Supporting success requires an understanding of the combination of factors that can work to prevent it. “Indigenous students in remote area schools face different and unique challenges compared to children in other schools, and there are Indigenous students performing well at school,” Tammy says.
"Successful students are displaying academically buoyant behaviours by building individual capabilities when drawing on both individual and resource strengths at school. I think it's something that we really need to be looking at.”
Tammy notes that many Indigenous students in remote area schools do not speak standard Australian English at home. “For students to be able to speak standard Australian English in class, they need to leave behind one way of being and speak another person's language when they are at school,” she says. That can be more difficult for some than for others.
“At the same time, students may feel they are judged by others, making this a unique challenge that they need to overcome to be able to find success at school. That's something that I myself and many Indigenous people can identify with,” Tammy says.
Empowerment through encouragement
Tammy’s research for her Master of Philosophy (Indigenous) indicates that the support and encouragement of teachers plays a vital role in overcoming these challenges, especially in cases when students are putting too much pressure on themselves.
“For the Indigenous students in my study, identity was also a common theme, and how people saw them as a learner. They wanted to be seen as successful learners," Tammy says. “To be acknowledged, or to have some sort of recognition that they were successful, gave them that motivation to go back and actually keep doing the tasks and building up their capability."
Little things make a difference
“There are also little things that make a difference, such as recognising the students’ achievements, telling them they did well and providing feedback so that they understand what is working," Tammy says, "so, they will return to these successful moments—essentially all the basic things that teachers do all the time, I'd say. But in remote contexts achievement recognition needs to focus on developing individual resilient capabilities.
“I think that we teachers are sometimes too busy doing our job that we forget about these little things that students need to build that academic buoyant capacity.”
Powerful role models
Tammy says that the interviews were not only useful for her research project, but they also helped her to grow as a teacher. As Tammy herself has much in common with her students, she noticed that she also serves as a role model for them.
“Over the course of this research project I realised how important it is to consciously be a role model as an Indigenous teacher,” she says, “and to let your students know about the challenges that you've come across as a person, and how they, too, can overcome them, what strategies to use, what resources to draw on.”
The support of the staff at her school was also integral to her research, making it relatively easy for her to find students who were willing to participate in the project. Tammy is also pleased that not only local students from the main school have participated in her research, but also students from further away in neighbouring Indigenous communities including the Torres Strait.