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Educator Yarns Season 2 Episode 6: Interview with Kelly's Place Children's Centre

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Today On Educator Yarns Jessica Speaks to educators Julia Timpson and Benny Thatcher, from Kelly’s Place Children’s Centre on Cameraygal Land.

Julia and Benny discuss their approach to the Anti-Bias Goals as well as how the children they work with drew upon their understanding of identifying unfairness to enact several projects. One of these projects manifested to include other centres across the Country in an effort to gain signatures for the petition to have the Aboriginal flag flown permanently on the harbour bridge.

Show Notes

Julia:

I think it very much helped us to look at the aspects, the values of respect and fairness and empowerment with ourselves and with the children on a deeper level.

Ben:

And this is a democratic room. Every person gets to have their say for starters. We get to all make a decision, whether we want to try that, and then we see if it's possible.

Julia:

And this idea that they could be active citizens of their world and they could make change happen.

Speaker 3:

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

Jessica Staines:

I'd like to acknowledge the [Dakeyan 00:00:39] 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, we're 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, 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. So make sure you listen in and enjoy the episode. Bye for now. (silence)

            ... The intro separately anyway, as you know Benny. But thanks Ben and Julia, for jumping on the podcast this morning. And we're going to spend a little bit of time yearning about the place that you both write together, the context of where you were both working at the time at Kelly's Place Children's Centre. And mainly focusing on how you worked with the anti-biassed approach and the anti-biassed goals. So welcome both to the podcast, thanks for coming on this morning.

Ben:

Thank you.

Julia:

Thank you.

Ben:

Thanks for having us. It's very exciting.

Julia:

It is.

Ben:

I know it's really nice to be asked what I think of something. No, one else wants to know. So thank you, Jess. Thank you for that.

Jessica Staines:

I mean, I was just telling you guys before we started recording that last night, I was at a workshop and I always ask educators, why is it important to be including aboriginal perspectives in your programme as a way to begin and really lay that foundation of which we're all working off. And most people say, well for Aboriginal children, it's about inclusion and it's about belonging. And for non-indigenous children, it's about, respect for diversity and understanding about history and so forth. But really what I feel is the driving force, particularly for non-indigenous children, a big part of the why in our practise really should be because this work is about anti-bias and it's about anti-racism and it's about anti-discrimination.

            And these are words that I think many educators still shy away from. And quite often, when I begin talking to educators about the anti-biassed curriculum, their response to me is that our children aren't biassed, that they're not racist. We don't have any of those behaviours present at our service. And it's not about saying that there's your three and four year old children are racist. That's not what the anti-biassed approach is. Do you guys want to just share in your own words your take on the anti-bias approach and how it's relevant to your context at Kelly's Place?

Julia:

Absolutely.

Ben:

Yeah, do you want to talk about [crosstalk 00:04:12]?

Julia:

Yes. So I think definitely we were introduced to the anti-biassed skills a couple of years ago through you Jess. And it was a build on to looking at Aboriginal perspectives, but it gave us a new lens to examine our project work, our pedagogical practises in terms of what we were doing with the children. And I think it very much helped us to look at the aspects, the values of respect and fairness and empowerment with ourselves and with the children on a deeper level.

Ben:

And, I think also too like you just mentioned just that whole idea of people say, well, my children are not racists and white children don't see bias and things like that. I mean, it's not that they do, but I guess the thing we always need to be careful about is those biases are learnt at some point. And so how do you get in there? How do you have the conversation to avoid those biases being taught?

            And I think the thing about the anti-bias goals for me in particular, how I saw it, you used by Julia with the children in particular was just, it actually provided a really... Gave us a really confident stepping stone to actually have the conversations that I think we all knew. We sort of wanted to have. I think just us as a profession, feel we want to have.

            And you don't know, like you're saying like people... There's a lot of controversy about using the terms racist and things like that, but then there's a lot of ways to have those kinds of discussions that don't use words like that necessarily. And I think that's for me particularly, and I think what showed in the work we did with the children did was that it gave us the language and gave us the confidence to actually go, "So what do you know, why do you think you know that?" I would have questioned what Julia is saying, what do you know about fairness? Because fairness isn't about sharing a truck it's about sharing everything.

Julia:

I think one of the things as well was definitely from the teacher's point of view, we had this intention that we wanted to make our learning environment and our interactions with the children more democratic. That was a big goal for us. And, we always talk about how we listened to two of them when they say something's not fair. But I think with examining our teaching practises and our curriculum and our learning environments and trying to look at that through a democratic lens, the anti-biassed goals, really just again, like what Benny was saying was it just supported us and scaffolded us further into looking at that and doing that within our practises.

