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Educator Yarns Season 2 Episode 3: Interview with Sue Motley

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Today’s guest on Educator Yarns is Sue Motley, Director of Armidale Community Preschool located on Anewan country in NSW’s New England Tableland.

Sue shares with Jessica her extensive journey in embedding Aboriginal perspectives beginning with her visit and subsequent teacher exchange program with educators from Fitzroy Crossing in WA, along with her nature pedagogy network, Nature Play Conference and her discoveries on just how deeply country informs and connects us all.

Show Notes

Sue Motely:

I wanted to see how Aboriginal culture worked in a remote community just to see if that would then

build links into ours. That interconnection between the two services being valuable for all of us. If you

get to know your families and your local cultures it can just be woven through everything you do.

Because if you're following nature pedagogy you're actually being very observant about what's

happening in your environment.

Speaker 3:

You're listening to the Koori Curriculum Educator Yarns with Jessica Staines.

Jessica Staines:

I'd like to acknowledge the Dacian people. The traditional owners of the land on which I am recording

this podcast. I pay my respects to their elders both past, present and emerging and pay my respects to

all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners.

Hi, everyone. My name is Jessica Staines Director of the Koori Curriculum. For those of you that

aren't familiar with our podcast season two is all about our new book Educator Yarns. Where meeting

and interviewing with our educator contributors from right around Australia who will be sharing little

snippets of their piece. It will be a combination of stories about why embedding Aboriginal perspectives

is so important and how to connect with local community. How to embed Aboriginal perspectives in our

programme, how to work with anti-biassed approaches and so much more. Make sure you listen in and

enjoy the episode. Bye for now

Today's podcast guest is Sue Motley the director and early childhood teacher at Armidale

Community Preschool. With over 15 years in early childhood education combined with her many years

in the health industry. Sue lived in Indonesia during her teenage years and this experience embedded an

appreciation of the natural environment, culture and diversity. Her vision for an authentic child led

programme and inclusive practise in a nature play environment has been evolving since the completion

of her bachelor in teaching in 2012.

Sue and her team have inspired many early childhood educators and primary teachers to

incorporate nature play in their setting. Her experience at Baya Gawiy Early Childhood Unit at Fitzroy

Crossing in 2019 has widened her understanding of Aboriginal culture, caring for country and issues

affecting remote communities. Sue received the William Walker Award for Excellence in Educational

Leadership in 2017 and it is an honour to have her both write for Educator Yarns our new book and join

us on our podcast today. Let's welcome Sue.

Hello. The Educated Yarns stays in two of the podcast is essentially us talking about your article

that you put through for our new book which we're really looking forward to coming out. It almost feels

like giving to a baby. I've not had a baby but you know what I mean. That's how it feels anyway. I guess

really what you wrote about is your experience having gone from working in a preschool in Armidale

and then going out to Fitzroy Crossing and making partnerships and learning their on country with

educators but then you sort of continued that relationship ongoing and then that all make your nature

pedagogy stuff that you've got happening as well. It's all kind of interconnected in a roundabout way

[inaudible 00:03:34] isn't it?

Sue Motely:

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It is very interconnected and I wouldn't have predicted that early on but the more that we do the nature

pedagogy and embed Aboriginal perspectives the more it meshes together so beautifully so it's getting

[inaudible 00:03:50]

Jessica Staines:

What drew you to want to go to Fitzroy Crossing in the first place? I can't even recall how that all came

about.

Sue Motely:

It's something I've always wanted to do. When I was nursing I wanted to go and work for the Royal

Flying Doctor Service to be able to visit remote communities. I've always had a interest in how remote

communities work. With nursing I didn't get that opportunity and once my children had grown up I

decided I'd like to do something that I wanted to do and it just popped up literally in my face and said,

"We're looking for educators." Maybe three months if it had been a longer term I probably would have

hesitated but I knew that that was something I could do within my working role. The management

committee obviously I consulted with them and said, "Look. This is what I'd like to do." And they said,

"Why haven't you applied yet?" I went, "I need to know that you're going to give me the three months

leave."

