Teach, Learn, Live Podcast: Todd Sculthorpe

Image of Todd Sculthorpe and Tim Bullard from the Teach Learn Live podcast

Tim Bullard: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Teach, Learn, Live podcast, I’m your host, Tim Bullard, Secretary of the Department of Education in Tasmania. 

Tim Bullard: [00:00:10] Through this podcast, we’re going to shed some light on how we are connecting students and young people to succeed every day in our classrooms. We’ve got teachers working hard to inspire our learners. And I see great school leaders making a real difference in many people’s lives. Join me as we get to know more great teachers, curious learners and inspiring families and communities who teach, learn and live in Tasmania. 

Tim Bullard: [00:00:43] Today on the Teach Learn Live podcast, I’m talking to Todd Sculthorpe, a proud Palawa man and father. Todd has been with the Department of Education since 2016. In his role with Aboriginal Education Services, Todd assists teachers to educate the future leaders within the Aboriginal community. And he also supports the Aboriginal community and pathways to employment, ensuring that their knowledge and experience is valued. 

Tim Bullard: [00:01:07] Before we start our conversation today. I would like to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal people who have been caring for and educating their children and young people here on this island for tens of thousands of years. I pay my respects to elders past and present and to all the Aboriginal community members who work in our child and family centres, our schools, our libraries and our business units. And I acknowledge our Aboriginal learners right across the state who will be the strong community members and leaders of tomorrow. 

Tim Bullard: [00:01:39] Welcome, Todd. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:01:40] Thanks, Tim. Thanks for having me. 

Tim Bullard: [00:01:42] To start off, can you just tell me a bit about yourself, Todd? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:01:46] Look, Tim, I think we’ve covered most important parts in the sense that, you know, I’m a father. I work for the Department. I’m passionate about my work. I love being out there and supporting schools, teachers, staff within Parliament Square and other areas of the Department in one of my biggest passions, which is my history, my culture and ultimately the future that my son’s going to inherit. So, you know, it’s a big part of who I am. And I just love getting out there and doing it. 

Tim Bullard: [00:02:15] You obviously work in Aboriginal Education Services, and I think it’s known as a team in the Department that has a goal of highlighting the beautiful, and the gritty, and the often forgotten history of Aboriginal Tasmanians. Can you tell me what that means for our staff and students? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:02:33] I suppose to an extent I can talk about what it means for our team and to the people I’ve engaged with. And that’s it’s an important part of the process. There are obviously national conversations around reconciliation and there’s also the counterargument around how can have reconciliation when there’s never been conciliation. I think it all forms a bigger part of the conversation in that, you know, we do have a unique history in Tasmania. It’s it is beautiful when we go back that 60 odd thousand plus years of continued survival adaptation and sustainable use of our environment, considering the climate conversations as well. When it comes to the gritty, the ugly, the horrific side of things, again, it’s making sure that we still have those conversations, those courageous conversations, that we’re sharing that knowledge with our kids so that they don’t go through the process, that I’m sure most of us can sit and say, well, I didn’t learn about that at school. I was told there weren’t any Tasmanian Aboriginal people. You know, as a Tasmanian Aboriginal people, that is really offensive to hear that a large part of who I am, so-called, doesn’t exist. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:03:43] I joke with school kids when I talk about that and say, you know what, I’m not a ghost. I’ve tried walking through walls and it hurts. So, you know, making sure that kids understand that there are some really important conversations that are being held around our history and that it’s not all you know Cook found Australia, Abel Tasman found Tasmania, all of that because how do you find something that’s not lost? So outside of that, again, it’s then highlighting the fact that these kids have an important part, and we all have an important part, in our future within the state and also nationally around progressing, I suppose, a stronger, more inclusive co-designed future for all people. 

