Arthur Hamilton Award winner Jeanene Booth tells LOUISE SWINN about the empowering nature of her work.
Jeanene Booth, winner of the 2020 Federal AEU Arthur Hamilton Award for Outstanding Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, describes what she has been doing at Caulfield South Primary School as “unremarkable but unfortunately quite unique”.
The school moved quickly to make changes after a Cultural Understanding and Safety Training (CUST) course raised awareness that Indigenous staff faced significant challenges and obstacles. Jeanene says that staff at the school really want to make positive change.
“The school has been such a kind space for an Indigenous teacher to come into and impart my knowledge,” she says.
As a teacher at the school since 2015, part of Jeanene’s role is to empower colleagues and help them embed Indigenous perspectives.
First, school staff made connections using picture books and small objects, so that children could see links between their experiences and Indigenous stories. “I started doing lesson plans that allow teachers to teach the information they always have, while knowing how to include Indigenous perspectives and embed Aboriginal contexts for richer content.
Jeanene feels a huge responsibility to contribute to Indigenous education and this is evident in both her passion and her huge reserves of energy. “There are a lot of challenges in the space of Indigenous education at the moment and many teachers feel like complete novices on the subject.” But, since beginning her work, “the difference in our school is remarkable,” she says.
“I started doing lesson plans that allow teachers to teach the information they always have, while knowing how to include Indigenous perspectives and embed Aboriginal contexts.”
“For NAIDOC week, I sent ideas for things to do in the school and, when I came in, I could see the transformation. The teachers had worked so hard to embed Aboriginal content all week, including videos for assemblies. In comparison to the NAIDOC week two years earlier, it was such a big change it made me cry. We are making a difference.”
It hasn’t all been easy, though. “The biggest challenge is that we have no Indigenous students in the school and our kids have no experience with Indigenous kids, so I had to learn how to make this history and information relevant to the students at our school.”
Jeanene teaches them about the Stolen Generations and the disadvantages that Aboriginal children face. “It’s just so far removed for these kids and their lives, and so we have to start where they are at and bring them along.
“We want to connect with the local Indigenous community, but school life is busy, and it takes time. It’s a slow journey; relationships are two-way, and they take time to develop.”
The greater school community has been very open to the furthering of Indigenous knowledge.
“I’ve been blown away by the way the entire staff body has taken this on – really questioning the history. People are realistic. It’s going to take a long time to do it well,” she says.
“I’m the first from my family to go to university, so I became a teacher to work with Indigenous kids – but then I realised I could teach largely non-Indigenous kids about Indigenous cultures.”
Jeanene believes kids are the perfect age for this education. “They see through the rubbish really quickly, once you share an injustice with them.”