At Aboriginal community here can be a little bit hard to tap into because I think community in

general have been approached by lots of people and it's not a genuine relationship if that makes sense. I

wanted to see how Aboriginal culture worked in a remote community just to see if that would then build

links into ours. And it's kind of funny because when Sam and Shanna came out for that 10 days from

Baya Gawiny by going around cases like meram and minenbar with them it actually forged and

strengthened our relationships with those organisations. By taking them into our community that she

helped us to get into our community better if that makes sense.

Jessica Staines:

Just to backtrack a bit because I know exactly what you're talking about. You were directing at Armidale

preschool where you've been for quite a long time and then... You sort of went on block placement to...

Can you state the name of the preschool for me I don't want-

Sue Motely:

Baya Gawiny.

Jessica Staines:

I don't want to offend Natalie. She'll probably listen and think, "Oh! Jess."

Sue Motely:

She probably will.

Jessica Staines:

Baya Gawiny, right? You were there for three months but then when you came back to Armidale you

continued that relationship with the educators and they came and spent some time with you at

Armidale and also with your nature connections group, didn't they? They were part of the conference

that...

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Sue Motely:

They were. When I was up at Baya Gawiny we talked a lot. The educators used to talk about what's it

like in your centre? So there's a lot of conversations. I said, "I would love to be able to take you to my

centre to show you what we're doing." I'd showed them photographs and everything but I'd love for you

to meet my team because embedding Aboriginal perspectives is all about teamwork. It's not one person

saying let's do this. It's a team thing. And I felt like I would've loved to taken my whole team to Fitzroy

Crossing and I couldn't do that. But the next best thing was to actually talk to these educators and see if

they'd be willing as a professional development exercise to come out and to continue that link. And it

was just incredible because I didn't think it was going to happen at all.

I applied for lots of different kinds of funding to pay for the airfares but a lot of the funding

doesn't cover travel. I sort of had a bit of a stumbling block. One of my educators is connected up with

the Rotary Club Central in Armidale aand she was talking to them about, "You actually sponsoring

people to travel overseas and on scholarships and things like that. Why don't we do something for our

local... For Australia and our local community." That's how it came about. They had a meeting and went,

"Let's do this." It was sort of really easy in the finish but it took a lot of avenues to work out how we

were going to do it. They came out to present a HPLA conference but also to meet with the Rotarians.

They gave a presentation to them about some of the issues that they face up in Fitzroy Crossing.

A little bit about why they wanted to come out here just to observe a different type of service. And

while they were here we visited the Minimbar Pre-school as well which is an Aboriginal preschool in

Armidale. All those things were then taken back and the feedback that I've had since because I'm in

constant contact with the folk up there is that these educators have gone back a lot more confident to

participate in their programming and practise. Because Baya Gawiny started off with short term

contracts of educators there wasn't that continuity of programming and practise and a lot of times the

people that went up there took a while to catch on to how the culture and pedagogy worked at Baya

Gawiny with the two-way learning.

These Aboriginal educators were actually the link to the children and families but also the

consistent person that was there to follow the programming practise through. It was just incredible.

They came to our centre and we're talking about... They learnt. They met a river with barramundi and

talked to the children about their country. I just think that interconnection between the two service has

been valuable for all of us. I'm still part of a virtual craft group. We make resources for Baya Gawiny and

our service actually put together a box usually once a term of resources for their seasonal calendar.

Sometimes just some goodies that we know that they can't get up in Fitzroy Crossing but it's become a

whole pre-school community involvement. Now we've got grandma's knitting budgies so they can tell

these stories. We've got people making butterflies to send up. We've got people just donating clothes

and shoes and things. It's become a community that helps another community which is really a lot more

than I ever thought it would be.

Jessica Staines:

The seasonal calendar is very much the centre of their curriculum is what I understood.

Sue Motely:

It is. Yes.

Jessica Staines:

Can you explain it. Give me some examples of how that works.

