Taking action to build a culturally safe school

Elisabeth Murdoch College (EMC) shares its journey towards reconciliation and building a culturally safe school.

Elisabeth Murdoch College’s (EMC) journey with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students started a few years ago, when a student organised the school’s first flag raising ceremony.

Since then, the college has been working to build a culturally safe school. The foundations they have laid reflect this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme: More than a word. Reconciliation takes action

They also reflect the theme of Education Week this week, which celebrates Victorian schools ‘Building Connections’ with their communities. 

Last year, EMC explored Reconciliation Australia’s free Narragunnawali: reconciliation in education resource, for advice on how to:  

  • develop a working group  
  • write a vision statement  
  • complete a reflection survey  
  • select actions for the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), aligned with the Marrung Education Strategy.  

The approach recommended by Narragunnawali ensures work through the RAP is meaningful and consultative, so schools work with the community and hear and embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in their program. 

A team of teachers and education support staff at EMC led this work, helping establish a relationship with local Traditional Owners, the Bunurong people, and build a thriving school culture with in-depth knowledge of First Nations peoples’ experiences. 

Teacher Stephanie Raike said the Narragunnawali resource was easy to use, with simple advice and suggestions about how to develop an RAP and add depth to it in the future. 

‘Being a culturally safe school that works towards genuine reconciliation and celebrating First Nations peoples is about the work you don’t see, that goes on behind the scenes every day, not just saved for the significant dates and events,’ Stephanie said.  

‘We may not always get it right, but we are always ready to listen and to learn.’ 

Focusing on education

A key priority of the working group is ensuring students, staff and all members of the EMC community have a deep understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ perspectives, histories and cultures.   

The school has established a Koorie Education and Engagement team to promote cultural understanding for all students, while also separately focusing on increasing education engagement of Koorie students.   

The exceptional passion of the team has inspired Koorie students, including students and staff who did not previously identify (for a variety of reasons), to get involved in Koorie Education and Engagement activities. 

The program has also encouraged some Koorie students to seek opportunities through Indigenous Pathways into School Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships and university degrees, while others have embraced the chance to open significant school events with Acknowledgements of Country.   

This has all helped elevate the college’s vision, actions and goals for reconciliation, as well as celebrating their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.  

About Reconciliation Australia

Reconciliation Australia is an independent, national not-for-profit organisation promoting reconciliation by building stronger relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

Reconciliation Australia works with education providers and organisations to develop programs to foster reconciliation across the country.  

Find out more

For more information, refer to Narragunnawali: reconciliation in education.