ms Wilkinson said. “The area I have a strong agenda for is community partnerships. This dovetails in beautifully.

    “I like the process that Peter used – to list programs and activities, then highlight which involve community and which involve the IEW. This worked well as a way to identify where are the gaps and where we can incorporate some parent involvement. It will be interesting to see how this goes over time and to see how we travel – it is like a mini action research project. For me, strategically it is great. We have a lot in common with the other schools.

    “I think that the principal working with the IEW is really valuable,” Ms Wilkinson said. “At the end of the day the quality of programs in school is reflected in the quality of the relationships between people who have to work together. If the principal and IEW can’t even get on, how will you ever get community involved?”

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