Cultural Immersion: Developing a Community of Practice of Teachers and Aboriginal Community Members


  • Cathie Burgess University of Sydney
  • Paddy (Pat) Cavanagh



Aboriginal community, Aboriginal education, cultural immersion, communities of practice, teacher professional learning, relationships


A lack of teacher awareness of the cultural and historical background of Aboriginal students has long been recognised as a major causative factor in the failure of Australian schools to fully engage Aboriginal students and deliver equitable educational outcomes for them. Using Wenger's communities of practice framework, this paper analyses the effectiveness of the Connecting to Country (CTC) program in addressing this issue in New South Wales (NSW) schools whereby Aboriginal community members design and deliver professional learning for teachers. Qualitative and quantitative data from 14 case studies suggest that the CTC program has had a dramatic impact on the attitudes of teachers to Aboriginal students, on their ability to establish relationships with the local Aboriginal community and on their willingness to adapt curriculum and pedagogy to better meet the needs of their students. As Aboriginal community members and teachers developed communities of practice, new approaches to Aboriginal student pedagogies were imagined through a sense of joint enterprise, mutuality and shared repertoire, empowering all participants in the CTC journey. Implications from this research highlight the importance of teacher professional learning delivered by Aboriginal people, Aboriginal community engagement in local schools and addressing deficit discourses about Aboriginal students and their families.


Download data is not yet available.


Australian Council for Educational Research. (2013). Indigenous education update. Camberwell, Vic, Australia: Author.

Benham M.K.P. (2007). Mo'olelo: On culturally relevant story making from an Indigenous perspective. In D. Clandinin (Ed.), Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology (pp. 512–534). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Bishop R., & Berryman M. (2010). Te Kotahitanga: Culturally responsive professional development for teachers. Teacher Development: An International Journal of Teachers’ Professional Development, 14 (2), 173–187.

Buckskin P., Hughes P., Teasdale B., Gregory J., Clarke C., Morgan D., & St Clair J. (2008). ‘Connecting cultures.’ review of Victoria's Indigenous education strategies: Supporting Indigenous students through school. David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences, City West Campus, North Terrace, Adelaide S.A.

Burgess C. (2014). Shifting sands. The narrative construction of early career Aboriginal teachers’ professional identities at the cultural interface (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of Sydney.

Burgess C. & Berwick C. (2009). Aboriginal peoples perceptions and beliefs about quality teaching. Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Conference, Canberra, 29 November–3 December 2009.

Burgess C. & Cavanagh P. (2012). Real stories, extraordinary people. Preliminary findings from an Aboriginal community-controlled cultural immersion program for local teachers. In Jan Wright (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2012 Joint International Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and the Asia Pacific Educational Research Association (APERA). University of Sydney, 2–6 December 2012.

Burgess C., & Cavanagh P. (2013). Opening Up To Local Communities. ‘You must have a heart miss, none of them other teachers ever go there’. Final Report of the External Research Team on the implementation of the Connecting to Country Program. Darlinghurst Sydney: Department of Education and Communities. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from

Burgess C., & Cavanagh P. (2015). Connected communities narrative research project: Final report. Unpublished report to the NSW DEC Connected Communities Directorate, Sydney.

Carey M., & Russell S. (2011). Pedagogy shaped by culture: Teaching narrative approaches to Australian Aboriginal health workers. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 30 (3), 26–41.

Cobbold T. (2013). Australia's PISA results 2012, Education Research Brief retrieved November 3, 2015, from

Creswell J.W. (2009). Research design qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches. US: Sage Publications Inc.

Griffiths T., Amosa W., Ladwig J., & Gore J. (2007). ‘Equity and pedagogy: Familiar patterns and QT possibilities.’ Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 25–29 November 2007, Freemantle, WA, Australia.

Hart V., Whatman S., McLaughlin J., & Sharmer-Brymer V. (2012). Pre-service teachers’ pedagogical relationships and experiences of embedding Indigenous Australian knowledge in teaching practicum. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 42 (5), 703–723.

Hooley N. (2009). Narrative life. Democratic curriculum and Indigenous learning. New York: Springer.

Joves P., Siques C., & Esteban-Guitart M. (2015). The incorporation of funds of knowledge and funds of identity and their families into educational practice. A case study from Catalonia, Spain. Teaching and Teacher Education, 49, 68–77.

Kwan T., & Lopez-Real F. (2010). Identity formation of teacher-mentors: An analysis of contrasting experiences using a Wengerian matrix framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 722–731.

McConaghy C. (2000). Rethinking Indigenous education: Culturalism, colonialism, and the politics of knowing. Flaxton, Australia: Post Pressed.

Nakata M. (2011). The cultural interface. Locale, agency and tension. Paper presented at the 2nd Symposium on Emergent Identity, August 8–9, University of New South Wales, Sydney.

New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Incorporated and New South Wales Department of Education and Training. (2004). The Report of the Review of Aboriginal Education Yanigurra Muya: Ganggurrinyma Yaami guurulaw Yirringin.gurray - Freeing the Spirit: Dreaming an Equal Future. Darlinghurst, Sydney: Author.

New South Wales Department of Education and Training. (2009). Aboriginal education and training policy. Darlinghurst, Sydney: Author.

New South Wales Ombudsman. (2011). Addressing Aboriginal disadvantage: The need to do things differently. A Special report to Parliament under S31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974. Sydney: Author.

Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP). (2011). Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: Key Indicators 2011. Commonwealth Government, Canberra: Author

Stewart B. (2005). Indigenous teachers: Narratives of identity and change (Unpublished Masters thesis). Simon Fraser University. Canada.

Timostsuk I., & Ugaste A. (2010). Student teachers’ professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 1563–1570.

Vass G. (2012). So what is wrong with Indigenous education? Perspective, position and power beyond a deficit discourse. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 41 (2), 85–96.

Wenger E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, meaning and identity. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7 (2), 225–246.

Williams S. (2010). Being culturally aware becoming culturally inclusive: A pathway to cultural competence. Stanmore, NSW: NSW AECG Inc.

Yunkaporta T. (2009). Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface. Professional Doctorate (Research) thesis. Queensland, Australia: James Cook University. Retrieved 20 April, 2015, from




How to Cite

Burgess, C., & Cavanagh, P. (Pat). (2015). Cultural Immersion: Developing a Community of Practice of Teachers and Aboriginal Community Members. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 45(1), 48–55.