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Indigenous student retention

Indigenous student retention: What can educators do?

There has been encouraging growth in the Indigenous student retention rate over the past decade, but it remains well behind the figure for non-Indigenous students.

Tony Dreise, Principal Research Fellow in Indigenous Education at the Australian Council for Educational Research, says far too many Indigenous learners leave school far too early. So, what can educators at the grassroots level do to continue to drive improvement in Indigenous student retention?

Dreise says teachers and leaders need to build schools and community partnerships that foster and nurture the ‘whole child’ – focus on continuous academic growth, but also investigate what’s happening in and around the child or young person. This could lead to questions such as:

  • 'Is she learning on an empty stomach?'
  • 'Is his headspace being affected by bullying in the playground?'
  • 'How do I improve my teaching to this group of kids who don't speak Standard Australian English at home?'

In the classroom, be innovative and mix it up. ‘Sure [you’ll] have routines and some things will be predictable, because a lot of kids like this approach, but the high performing teachers won't rely on one pedagogical approach all day, every day. They'll be learner-focused by systematically listening to and observing their students, creating and managing performance data, making learning interesting, providing safe and yet challenging learning environments.

‘The great teachers will be the ones that will help craft a 'learning disposition' within young people. They'll also foster a classroom environment whereby young people are made to feel proud of their heritage and positively dream about their rightful place in tomorrow's world.’

Dreise is supportive of schools fostering cultures of ‘really high expectations’, but adds they need to be mindful of having ‘highly real expectations’.

'Great schools are the ones that identify internal and external resources, be it money, talent, equipment or political influence. To this end, schools need to actively cultivate relationships with parents, community leaders, enterprises, health, recreation and community service agencies …

‘… the great schools will be the ones who help unveil a galaxy of black stars for Indigenous young people; not just the football stars but the Indigenous stars who shine in trades, professions, business, arts, cultural and civic life. They'll embrace a sense of “school at the heart of place” and seek to improve it each and every day.’

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.