The classroom of the past—and the future

people yarning in a circle
The smoking ceremony to celebrate the opening of the yarning circle

For thousands of years, across many Indigenous cultures, yarning (or dialogue) circles have been used for learning. By sitting down in a circle and sharing stories, people have come to build respectful relationships and pass on knowledge.

The use of yarning circles in schools, as a teaching and learning strategy, has an added benefit for today's students—increasing their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and ways of working.

Last month, just prior to students returning to school, the Pine Rivers State High School yarning circle was opened with a small smoking ceremony.

Conducted by traditional owner and friend of the school, Derek Sandy from the Yerongpan clan of the Yugara nation, the ceremony was small in size due to COVID-19 restrictions, but big in heart.

Indeed, COVID-19 meant the project could be fast-tracked, and its creation played a vital role in connecting the school with students while they were at home.

'We sent the students videos and photos showing the yarning circle's progress,' explains David Armstrong, deputy principal.

'We wanted to let them know that when they came back to school, this would be waiting for them.'

The school involved students and local community members, in particular local elders, every step of the way.

Students had input into the design, and insisted on the storyline poles—or totems—which will be added to each year.

'The yarning circle showcases the school's ability to incorporate areas of cultural significance in the playground,' says school captain, Jacob Laur.

'Part of its purpose is to lift the esteem of our Indigenous students,' adds Mr Armstrong. 'It is located in the centre of the school, so it's a very visible space.'

The yarning circle will be used by staff and students in a variety of ways—from holding classes outdoors, to hosting guest speakers, class presentations and performances, or just for a chat during break times.

'Everyone can see each other. Everyone's on the same level. It encourages respect,' says Mr Armstrong.

'It's a welcoming, beautiful environment that is beneficial for all who attend the Pine,' says SRC vice president, Mackenzie Atanasov.

So, post-COVID, could outdoor learning spaces be 'the new normal'?

'We talk a lot about the 'third teacher',' says Mr Armstrong.

'The first teacher being parents and family, the second being the school teacher, and the third teacher being the actual space you're in.

'The yarning circle encourages respectful conversations, sharing, and inclusion, deepening understanding and giving us the chance to explore different pedagogical practices, including indigenous pedagogy.'

What wonderful outcomes for our students in a post-pandemic world.

Last updated 25 November 2020