Jessica Staines:

I think it is about understanding the difference between equality and equity and what social justice looks like. I think all of us, it's sometimes being mindful that it's not what you do. It's not that anyone is being overtly or explicitly racist or biassed like I explained [inaudible 00:07:16] Kelly's Place, you have a whole heap of racist kids running around. Like it's not that at all. [crosstalk 00:07:21] But it's what we don't do. And sometimes what I find particularly in around my area where I live on the Central Coast, it's in some parts of the coast, it's quite homogenous. There's not a whole lot of cultural diversity. And so for those children, sometimes it's even more so important to be celebrating diversity and exposing them to difference because they're not getting that within their immediate sphere of influence.

Ben:

And it goes back to that classic song, which I suspect we've all heard is what and have any Aboriginal [inaudible 00:07:59] at my centre. What do I need to do this? And I think that's at the heart of it is... And I think it all started for us as just this gentle idea of obligation and it wasn't... Exactly what you're saying. It was just kind of going it's because we don't have that here, that we need to say something, we need to represent it because where are they going to go?

            Where are these children, A, where are these children ever going to find out about these? And B, where, where are the, where are the people in our Aboriginal community ever going to be represented in these walls? They're not here themselves doing it. And I know that drifts a little bit away from the anti-bias goals, but I think that it is that thing [crosstalk 00:08:41] the anti-biassed goals basically says, what are you doing to actually counteract? What is everywhere, when you walk out the door? What are you doing to...

Julia:

And that comes down to being an advocate for what you is important and feeling empowered to be able to do something, if you think something is unfair or you think something should be changed.

Jessica Staines:

And I think a lot of what you're saying are also some of the key elements of reconciliation, that is it is about unity and race relations, because I still think that in some communities, particularly in regional areas, not wanting to stereotype, but there still is sometimes like that us and them mentality that, not this togetherness. So I know one of the centres that I was at recently this week, they said we're born and raised in this town and there's not a whole lot of cultural diversity. There really is Anglo-Australians and our local Aboriginal community. But even though I've been born and raised here, I don't have any Aboriginal friends. I've never had a meal with an Aboriginal person before. So there is still that kind of racial divide that exists I think, and in terms of discrimination, isn't always sounding like, well, you can't play or your not my friend.

            It's not always so out there like that. And I think that's what came to pass at Kelly's Place. You had a couple of projects that were deeply rooted in the anti-biassed goals and approach. But the one that stood out was where the children joined a petition to have the Aboriginal flag permanently flown on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And that all stemmed from the fact that a child noticed that the flag wasn't there. So, it's not that anyone had a sign on top of the Harbour Bridge saying[crosstalk 00:00:10:38] people, we don't like them, or they don't belong here. It's the fact that it wasn't there it's something that which [crosstalk 00:10:44] could have been there that wasn't there, that he saw that as being unfair and not okay.

Ben:

I think that's the thing that goes right back to the idea of fairness. I mean, again we boil fairness down to a simple, everyone needs to have half, half of this and everyone deserves, everyone let's count out how many sandwiches are left and make sure everyone gets equal amounts. But fairness, I mean, fitness is just such an enormously powerful suggestion. And I think right from when the children in the book, we talk about the... When I got the law being installed and then to the money they raised from the droughts, I mean, we're framed around this idea of custodianship and how they became a bit more connected to their responsibility of the land around them but at the heart of it. It was really based around fairness. It was them just unlikely saying there's rubbish there, there's no bin, that's not fair.

            Those people were losing money because of the drought. That's not fair. There is no flag on the bridge. That's not fair. And it was that real. That kind of goes back to the anti-biassed goals, is that just really what the idea of what who's missing out, or why they're missing out? Yeah. And I think that's feels that can... And that goes back to the democratic thing that Julia was saying, and there was a whole bunch of other projects that were wrapped around in those times as well. And they all just had this fundamental idea of looking for what... It was about looking for what wasn't being represented rather than let's celebrate necessarily the louder voice.

Julia:

I think it was each project as well as a developed a deeper understanding of fairness, I think along with that came this idea that they could be active citizens of their world and they could make change happen as well. And it started as a small community. And then it became like more of a larger community. And then obviously with the flag, it became more national. So, I think just watching them just become so much more empowered and confident within themselves to stand up for what they believe in. It's amazing.