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Sue Motely:

We've actually now got our seasonal calendar here as well which is through the Lands Council and the

Bureau of Meteorology Habit as well. It's looking at what flora and fauna are around in that particular

season and then telling stories around those plants and animals. Very much about what's happening in

the country at the same time. So up in Baya Gawiny it was wet season and dry season but also the

leader before and the change after. For example in the wet season you would do lots of stories about...

For example frogs so you might talk about... To link the frog he might tell stories around that. Mr.

Crocodile the five cheeky monkeys turns into a language version of that. One of the educators up in

Baya Gawiny and she does beautiful bird drawings and she talks to the children in the these five

different languages in Fitzroy Crossing but mainly at Baya Gawiny is bunobar and warmer Jerry. She used

to teach the children in those languages what the birds were, what they did.

In our service we look at what's around us really. We had some Blacktown yellow cockatoos

coming in a couple of months ago and we went, "Hang on a minute." That says they come in April in our

seasonal calendar. Then we were asking our community how come they're here early? It just overlays

what you're doing because if you're following nature pedagogy you actually being very observant about

what's happening in your environment. You're looking not only at the birds but you're looking at the

animals, you're looking at the bees, you're looking at the plants and trying to see then how that fits in

with the seasonal calendar. I think it's made us a lot more observant not only visually but we're feeling

things, we're touching things, were're smelling things to see what's going on. And that's something that

came back I think through being at Fitzroy Crossing by going out on country with the women there

looking for bush medicine and bush herbs and actually smelling, feeling, touching and I think that's... It's

absorbing everything that's going on around you instead just looking at one thing.

Jessica Staines:

And so with the nature pedagogy... Sorry. The nature connections group that you're a part of you have...

Where you started to have an annual conference but then this one obviously with COVID got put off,

didn't it?

Sue Motely:

Yes. We had one initially because people were saying to us... It wasn't long after you actually came up

and did your workshop. People were saying to us, "How do we put this stuff in place?" And so I got

together with Dr. Sue Elliot from UNA, Matt McKenzie from Pell Gara and then Sue Drew and Franc

Hughes. She's a local Armidale lady but she now works down in Sydney. The four of us got together and

said, "Let's put something together." Which we did. It was very successful very well received. And the

deal was it had to be onsite at Pell Gara because that was a special place to all of us in terms of that's

where it all began. We took a group of children out there. They'd never had preschoolers out there

before. We took a group of children and from that led to a research project. Led to Matt building all

kinds of leading trees and trickle hills and all kinds of things to cater for early childhood. Then the Nature

Play Conference sort of came around in amongst that and then the second one. We felt with the first

one and the feedback was also that project wasn't enough Aboriginal pedagogy and perspectives in that

first conference. In the meantime I went to Fitzroy Crossing organised for these educators to come out.

We really made it all about being on country what can we do with Aboriginal perspectives.

And winded into how nature works. There's sort of a group from Sydney and a group from

regional New South Wales that get together for these conferences. The Sydney folk decided that they'd

like to run one down there because there were a lot of people that couldn't get up here for whatever

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reason. We had this beautiful thing organised but of course COVID put a stop to that at the moment but

we'll happen to run it next year [crosstalk 00:15:37]

Jessica Staines:

Is there a group or a website Sue that if anyone's listening and they're wanting to find out more or get

involved that they can learn more about it?

Sue Motely:

Yes. There's a website early years nature connections and they also have a Facebook page and they've

just started a membership I think it's $50 a year and that entitleship lots of extra information as well.

Jessica Staines:

It's so interesting, right? Because we all know different people's so Franc Hughes who's a part of that

group I worked with her at TAFE and she also presented at one of our conferences on nature play and

pedagogy and obviously the crew from Explore & Develop Annandale I've been working with them for a

long time and they're good friends of mine as well. It's funny how everyone's right around the country

and of course like Natalie Davey up at Fitzroy Crossing. Another girlfriend of mine Romana was at that

centre before and then so Natalie was already connected with people at Annandale. It's so funny how all

these lines are sort of extended and how we all know each other in different ways. It just brings me back

to that whole idea of six degrees of separation but I think [crosstalk 00:16:56] is like two degrees.