Tim Bullard: [00:04:24] It’s obviously really important to learn about the history of Aboriginal people in Tasmania. But what I feel really excited about is what that means for us into the future. I mean, you’ve already talked about sustainable practices, and I know previously we’ve talked about a rich history of storytelling. Even though those themes can be framed in a historical context, they seem very contemporary to me. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:04:46] To be honest. I wouldn’t even say contemporary in the sense that it’s just it’s never faded from the community. It’s something that we all, whether you are Aboriginal or not, you have your family stories. That hasn’t gone away. And we will always have our stories. I suppose the differences that from a cultural side of things for Aboriginal people, it’s more important that we have our stories because that has been our continued education right from the start. You know, those 60 odd plus thousand years ago, everything we learnt was through story or it was through effectively what we would classify now as science. So it’s that experimentation around food sources. It’s that monitoring and evaluation of our habitat. And the properties and uses of different materials and things have when heat is applied or that when things are placed in water. So, you know, we again, those stories and we’ve had this conversation around the rich knowledge transfer system that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had is that our living environment has been our classroom. Our people have been our library for countless generations. 

Tim Bullard: [00:06:06] So talking about the environment and those things that surround us being a classroom, I know that something that Aboriginal Education is very passionate about is some of our programs, such as Bush Kinder, Gumnuts to Buttons and getting children and young people outside and learning about what’s around them. I’m really interested to hear more about these programs and the types of things that students learn from them. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:06:30] Absolutely. So I mean, with within Aboriginal Education or and I’ll start switching to the acronym AES when we look at our programs, a lot of them. I mean, we’ve got programs that are suited from that birth to five foundation year, but we’ve also got things that effectively go through to our learners being adults. We have our bush kinder, so we’re engaging sensory play within children. And you know, those lessons around interacting with native environment. I know that something that we take for granted sometimes with our children in Tasmania.  And it’s something that I’ve taken for granted and I’ve taken on board in some of the ways that we integrate our nature play with children of diverse cultural backgrounds. We’ve got a real strong partnership with the Sustainable Learning Centre up at Hobart College, where we’ve got our Aboriginal Education Workers, some of our early years workers and our share of knowledge from our speakers program going out and supporting up there so that they travel along the Petrula trail, the fire trail up at Mount Nelson, and learn about those sustainable practices. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:07:49] So fitting in with the theme there. At our child and family centres, we’ve got our child and family support programs in bringing children into that school ready setting. We’ve worked with the Working Together group around increasing their cultural understanding, and they’re not to say improving in a disrespectful way, but improving their practice around integrating what we’re looking at with those child ready steps to increase the participation of Aboriginal families. There’s our student support side of things with families as well. So if there are some issues happening at a school and again, I don’t want to say that they’re all the time, but if a family doesn’t know processes for the agency that they know that there’s someone in community who generally will link them into Aboriginal Education Services so we can have those conversations and guide them through the processes to hopefully resolve any issue with mediation within the school setting. And that obviously is a much positive step than things getting out of hand because we don’t want that. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:08:52] The other side of it is around the, I suppose the cultural guidance within our staff at schools, here at Parliament Square, or pretty much within the agency in general. That if we encourage that, if people are unsure, uncertain or just a bit uncomfortable, that they have the the means to just come to one of us, that Aboriginal Education Services, because it is a team effort there. We’ve got an amazing group of people that pretty much in a position to answer the majority of questions. And if we can’t, we’ve got those links within our own community to find and facilitate that answer. 

Tim Bullard: [00:09:26] So how do we grow that cultural awareness? As an agency we are absolutely focused on inclusion, but we also have, as you know, one of our values of growth. And it feels to me that the time is right to really work with that that willingness to know more and gain more understanding around different groups of learners and different groups of staff that we have in the agency. What should we be doing more of? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:09:54] When I look at this side of it, Tim, it comes down and I’m going to draw on another one of our Department values, which is courage. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:10:01] I’ve actually got the courage badge on today.  

