What qualities are needed for mentoring aboriginal youth in Australia?

The Australian Aboriginal Flag

Munday, J., & Rowley, J. (2022). Cultural collaboration: Mentor attributes needed when working with Aboriginal youth. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 30(3), 280–292. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Mentoring is a promising intervention for aboriginal youth because it aligns with indigenous learning approaches & teachings.
  • This is reinforced by findings that suggest that mentoring can also a) strengthen collective community connections, b) preserve education about indigenous history & culture and c) promote positive academic outcomes.
  • An art class at an Australian secondary college aims to incorporate mentoring elements to help students learn more about aboriginal art-making and about themselves.
  • This study explores the positive characteristics of the Koorie* artist and how that contributed to their ability to mentor and support students.
  • The Koorie artist was able to establish respectful, trusting mentorships and foster personal & social development among the students.
  • Some participants highlighted the freedom they had in producing work that reflected their lives and families and how, in turn, it helped them learn more about their heritage & communities.
  • Several students became more self-confident and interested in participating in other community events afterward.
  • Having a Koorie artist in the classroom acknowledges the expertise and wisdom of Koorie people and how it, in turn, contributes to student learning and education

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Projects assisting Aboriginal youth to acquire attributes for effective learning require community or elder mentoring, to ensure learning about culture and history will connect with the skills of the planned project. A Koorie art class at a secondary college in north eastern Victoria, Australia, relies on the positive attributes of mentoring in guiding young students to understand themselves as well as learn skills in Aboriginal art-making. The aim of this article is to discuss the positive attributes of the Koorie artist, since these attributes are crucial to the success of the program. A qualitative study of interviews with class teachers, a deputy principal, a Koorie artist, and students was undertaken as part of a larger project. Participants articulated the essential and positive attributes needed for a Koorie artist or mentor. This article helps understand what particular interpersonal skills, specific knowledge and applied skills are necessary for such a learning project.

Implications (Reprinted from the Results & Discussion)

Not all the previously appointed Koorie artists have been as successful as those currently employed, therefore it was important to endeavour to ‘create sensitive, insightful, rich, and trustworthy research findings’ (Nowell et al., 2017, p. 2). The following

shows the main themes that came from the analysis:

As shown in Figure 1, the first four themes relate directly to the learning and teaching within the Koorie art class; the next three themes relate to the running of the program:

The final theme covers a few, but important, comments regarding the purpose and need for implementing such a program. These final comments were not in response to the questions being posed but volunteered at the end of the interviews.

Learning and teaching within the Koorie art class

The research study set out to identify the essential and positive attributes required by a Koorie artist working with junior secondary students in a Koorie art class, particularly with regard to relationship building and expertise. All the participants could articulate the attributes needed for a Koorie artist in a mentor capacity in the classroom. The following are quotes from the data collection regarding attributes of the role of Koorie artist

I think that’s always the best thing to see is having a professional, someone who raises them to that level, or has that expectation as well, without pushing them, but sort of just helping them gain the confidence to realise they can achieve something. (Art Teacher 2, 2019)

When interviewed, one of the students said, “[She] inspired me to like… that I can do it and not give up.” (Student, 2019)

She built up a lot of really good relationships and her expertise. The blend of her being able to nurture students’ ability, and then lift the standard of their work as well as encourage them to try their own thing as well and bring in their personality to their work was sort of one of her strengths. (Art Teacher 2, 2018).

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