Sue Motely:

It's very much like that and I was blown away by how this network just became so intertwined. I

remember the first Nature Play Conference because Franc had organised her group to come up from

Sydney and we had a dinner just to kick start everything off. And it was like we'd known each other for

years. And then all the connection started to come out and we call ourselves Nature Tribe. And I think

that's the way we feel about it because we might only see each other once a year but there's always

that lovely connection there. Kirstie from... She's exploring develop as well. She-

Jessica Staines:

My best friend.

Sue Motely:

She came up with graduation with her car just shop full of stuff for our street pantry and it was... That

connection came from Nature Play. I don't know how it all worked out but those connections are just so

important to the point where you can go, "I might just check what this person thinks about that."

And I'm just privileged to know all these people in this network because it's just amazing group

of people with so much knowledge. Once we'd had the Nature Play first conference we had always gone

on excursions and stuff but we never thought how can we just walk around the block? And some of the

folks that came up gave a presentation about going out the gate and we went, "Why aren't we doing

that already?" And it really opened up our programming and practise. We're at everywhere you

couldn't... People attend the preschools and we're like, "Oh! We just waived the pet shop to get some

food." Or we just went to do this or we went to the park. That first initial Nature Play Conference just

open up so many doors to so many people. It was just incredible.

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Jessica Staines:

And I think there is a real relationship of course and most people would agree between Aboriginal

culture and obviously nature play and pedagogy and that's why like... I don't know when people started

talking about bush kinder as if it was this new thing and I was like it's what more we've been doing for

thousands of years. What do you mean Bush kinders is the new thing?

Sue Motely:

It's definitely not new.

Jessica Staines:

But it's interesting you wouldn't think a stenser in the inner West that's based on top of a supermarket

would have so much in common with a regional based community preschool but there are. There are so

many common threads and values that sort of connect people up and I think when you find people that

are share the same values and passions and ethos as you you just got to stick together and love each

other hard and what I see these centres creating now in terms of their programme and practise is quite

outstanding. It Work. It's, being supportive and you're motivating each other and sort of driving each

other and it's incredible. It surprises me that everybody knows each other but at the same time it

doesn't surprise me that you guys have found each other in this world but it's just... It's pretty... It's cool

when you really think about it. One of the things I was going to ask you and you sort of touched on it

very briefly a little while ago because we go in our tangency but two-way learning that's a term that I

know a lot of our listeners may not be familiar with so what do you mean by two-way learning?

Sue Motely:

It's something that is embedded in Baya Gawiny philosophy and it's to have the children ready to

participate in their traditional world as well as the modern world if you like. Putting those two worlds

together so that they can still re retain all their culture and their language but also be able to participate

in the modern world with technology with further study all that sort of things. I guess the culture is

retained. The language is retained but they can also participate in whatever they really aspire to.

Jessica Staines:

And I think that's... It's interesting... Most of the services that I work with they're mainstream nonindigenous

services and of course we work with some Aboriginal specific services but they're the

minority compared to the majority of people that we work with them. And most of our listener very few

of them would have had experience working in an Aboriginal specific regional community as you have

had but a lot of the principles are still the same is that idea that we try and strike a balance between

traditional and contemporary aspects of their culture and to understand that your culture you're not

pigeonholed by it and that it's not separate to learning about space or learning about under the sea or

something like that. That is there's Aboriginal perspectives in that.

I think we often talk about wanting our kids to have strong putting into cultural worlds. You

want them to be strong in their culture and in their community and so forth but also be strong in

mainstream broader Australian society and not feel compromised in any way and to see that... I don't

know. I guess that's why I try to encourage educators as well. When I think about how that transfers into

a mainstream early learning service that two-way learning idea where potentially you only have one or

two Aboriginal children attending the service. Is that we say you display pictures of Aboriginal doctors

and Aboriginal astronauts or so forth. Aboriginal children can see themselves in those spaces as well

that they're not boxed in to live and be a certain way. Does that make sense?

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Sue Motely:

Yes. You made more sense than I did Jess. You've explained it a lot better than I was trying to do.

