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  What Works - The Work Program

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Some advice about making formal agreements

In the beginning

  • There may be protocols that the Indigenous people you are working with want to have respected and observed. Please investigate this issue and respect their wishes.
  • Decide the best way to proceed.
    • In some situations, it has been decided that the best way to go about things is for parents, families and community people to have their own meetings until they work out what it is they would like to happen.
    • Another important idea is to get someone to help run these meetings who is trusted by the community but who is not a part of the school — a 'third party' or broker or independent facilitator, who doesn't belong to either group but whose job it is to make sure things go smoothly. This allows people to talk more freely and to say what's on their minds.
  • Get as many people involved as possible. Spread the word about what's happening and why. Talk it up round the community. Use flyers, the phone, email.
  • Make sure key people like Elders are there. The people at the meetings need to be able to make sure that agreements stick.
  • Is there any help people will need to be able to come to meetings? Do people need to be picked up, for example?
  • Make sure meetings are held at a place where people can feel most comfortable. This mightn't mean at school. Make arrangements for a cup of tea or refreshments.
  • Don't rush the process. Good agreements take time. Continuing good relationships are even more important than what ends up being written on a piece of paper — and strong productive relationships take time to develop.

Meeting together

  • Make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear to everyone.
  • Make sure you are clear about what you can offer and what you can't. All parties need to say clearly what they can and can't do and to be able to make their side of the agreement happen. Don't waste time by getting expectations up that can't be met.
  • Start with some general questions like the following.
    • What do we want the school to be like?
    • What does that mean in practice?
    • What's working now? How can we make more of that happen?
    • What can we do to make things better?

Try not to talk about problems without providing a possible solution — keep everything as constructive and positive as possible. Be sensitive about other people's views.

  • What information do you have that would be useful for everyone to share?
  • Is there other information you need? Where can you get it from? Is there any expert advice that would help that could be brought in?
  • Make sure someone is taking notes so that they can be shared and that a proper record of what has happened is kept.
  • Try to get agreement about the main things you want to achieve, the objectives of the agreement. Keep all the ideas, on the understanding that the details will be filled in later.
  • Consider if and when smaller meetings might be appropriate and, if so, who might be around the table; for instance, nominated representatives, or people from representative organisations. If there is a need, help establish a reporting back process.
  • Participants have an absolute right to be able to understand what other people are saying. Be careful about 'school language'. Don't use jargon or acronyms, don't talk about programs that Indigenous participants don't know anything about. Always provide explanations that are requested.

Developing the agreement

  • What are the sections to the agreement and who will write it?
  • What is the process for endorsing the agreement? Have all key groups, including students and teachers, had an opportunity to understand the agreement?
  • What will the final document look like? (Some agreements include artwork, pictures, themes and local Indigenous language.)

The end of the beginning

  • When you have reached an agreement work out ways of celebrating and publicising it. Endorse it by signing off. Make sure there are copies for everyone. This is a good occasion for a get together and a celebration.

Making sure that things happen

  • Making an agreement is just the beginning. You need to make sure that what you've decided really happens.
  • Things can begin happening before the agreement is signed off. But there needs to be a plan for action which is shared, that says who is responsible for what and when things are to happen by.
  • All schools have plans which say what is going to happen over the next year or sometimes longer. The plan for its Indigenous students could be a part of this or, if most of the school's students are Indigenous, their needs should be recognised in the plan as a whole.

Keeping the agreement in place over time

  • School people come and go, but that is no reason for changing the agreement. In any transition arrangements of senior school personnel the agreement should be one of the important items to which new people are directed.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2020