Program provides support to Aboriginal teachers

Providing light and guidance to those navigating uncertain waters, a lighthouse was just what Warilla High School teacher Elle Fitzgerald needed embarking on her new career.

Ms Fitzgerald is one of 15 new and upcoming Aboriginal teachers and school leaders in the Illawarra Southeast region to this year complete the aptly named ‘‘lighthouse’’ program – an innovative approach to Aboriginal teacher mentoring.

‘‘It was such a good opportunity and a really helpful experience. I didn’t realise something like this could help until I had it available to me, and I’m glad I did it because there was definitely a lot of benefit to being a part of it,’’ Ms Fitzgerald said. 

The initiative targets newly qualified Aboriginal teachers who are interested in career progression through professional learning and development. 

It provides access to trained mentors within the local area, in most cases within the same school, who work in a structured way with these select new teachers to enhance their skills and confidence in the hope of ensuring their retention and progression  within their teaching roles.

‘‘I learnt so much. I was fortunate to have a great mentor and it was also good meeting other first-year teachers in similar situations. It was also good to have that link with the uni, that after finishing my degree UOW continued to support us in this way,’’ Ms Fitzgerald said.

The director of the Australian Centre for Educational Leadership in the Faculty of Education, Associate Professor Narottam Bhindi, said the success of the program came from the unique partnership between the Faculty of Education at the University of Wollongong and the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

‘‘Together, we provide support to Aboriginal teachers and their mentors in the field to develop successful relationships, knowledge and skills amongst participants,’’ he said.

‘‘This is an area of need and we wanted to target this particular area. We want to give these vital opportunities to build new Aboriginal teachers’ capacity, confidence and their ability, as well as their interest in transitioning their career to higher levels. We want to motivate them.

‘‘For the five to six months of the program, the job of mentor is to encourage the professional learning and development of these new teachers by honing certain skills of teaching and learning, increasing their self-esteem and identifying where additional resources may be found if they are interested in further development or expertise,’’ he said.

‘‘But learning is never one-sided. For both the mentee and mentor, learning is mutual.’’

‘‘The feedback has been absolutely positive. Everyone has been approving and appreciative of the experience and the new learning they obtain.’’

Professor Bhindi said the program had been particularly assisted by the vision and support of the faculty’s dean, Professor Paul Chandler, who himself is the first indigenous Dean of Education in Australia.

‘‘We have the program starting up again in June. Based on the success and interest we have had already, we are looking to expand our work to reach more teachers,’’ Professor Bhindi said.

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