Jessica Staines:

I know that two-way learning in the context that you're talking about and for a crossing it would look

different two-way learning in that context or what two-way learning looks at Armidale and where you

only have seven Aboriginal children as opposed to a whole centre of Aboriginal children.

Sue Motely:

But I think it does translate. I think then if you have your Aboriginal perspectives embedded really well

through your service and we also have other cultures embedded through our service it just becomes a

way of being. Everyone's respected. Everyone's different and that's okay. We do a lot of that visual

display of culture and put perspectives through everything. But I don't think it's something that

shouldn't... It's easy enough to do in any service. I think you've just got to look into your families and a

lot of times it might be a couple of generations back but there might be a lot of other culture you can

embed as well. Probably it's really obvious at somewhere like Fitzroy Crossing but it could be done

anywhere. If you get to know your families and your local cultures it can just be woven through

everything you do and it becomes invisible. It should be invisible.

Jessica Staines:

And I like that you've said that it's the same process for including the other cultures that you have at

your service because I feel like that's something that happens often is when you start privileging one

culture above others people will naturally say, "What about me? And what about my culture?" And I

think when you're focusing on learning any one culture you tend to privilege it but at the end of the day

it's not more or less than anybody else's. It's just that it should always be there as should other

children's culture and that you tend to focus on the demographic of the children that you have. But we

don't believe that our culture is more important than anybody else's. We believe everyone has a right to

their culture and a right to feel proud of their culture. And the way that we've done workshops with you

guys in the past to look at our philosophy and ways to embed Aboriginal perspectives. That same

process should be applied to the inclusion of other children's cultures as well.

That it's play based. It's interest based. You're holistically planning. You have a balance between

traditional, contemporary, urban, regional and local perspective. You're sprinkling culture across

multiple place spaces and not tacking it on and having it separate like a cultural corner or something like

that. I can say in your programme and practise how it really is meaningfully included into topics of

inquiry and just your environment as a whole. Aboriginal culture and the multitude of other cultures

that you have attending the preschool which is really lovely to see that happening in the same process.

Sue Motely:

I think that it's just evolved that way and I can't imagine doing it any other way now. I doubt other

services might not have the diversity that we've got but even if you've got a little bit of diversity just

include it. We had one Christmas that we're asking... Talking to the children about Christmas and this

little girl started talking about apples and we're going... I had apples coming to Christmas and we talked

to her mum. She couldn't really voice it. We talked to her mum in the afternoon. We said, "We're just

wondering how apples are significant for your Christmas celebrations?"

And it was a Swiss tradition that they have apple reids and all kinds of stuff for their Christmas.

She was exactly right and that was something we wouldn't have picked up on unless we talked to the

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family because this little girl couldn't verbalise it but when we worked it out we actually started

including apple decorations in our Christmas stuff.

Jessica Staines:

[inaudible 00:27:27].

Sue Motely:

It was just beautiful and every time I see an apple now think of this little girl in Christmas but there's so,

so many cultural little stories like that that come with getting to know your families and your

community. Because it was just a casual conversation once again. A voice of a child and that's what we

use to inform our programming and practise all the time as the voices is the children. Her voice actually

taught us all something that we didn't know before and we could then include that in our celebrations.

Every time I see a red apple I think of that little girl now. But it's just goes to show doesn't matter what

group of families your service has. There's probably all kinds of different cultural information you can

draw into your programme and practise. Whether it's Aboriginal perspectives, whether it's from

Switzerland, whether its... We have an educator from South Africa. She brings a lot of her South African

culture into our service. And it's just... It enrich is what we do.

Jessica Staines:

That's amazing. And I think you saw all those nuances and you're so right. Having those relationships

with families and it's beyond what you just ask them about their culture during an enrollment process.

What are your keywords and celebrations and so forth but those ongoing partnerships that you have

and letting the families be your partner in developing a curriculum for their child to really thrive. So

that's beautiful. I've loved that story. Thanks so much Sue for joining me for our podcast yarn. I don't

know if that's what you expected but everyone's always like, "Oh!" IF we got interview questions and

stuff and it's like, "No. I'll just fall into it." It's good. It's where all the best stories come from.