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:10:04] But it is about having the courage because we know we have the anecdotal fact from teachers, be it preservice teachers, current teachers, that the biggest thing is that they’re afraid. They are afraid of getting it wrong. They are afraid of being disrespectful. And I’m not trying to throw them under the bus or anything like that. But I think we’re past that stage of being afraid. With everything that’s happened this year with COVID and the reliance on being digitally connected, virtually meeting. There’s no, unfortunately, no excuse why we can’t educate ourselves. There’s no excuse why we can’t email create a Teams meeting, Zoom, pick up the phone, call someone to ask the question, can I run with this? Can I do this? I don’t want to get it wrong. Is this culturally appropriate? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:10:52] We talk about the terms, cultural awareness and cultural competency. I must admit, I’m not a fan of those phrases just because you can be culturally aware but then what are you going to do with it? It’s not just something you can receive a certificate for and then just rest on your laurels. So it’s something that we’ve few of us have had a conversation and Aboriginal Education and it’s not a unique idea. It’s something that we’ve talked about on a national level as well with some of the aunties, uncles on the mainland, where it’s it’s almost like a four-step continuous process where majority people don’t sit in the bottom rung, which is cultural blindness. We’re all aware on some level or another that we have an Aboriginal history in Tasmania. So then we’re moving into that cultural perception. So how much do we know about this? How much are we wanting personally or professionally to learn about it. Following, we’re moving into that cultural intelligence. This is a stage where most people have that information. They can process it, but they may be in a conversation and someone says something racist in the head and they’re sitting there thinking, well, that’s absolutely wrong, we can’t be saying that but they may not necessarily call it out. And then we’re looking at that cultural responsiveness, so then being able to say, well, that’s wrong, or I know this information, I’m going to use it in my classroom, or I know that there are these people, at Aboriginal Education {shameless plug there} to say these people are here, I’m going to. I want to know more. I can ask more. I can access programs from them, so I’m going to bring them in. And at the end of the day, if you have someone asking questions, you’re not going to jump on them because they’re showing that proactive step of improving their own practice and that of kids in their classroom. 

Tim Bullard: [00:12:34] I think that’s such an amazing reflection. We really don’t want to strive for cultural competence in itself. It’s actually courage with culture, courage to ask the question, courage to say that we don’t know or we need to know more. And making that step and what I’m hearing from you is Aboriginal Education Services is absolutely aligned with that view. Come and ask, come and talk to us, use our resources and our expertise. But the worst thing that you can do is to do nothing. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:13:04] Exactly. I mean, we [Aboriginal Education Services] often joke sometimes that we’re the Department’s best-kept secret. So, I mean, again, there are conversations we’re having with schools a daily basis around how they can increase their, I suppose, integration of the cross-curriculum priorities. 

Tim Bullard: [00:13:40] And I suppose that draws us quite nicely to The Orb. So it really came from wanting to assist people so far as possible to engage through the curriculum with Aboriginal history and culture. And to feel confident to be using that in classrooms absolutely every day. And it was courageous in its objective, but also courageous in its delivery because it is award-winning. And we’ve talked about Bush kinder and working with children and young people outside. But this is an online digital resource which is just so much more. Do you want to tell me a bit more about it? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:14:26] Look I feel very privileged to have been working on The Orb in one capacity or another, because for myself personally, as an Aboriginal person, I was able to pick up skills and knowledge that I hadn’t had when I was growing up. So that side of it alone to me makes The Orb valuable. The fact that, again, we’re talking about that barrier of fear. How can you be afraid to share this information with a group of learners when it’s Aboriginal community members sharing their knowledge, their stories, our culture?  We’ve got learning resources there. We’ve got our contact details there. So really, if you don’t want to use what’s on the old, you’ve also got the means to contact us to say how else can I support this? What other resources can I access? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:15:30] Mary Blake, our resource librarian, at Aboriginal Education Services is a phenomenal resource in and of herself in the sense that you can email and say, well, Mary, I need something on grade three/four colonisation/invasion. And I imagine at this point in time, she’d refer you to The Rabbits, the picture book by John Marsden, which also, funnily enough, links to The Orb on its online teaching resources. And you probably find in a little package mailed out to your school, you’d have a copy of The Rabbits and several other resource texts that you could access. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:16:04] So, again, our resource library that we have on-site, at Aboriginal Education Services, is also one of those really great resources. And even if in the North West, if you’re at Smithton, if you’re at Queenstown, we’ll mail it out and we’ll include a return postage pack so that we get it back.  The materials that are accessible through The Orb are constantly being added to as well. And as you progress in age groups, you can take activities that may be for a grade three or four class and you can actually put that five/six lens on it or even a seven/eight lens on it grade-wise to fit it into the curriculum, you have to teach. So we’re not saying that here it is. This is what you’ve got to do and that’s the end of it. We actually challenge teachers to take those learning resources and play around with them, improve them, change them. It’s that stepping stone into that cross-curriculum priority. 

Tim Bullard: [00:17:28] I’m hearing a really strong message here that all you’ve got to do is engage. If you’re out there and you’re wanting to know more, your mindset of engagement and contact with Aboriginal Education Services is all you need to get you started, which I think is a really positive message. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:17:46] Absolutely. 

