Jessa Rogers: PHD Candidate at Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research

This week Jessa Rogers will be taking over the EduTweetOz account. She’s currently a PHD candidate researching the socio-emotional well being of Aboriginal students, bringing a valuable perspective to EduTweetOz this week.

Jessa tweets at @Jessa_Rogers

Jessa

Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

My passion for education started around the time when I was completing year twelve in Queensland as an “at-risk” student, blessed to have a supportive school, and teachers. I graduated with a ten-day old baby, and at that time realised two things: education was a vehicle out of poverty, for both me and my family, and, that I wanted to empower other young people, especially those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

I had been taken out of mainstream schooling and homeschooled for six months in early primary school, and three months later toward the end of my primary schooling, taught by my mother, who had a grade ten education, as we travelled remote Australia and lived in the Northern Territory. This, along with my Aboriginal heritage, sparked my other key interest area, Indigenous education.

After year twelve I enrolled in a double degree (Creative and Performing Arts/Education) as a first-in-family student, and graduated with a passion for Aboriginal education and the power of arts toward social change and healing. I was offered a position at a Catholic primary school as a Specialist Teacher. I taught prep-year 7 students Creative and Performing Arts for a year, while directing the Wakakirri production. During this year I taught several Aboriginal students, and observed outcomes that caused me to look for a role in Indigenous education where I believed I could make change to benefit such children.

I stopped teaching when I was offered a support officer role (Indigenous support officer) at a girls’ boarding school in Brisbane, and commenced coordination of the Indigenous student program there. Six months later I was employed in the same school as a teacher, and taught SOSE, a Creative Arts elective as well as into the social and emotional wellbeing program as a pastoral care teacher. I continued to coordinate the Indigenous student program, and also taught weekly as a guest teacher across curriculum areas and year levels, teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content, in collaboration with class teachers. I loved this role, because of the students, families and Elders I worked with, and my time teaching at this school continues to drive my career aspiration to date. While teaching I completed a Master of Education (Guidance and Counselling) to further my understanding of how approaches that strengthen the social and emotional wellbeing of students can be incorporated into schools, with a particular focus on Indigenous students, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in schools. Upon completing my studies, I took a support role at a regional university in QLD in the Indigenous higher education centre, providing support and guidance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students. During this time I was approached by the university to develop and lecture a pilot compulsory fourth-year education course in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching and learning perspectives, teaching into the Education faculty.

Currently, I am a PhD candidate at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University. My research is focused on the social-emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal students, particularly in boarding schools, and the role of Aboriginal histories and cultures in schools.

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

I have a number of Elders who have supported me in both my studies and work with all students. These wonderful people are the keepers of our Aboriginal knowledges and I feel absolutely blessed to learn from them. The guidance and value they have added to my work over the years is incredible. I am also inspired by the network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers who work tirelessly across our nation to support both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, while assisting their schools toward reconciliation and the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures across all grades, and all subject areas. My family, especially my mother, have been a continual support and inspiration for me. My two sons are my biggest inspiration, and keep me focused and working hard to contribute to my community and the broader Australian education community, to make school a welcoming and supportive place for all young people in Australia.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

I believe that student success, in whatever form this comes, is a reward to most teachers. The smallest gains are sometimes the biggest successes. The relationships we form with our students, their families and communities, and with other colleagues in education, I believe, are some of the biggest rewards. Listening to students, forming supportive and encouraging relationships with them, and valuing them as individuals who are part of complex and interconnected networks that extend well outside the classroom (including the outdoor classroom) is rewarding for me, and for my students.

The challenges I see in education today include the emphasis on assessment and testing that I sometimes see as a “one size fits all” approach. Student-centered approaches seem to clash with the preparation and pressure that state-wide testing places on our most vulnerable students, for example. I sense the difficulties faced by teachers and schools to keep up with the rapid advances in technology, and I think that sometimes, we are too reliant on technology in schools. The value of face-to-face and outdoor learning cannot be overestimated, and while incorporating ICTs is essential in preparing students for the world they live in, I feel one of the great challenges in education today is how to balance that with the learning that can come from connection to people and place.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I don’t have answers to the significant challenges faced by education in Australia, nor am I an expert on all things education. I hope to use my knowledge and experience to create change toward reconciliation in schools, which will flow into broader Australian society. I believe the meaningful inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures called for by the cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum are valuable, for Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students, families and communities. I also think whole school approaches to student wellness are essential for young people in schools today.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

EduTweetOz is valuable as a tool to open dialogue between educators across diverse areas of education and interest in Australia and beyond. I believe the account is a vehicle for professional learning, collaborative discussion and for the opening of topics sometimes not discussed in schools. My hopes for the account this week are for rich and meaningful discussion that encourage new knowledge and growth of ideas.

 

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