Sue Motely:

I love talking to you at any time and we'll have to get you back up to Armidale to do some more work

with us. We've got a very stable staff and they're all very much sort of on the same track now moving

towards... And just embedding culture right through. We've being part of the speaking colour [crosstalk

00:29:47] just started that as well. And that's been good to do as a team as well but we remember your

visit with fondness. It was lovely having you and Brandon up there. We'd love to do it again. Because I'd

like to show you how Fitzroy what our service is like because I think you would notice probably a bit of

difference. It's become more holistic, more invisible which is how I like it. But we've been working with a

lady called Mill Lawson who's the...

She works for Pathfinders with the early years Aboriginal programme. Her and I have actually

been talking a lot about helping people to understand trauma so through the... What's the group now?

Community of practise group. We're hoping to provide some more training for educators in Armidale

around trauma and she's also organised one of the elders to do some Aboriginal cultural training as well

locally. We've been working really well together and she's been a great source of information and we

have a lovely yarn. It's like sitting down and talking to you. She visits us quite often and or rings up and

has a bit of a yarn about... We talk about different ideas. We've got to try and help other services that

may be struggling a bit to embed Aboriginal perspectives and understand Aboriginal families when they

come to the service. Been doing great work with her. She's a great mentor and friend to work with.

That's been exciting.

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Jessica Staines:

It's like these little roots that sort of shoot out in it and I think once you start that sort of [inaudible

00:31:39] you keep growing out in these different directions. This journey is taking you down different...

All these different places and connecting you with some... Sounds like someone... Blah, blah, blah. Some

more amazing people.

Sue Motely:

When we found the black cockatoo the Yellowtail cockatoos were coming I just sent her an email and

said, "Do you know in any way somewhat why they might be here now instead of April?" She went off

and she researched it and sent me all this information and it's just really lovely to have those links in the

community because often you mightn't talk for three months and then you ring up say, "Do you know

anything about this?" And it's really important for every educator not just the directors or the education

leaders every educator to have those links in the community because then that widens your scope I

guess and involves everyone in the process. I always encourage my team to reach out in different ways

to different people because often they'll pick up different information than what I've got.

Jessica Staines:

I feel like it's completely addictive that you just fall down that rabbit hole professionally and personally

that you just sort of... Once you learn one thing it just you just keep on borrowing to try and find more

connections and links. I love it. I love it.

Sue Motely:

You do. It's addictive as you say and I think if you're going to be successful embedding it in your

professional life it's going to overflow into personal life. I think that it becomes something you just have

a thirst for that knowledge.

Jessica Staines:

That's a good plan. I will let you go my friend but thank you so much and I promise I will come up and

visit you soon.

Sue Motely:

That'd be lovely. I often think of you and like I said I'd love to you to have a look at the post Fitzroy

version of what we are doing because I think you'll...

Jessica Staines:

I'd love her.

Sue Motely:

You'll see a bit of a difference to what it was.

Jessica Staines:

I'm a professional Facebook stalker in the meantime though. I feel like I still know what you guys are

doing because I follow what you're doing on Facebook but I need to come back and reconnect for sure.

Thanks [inaudible 00:33:49]

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Sue Motely:

That would be lovely.

Jessica Staines:

With our book and for taking the time to yarn with me today. I really appreciate it.

Sue Motely:

It's my pleasure Jess. It's a privilege to be part of the book and being involved with you because I think

you're doing an amazing job connecting people together but also doing it in a way that people are

comfortable with. It's just amazing.

Jessica Staines:

I hope that you enjoyed this episode and had a great little sneak peak between the pages of our new

book Educated Yarns. If you'd like to ask questions or connect with me best to join our Facebook group,

the Koori Curriculum Educated Community which is free for all of our listeners and members. Join me

next time where I interview Alex Hill, an early childhood educator, who will be sharing her aha moment

and the tools that she used to bring about cultural change in her early learning service.

Hello You!

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