Ben:

Yeah. And we always talk about how there just was this real natural stepping stone of the Bin Project. It was really a centre based and local community thing, but then them running the fate was them going out to the community and saying to the community, "Hey, we, as children need your help to make this a bit easier for people." And then the last thing that the petition was them going, how do we talk to people we can't even see? How do we get everyone and [crosstalk 00:13:27]

Julia:

And then next minute, that they gave a Q&A of the Aboriginal[crosstalk 00:13:30] for hundreds of people.

Ben:

I don't know, I went to a big school. And we have no idea what happened to them anymore.

Julia:

The same though we've had like, we're still in contact with a lot of families who were part of those projects the past two years whose children are now in big school, primary school, as we say, and they still talk about it and they share the experiences with their teachers and their friends and everything like that. And they still talk about it as well to this day.

Jessica Staines:

They they're saying that... Not just walking around saying, that's not fair. It's like, that's not fair. That's not okay. And here's what we're going to do about it. And through you educating them or learning alongside them, I think is a better front frame to term to use, I suppose, is that when you know better, you do better. And education and knowledge is I think the greatest form of advocacy is that when you share what you know with other people, there's these ripple effects because the amount of people that I know from sharing, just the simple fact, did you guys know that the Aboriginal flag wasn't potently flying on top of the Harbour Bridge? There are so many people are like, no, I didn't know that I just assumed it was whereas those symbols and signals that are there.

            And that's what Annie, Dr. Sue Ackerson talks about the importance of the symbol of the Aboriginal flag. I think for Aboriginal people, they're very aware of where they are included in where they are acknowledged and where they are, where they are, where they are not. And most people agree that, of course it should be up there, but you see these ripples effects that have gone out there and moved into other communities where I've seen other petitions that have taken place about land rights. Where they're trying to bulldoze down sacred birthing trees and petitions to get the Aboriginal flag permanently flown on top of the West Gate Bridge in Victoria, because more people now are saying, "Oh, well, here's a way in."

            And that's really what you've done through these projects is show these how these goals and principles work in a really practical approach, which was led and driven by children. I just wanted to, I sat as well [crosstalk 00:15:42] that's what people can say that's how we can... That's what we can do here in our context. So how do we transfer that into our community and into our curriculum? So I think that's pretty amazing degree.

Julia:

I think what you were saying about advocacy and it being sort of like a storytelling approach that was very impactful for all of our projects and for us as teachers as well, because when we introduced the idea and the concept of advocacy and being advocates, it was explained as sort of like your sharing, your story on something that you believe is important and something that perhaps you feel needs support, needs change, or something like that. And I think children are inherently fantastic storytellers and they want to share what they're doing. And that just became a very powerful tool for all of our projects. And they were talking to their relatives overseas and everything like that and sharing this story, sending videos and everything. It was just amazing.

Ben:

And I think that's again goes back to the stepping stone of the... Is after the Bin Project, which we really need a better name for it. But the Bin Project, feels like, it's sells it a bit short, but after the Bin Project, I know, again, for me, I think Julia was well and truly already there, but for me, I was just really amazed at what happens and it sounds really cliche, but when you actually just listened to them and give them the time and respect what it is they want to do, even with the a lot of the projects and we talk about them in the book, I mean, we tried desperately to fit as much as we could in the book, but I think all the contributors, another 40 chapters probably would have just got to the bottom of it. But the one thing, all the stories in particular, the petitioner one is, we documented and shared with the public, the real stepping stone moments.

            But within each one of those real defining moments, there was real robust discussion from children how to do it. What did they want to do? What did they see was the best thing? And I think, and I learned this absolutely for Julia was just this idea of like, we are running this as a democratic room. Every person gets to have the SciFest status. We get told a decision, whether we want to try that. And then we see if it's possible. And again, you're looking at these things that were really amalgamated over three years and it started way back when... And I guess from them being heard through the Bin Project we have that children coming up and wanting to tell their cousins about what they had achieved [crosstalk 00:18:26]

Jessica Staines:

Just to give some context, because not everyone would... Is familiar of the Bin Project, I guess, is that, so the beam project is where there was... The children recognised that there was heaps of rubbish being left in the local pocket at Kelly's Place. And they attributed this to the fact that there was no bin there for people to be able to dispose of their rubbish in an inappropriate way. But they didn't just say this as being, not okay because there's pollution in their local park, but they saw that as being disrespectful to the Cammeraygal people who are traditional owners of the land on which Kelly's Place is.

