Since 2005, schools across the country have been implementing the Stronger Smarter Approach. This began after the Institute’s founder, Dr Chris Sarra became the first Aboriginal principal of Cherbourg State School in the late 1990s. Dr Sarra conceptualised the ‘strong and smart’ philosophy which challenged the whole school community to hold higher expectations for their children’s schooling and academic success. The success at Cherbourg led Dr Sarra to form the Stronger Smarter Institute (formally the Indigenous Education Leadership Institute) in 2005. Dr Sarra’s aim was to challenge the system and change the style of education provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. By changing the educational experiences for students, parents, and teachers this could foster growth both within the school and outside in the greater community.
In 2006, the Institute began running the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program to share the ideas of the Stronger Smarter Approach across the country. This began with two Leadership Programs each year, held in Cherbourg. Today, we still return to Cherbourg each year, and we also hold Leadership Programs across the country. We have expanded our range of face-to-face and online programs to provide more specialised training and move beyond education into other workplaces.
In 2017, the Institute released the Stronger Smarter Approach position paper with a framework for enacting the Stronger Smarter Approach in schools. This framework built on the original Stronger Smarter Philosophy and Metastrategies, drawing on Australian and international published literature about best practice for Indigenous education. Most importantly, the framework draws on the work and experience of Stronger Smarter alumni who are implementing change in their schools.
Every school is a microcosm of society. The ways social inequality, race, and cultural identity are dealt with in society have a trickle-down effect on our education system. The Stronger Smarter Approach challenges educators to decide whether to continue to support this status quo or to challenge these inequities.
The Stronger Smarter Institute believes every Indigenous student in Australia should have the opportunity for a high-quality education underpinned by the Stronger Smarter Approach. Our strategy is premised on providing educators with the vision and confidence to believe they can make a difference, the understanding of building strength-based approaches to education, and the tools to build High-Expectations Relationships. We believe that all educators can create a solid foundation upon which all students can flourish culturally, emotionally and academically.
Challenging the Status Quo
Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), says ‘deprivation is not a destiny.’ His work at the OECD, including the 2017 report called ‘Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students’, shows that across the globe educators can make a difference to the academic success of all students.
The elements that Schleicher describes for success are all areas where the Stronger Smarter Approach support educators. He explains the importance of making educators aware of the impact of the assumptions they may be making about their students. This is the strategy of the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program to unlock these out-of-awareness assumptions.
Likewise, the other characteristics described by Schleicher for schools where Indigenous students achieve well, are also key elements of the Stronger Smarter Approach.
- A strong school leadership, with a highly effective and committed school principal who does ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure Indigenous students are at school, engaged in learning, and making sound progress.
- A collaborative staff environment where teachers exchange information about students’ character, strengths and challenges with their colleagues so that they can collectively find the best approach to make students feel part of the school community.
- Extending beyond the classroom walls and working alongside parents as partners.
The strategies and ideas described as the Stronger Smarter Approach provide an underlying framework for schools seeking to implement reform agendas and provide deeper support for their Indigenous students. We believe it is incumbent upon educators to challenge the status quo and provide an environment for their Indigenous students, and others, to excel.
With more than 30 years in positive education reform for Indigenous students from schools to universities, Dr Sarra believes the Stronger Smarter Approach can guarantee success in schools if understood and applied authentically. This gives Indigenous children hope when we work from the assumption that they have strengths.
Our philosophy is simple:
To honour a positive sense of cultural identity, that acknowledges and embraces positive community leadership, enabling innovative and dynamic approaches and processes that are anchored by high expectations relationships.
At the Stronger Smarter Institute, we carry out our philosophy and approach with respect, integrity, courage, and honesty, so we can continually grow and reach our goal for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student to achieve the education standard that should have always existed.