Tim Bullard: [00:20:03] I know one of the other roles of Aboriginal Education is around pathways to employment for our Aboriginal young people. Can you tell me a bit more about that? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:20:12] Absolutely. So this year in particular, we’ve seen, I suppose, a stronger focus on, across the state service, around the Aboriginal Employment Strategy. And I’ve had conversations with people in the past that it’s my honest opinion that the Department is the largest employer of Aboriginal people in the state. We’ve got our early years workers, our Aboriginal Education Workers, our Aboriginal Education Officers. We have our project officers at Aboriginal Education and one of our staff members, Helen Ransom, who’s working alongside our Vocational Learning and Careers Education team, VLCE, has been doing some amazing work around Australian School-Based Apprenticeships and creating a framework around how employers meet those obligations to be a culturally safe workplace and also increase the uptake from Aboriginal students into those programs. That’s linking into state service, again, the AFL sports ready, the employment agencies, the national banks. It’s an amazing network that Helen’s grown through a career in education and career pathways that we’ve been able to utilise. And again, the work she’s producing is amazing. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:21:26] The dialogue within communities around how in school support role, again, I mentioned the Aboriginal Education Workers we’re aware of some of the limitations within that role and we’re progressing conversations within the agency to see what we can do to better support those staff, to make sure that we’re meeting our obligations in Aboriginal Education Services and also supporting schools as the contract holder for those positions. To make sure that, again, that their roles are seen for the unique and valued or value that they bring, as well as making sure that during those times that they’re stood down over holidays, that they have support and they have the comfort of knowing that there is a process in place to ensure that that their roles are continuous. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:22:11] There’s a lot going on in those spaces and further opportunities we’re seeing around curriculum development where we’ve been able to again this year. We were really fortunate that Montello Primary allowed us to borrow Christine Ashlay, on the North West, who did some amazing work with Parks Australia around our national marine reserves, of which Tassie has a number surrounding our state. And so I look forward to some stuff coming out of there. It’s a pity we didn’t make Science Week since it was all about oceans. But, you know, again, having strong Aboriginal teachers as well to go in and support their practice, connecting with us and just being part of the solution and standing proud, it’s fantastic. 

Tim Bullard: [00:25:37] What do you enjoy most about the job that you do in the Department?  

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:25:42] For myself, it’s the variety I’m just thinking, this week alone, I’ve been in schools. I’m now sitting here in Parliament Square. Next week I know I’ve got I’m going to be at one stage I’m going to be in a kitchen cutting up possums. So, you know, there’s a variety to my role that I think allows me to go in many different directions, but to the same goal and that every day is a little bit different. I could be working on the same project or the same program, but again, I could be sitting in my office or I could be out at a school doing the exact same thing. Just it’s slightly different, but all heading to the same direction. 

Tim Bullard: [00:26:18] And we know that in the Department, we’re all learners. We are an organisation of learners supporting learners. What is the most significant thing that you’ve learned in your role in Aboriginal Education over the time that you’ve been with us? 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:27:27] As you said, we are still all learners and we are on the back of a very long period of time where Aboriginal history was not taught. Or if it was, it was from a deficit model. So it’s just realising and having the patience and the courage to understand that everyone is at a different spot on this journey. But the sooner we can get there and obviously the better it’s going to be. So, yeah, I think that’s courage, patience, a bit of humility and biting my tongue a little bit. 

Tim Bullard: [00:28:26] Well, that really brings us to the end of our time, Todd. So I just wanted to thank you for sharing the amazing work that you do and for shining a spotlight on the great resource that we have in Aboriginal Education Services. And I hope as part of this podcast, it’s going to encourage people to make contact and be culturally courageous in thinking about how they’re going to promote Aboriginal history and culture every day in every classroom right across the state. 

Tim Bullard: [00:32:37] Thanks Todd. 

Todd Sculthorpe: [00:32:37] Thanks, Tim. 

Tim Bullard: [00:32:46] I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast. To hear more about those people who teach, learn and live in Tasmania. Join us at www.education.tas.gov.au/podcast or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Why not subscribe so that you can keep up to date with what we’re doing? Or if you have a story about an inspiring teacher or student email us at teachlearnlive@education.tas.gov.au.