            And that was quite important as well in the sense that it was an amazing project, what they did in terms of lobbying to local council to have a bin put in and the actions in the steps that they took to address that unfairness, that they saw, that disrespectful action that was taking place towards the traditional owners. But they, it was a way that they weren't just giving lip service to their acknowledgement of country, but they were really putting in place and understanding what it means to be a custodian and a steward of the land and what their role is as being caretakers in that community.

Ben:

Absolutely. And I think that was the real thing about all the subsequent thing. And again, just to reiterate that the children wanted to run a stall to raise money for the farmers and not just, it wasn't just about the drought. It was, again, it was this connection to the land. They understood that they had this... The land was really important and to have the land, this might've like that impacted everyone. And so they wanted to be a part of that. But what we found is all of the projects at the heart of it. It was never about benefiting them. And I think that's what was really amazing-

Julia:

Inspiring.

Ben:

... Inspiring is they was so committed and so energetic about what they wanted to achieve and it was never about them.

Jessica Staines:

I think this is what is most profound about these projects is that time and time again, we see the children being able to demonstrate their awareness of privilege and privilege essentially is when you don't consider something to be a problem because it doesn't affect you personally. And the Aboriginal flag not being flown on top of the Harbour Bridge. Does that affect them personally? No, it doesn't.

            But do they acknowledge that that is still an unfairness and an injustice to other people? Yes, they do. Does [crosstalk 00:20:53] in the park affect them personally? No it doesn't. But do they acknowledge that that is an injustice and disrespectful to other people? And this idea of privilege is something that most adults really struggled to understand and come to terms with, but these children are at... They're 3, 4 or 5 years of age that are saying, these unfairness's that exist within our community and greater society, I suppose, whilst they don't affect us personally, it's not okay. And we're not going to accept that. And so here is what we're going to do to address it.

Ben:

Yeah. And, and even one of the things about the, the flag on the bridge, I mean, that came about from the children, for the quite for several months, coming back and reporting back to that they'd seen the flag.

Julia:

It happened in the midst of another project.

Ben:

They would come back and go, "Oh, I went past so-and-so school and they've got a flag up, so that's good." And you go, "Yeah, that's great." Because we had that as a quote, we used quite regularly, better childhood so to say we [inaudible 00:21:52] the flag and make them feel welcome. And so it became important for them that they identified all the areas in the community where the Aboriginal-

Julia:

Flag was being...

Ben:

... was represented where the people would feel welcome. And I would come in and go, "Oh, I was that my older sister's school and they don't have the flag. So we shouldn't tell them." And that's how it happened. And it was months of them just reporting back to each other. It wasn't back to us.

Jessica Staines:

After will people coming to the centre and seeing that they had made like a construction city almost. And then on the heap scraps of paper, they had drawn the Aboriginal flag and placed it on top of these buildings, identifying which ones had the flag on top of the middle and not, [crosstalk 00:22:36] yeah, that was awesome.

Ben:

Yeah. And I think that's, again, like I said, I do again, privilege is another one of those woods that perhaps we don't feel not comfortable, but we may be suspected to being a concept. And I think that's what the anti-bias goals definitely did for me. And I think I saw it happened in the room with Julia was... Is it just gave you that language and the confidence to go, actually, you know what? These aren't too big, these concepts.

            And if the children re touching on these things, then what are they touching on? What are they really actually you can listen to the children, but then again, you can listen to them and then go away and write it down and sit there and read it and go, "what are they really trying to get out of here? What's the real point of what they're saying?" I mean, they're saying, "Oh, that thing's not there." But what are they really trying to say? And in this particular instance, I was like that doesn't make people feel welcome. And I think that's what this whole couple of years with these children did was just show just how insightful they can be and are. And just how much depth there is to the things they're asking.

Julia:

It blew us away.

Ben:

Yeah, absolutely.

Julia:

It really challenged us.

Jessica Staines:

And I think that's what a lot of people have struggled... Not a lot of people. I mean, critics have struggled to understand is that these children are so capable and competent and critically reflective that they were the real drivers of all of these projects, that they were able to look at things that were happening in their community and in their lives and reflect on them and consider them in such an in-depth way. But these amazing projects grew from them. So it wasn't educators coming in and putting these ideas onto children. These were things that were guided by the children. And that I think is what you've expressed really clearly and wonderfully in your piece for Educator Yarns, like where these projects began and your role as the educator, not to lead from in front, but to learn and walk alongside children and support them with their agency to really guide and direct the learning. Does that make sense?

