CHARLIE (WILBUR) KLEIN
Charlie (Wilbur) Klein has more than 20 years experience as an remote and regional schools educator and principal. This experience and passion for teaching ‘off the beaten track’ saw him honoured as one of 12 Teaching Fellows in this year’s Commonwealth B
“Utilising traditional science knowledge to enrich and focus learning in a broader sense has a positive impact on children’s wellbeing, and on the school community as a whole.”
Q. What attracted you to working at Tjuntjuntjara?
There’s a real moral purpose in what school communities do in remote communities, so when I was encouraged to apply I was happy to use the skills and knowledge I have – this is our 20th year in a remote context!
Just like maths specialists who have those skills and knowledge, my wife and I have really developed that capacity where we have the knowledge and understanding of the remote indigenous context.
Too often we are reminded of how little we know.
Q. What problems did you discover at Tjuntjuntara, and how did you tackle them?
There was a need to further develop the physical resources.
We’ve painted classrooms, built gardens and brought the school up to a state where, as a school community, we’re proud of it and teachers like being here.
Alongside that there’s the development of the curriculum, and the core of what we’ve done is to develop (as a school community) our community education agreement which clearly articulates the shared expectations we have in regards to culture, language, working together, learning and engaging students.
Underneath that we have the action plan of what the school is responsible for and what the community is responsible for – which becomes our operational and development plan.
From there we have specific things to focus on; literacy and numeracy in the western sense but also that cultural learning and the retention of history and culture for our kids.
That’s what the school community agreement is about.
We’re building a school community where we work together and support our kids, we’re not just building a school.
Q. How did you feel winning the Teaching Award?
In the Awards you lay yourself bare to a degree, but while it’s an individual award it’s something that’s based on the power of many in the school community.
Certainly leadership in the school has a significant impact, but what we do as a group, the leaders within our community, the leaders within our school, impacts everything.
I see the award as a community award in a sense and I’m extremely fortunate to be part of this community.
Q. How is the grant money being spent?
We’re utilising the project money to further develop our culture and two way science program – utilising traditional science knowledge moving into western science knowledge.
Our decision on how to spend the grant money was a community collaboration supported by our shared vision as part of the Community Education plan – which is focused on Learning, Culture and Language, Working Together and Engagement.
In this case, we are using traditional knowledge and experience in the school with learning on country as a driver for learning in school with Elders and Rangers as the teachers to start the process.
CSIRO have come on board and are supporting us too, it’s a great collaboration between consultants, CSIRO, community and the school.
Utilising traditional science knowledge to enrich and focus science learning in a broader scope has a positive impact on children’s wellbeing and on the school community as a whole.
It recognises there is unique knowledge and skills in Spinifex Country. Something to feel good and strong about.
Big places and cities do not hold all the knowledge.
Q. Do you have any advice to teachers about remote teaching?
One of the main issues for me is that after three years here, a teacher is really getting to know and understand what’s going on – and often we lose them back into mainstream and never see them again.
That fear of leaving your social network, friends, and family, is one of the main drawbacks and what people find hard to do.
There’s a career for people here. At times you need to go out and follow your values like family but it is possible to have a family and kids out in a remote location.
People need to view it as going out to build your network and social resources.
It’s not a negative. What we’re doing out here in Tjuntjuntjara, what I tell people, is that we are part of closing the gap. We are part of reconciliation Australia. We are a small mob having a big impact on what our nation is chasing.
This is part of our nation. Aboriginal people are part of our history and they’re an important part of our future.
The more you learn and understand about it, the better you are as an Australian and the more you can share that story.
I say to people – come out and have a crack!
“We’re not just building a school – we’re building a school community [that] works together and supports our kids.”
Charlie (Wilbur) Klein with students at the remote Tjuntjuntjara Community School.