Ben:

Yeah.

Julia:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think definitely these projects, as Benny was saying, it's been three years of these projects and they've continuously informed one another. And we got to the point, I think it was maybe in the second year of really looking closely at the anti-biassed goals and Aboriginal perspectives where we had children calling meetings because they wanted to discuss issues that they felt was important. And again, obviously that comes down to having the anti-biassed goals embedded within our curriculum and our practises and our culture and that democratic environment. And I think we have school kids who like as I said, they still talk about it, but they also have this understanding, the children every year, they help other people out and everything like that. And this deep understanding that this is who they are as people, I think that was what really resonated with us was that it's part of who they are now which is amazing.

Ben:

And again, back to that how much input, I mean, I've never completed a petition before, I've never set out to do on, I've never run up my own stall to raise money. I've never lobby counciled for a bin, I mean, I think-

Julia:

Even if they were quite nervous about it.

Ben:

... Yeah, but they didn't, they just figured that's what you did, but I guess that's the thing, isn't it? Like you're saying Jess, I think the important thing is really, is we just... And it's similar to the seasonal calendar as well. We didn't know. All we knew is they had expressed enough interest in a certain way that was important to lose. It deserved us to really pay attention to it.

Julia:

And I think obviously as the children kind of discussed more challenging concepts and everything like that. We see the children, but also as a teaching team, informed ourselves and researched and everything like that, so that we could better guide what they were interested in and what they were trying to articulate and what they were trying to achieve as well. So, it was very much working alongside the children, but at the same time as well, the teachers coming together and making sure that we were informed in terms of what we were going to be doing as well.

Jessica Staines:

Yeah. And I think that you needed... Like you at the same time, we're developing your cultural capacity and confidence, and it's really important. As you said, at the very beginning, you spent a lot of time going through the anti-biassed approach and not just engaging with that, but lots of texts and you were engaging in lots of professional development and mentoring to really support you in your knowledge, because I think many educators feel like they don't know enough and that holds them back from jumping in this deep with children, I suppose. But I think what's important to highlight is that these things were happening concurrently. So, you were learning these things alongside the children at the same time. You were developing your cultural capacity whilst this was happening so it's not like you have to be like some-

Ben:

No, precisely [crosstalk 00:28:10] .

Jessica Staines:

... In the North that knows all of this stuff. It's just that you were committed to learning and bettering your professional knowledge and practise to be able to go deeper and to see that this is what we're required to do in our jobs. So that's one of the things that I think I really looked into in hindsight, after these projects wound up was is this our role as early childhood educators? And are we supported by the code of ethics and the EYLF and the NQS to do this kind of advocacy work. And we absolutely are. So, and a lot of the terms that we see in the anti-biassed approach actually reflected in the EYLF outcomes, which I found really interesting.

Ben:

No, absolutely. And just again, going back to the cultural competency stuff, I mean, all of it just really challenged us and I guess the difference is again, and it sounds cliche, but it was really just a bit like, "Okay, it's important to you. Lets all just go our way." And I think just the children are really empowered by the fact that we were having to admit that we had no idea. And I think that just put them in a really different standing. I think it put us all in equal setting and which is goes right back to the idea of this democratic room that we try to create. Everyone is equal in this room. Everyone has as much word as the other person. Everyone has as much say as the other person and including teachers, children, all of it. And we saw the results of that empowerment, I guess.

Jessica Staines:

Yeah, absolutely. But thank you so much guys, for jumping on the podcast this morning and very happy to have insight into the projects that took place at Kelly's Place that really highlight and embrace the anti-biassed approach. And I think for educators that are unsure of how these goals and principles actually translate practically into an early childhood curriculum, your place in Educated Yarns shows that quite clearly, and it's not a cookie cutter approach by any means, but it's saying that what the possibilities are and your place as the supporter of children and your intentional teaching. So you've done an amazing job of making this more achievable for educators. And I thank you very much.

Julia:

Thank you[Crosstalk 00:30:38].

Jessica Staines:

I hope that you enjoyed this episode and had a great little sneak peek 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. On our next episode of Educator Yarns, I'll be meeting with Marnie, the director at Concord West Rhodes Preschool who will be joining me to share her story of how she's created a culturally safe environment and established, respectful relationship with Aboriginal families that access her early learning service.

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