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Establishing the role of AIEOs

Establishing the role of AIEOs

AIEOs come into the school with many skills and abilities. The AIEO’s role and work schedule can be planned by school leaders in consultation with the AIEO. The planning process should take into consideration the skills, qualifications and strengths of the AIEO. Professional learning needs and career development opportunities should also be identified.

The role of the AIEO should take into consideration:

  • school needs
  • student needs
  • classroom role
  • AIEO skill set
  • culture and community
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School needs

In schools where there is one AIEO, the role includes both classroom and school-level support. In schools with more than one AIEO, there is the opportunity to allocate school-level support to one AIEO, while the others provide classroom support.

The school-level support provided by AIEOs typically focuses on several main elements:

  • community liaison;
  • school planning;
  • cultural awareness of staff;
  • behaviour management; and
  • agency liaison.

In all cases, the AIEO will be required to act as an intermediary for the school.

Community liaison
This may include positive elements (for example, when reporting to parents on their children’s progress at school under guidance from the teacher) and more sensitive issues (for example, when encouraging parents to send their children to school when absenteeism has become a significant problem). It is important to remember that AIEOs are not attendance officers but they may have a role in assisting the school to address attendance issues.

School planning
The AIEO can significantly contribute to whole school level directions by:

  • planning of strategies and directions for Aboriginal education and support for Aboriginal students;
  • providing strategic advice and support to school leaders and teachers on matters relating to Aboriginal education;
  • facilitating community contribution to the formulation of school policies and development of educational programs;
  • liaising between the community and the school to develop programs that are relevant to both educational and cultural needs;
  • providing information to parents on the education system and relevant school procedures and policies;
  • participating in committees or decision making groups; and
  • contributing to the development of school and community partnership agreements.

Cultural awareness of staff
Effective working relationships between the AIEOs and the teachers with whom they will be working are essential. In the review of the program, some AIEOs reported having to work with teachers who did not know their skill set or appreciate their contributions or had little cultural awareness. In such cases, the issues can be addressed through professional learning and counselling. Principals can use their professional knowledge of staff to ensure effective allocation of AIEOs to classrooms. Developing positive relationships between all staff should be encouraged. Cultural awareness training is an important part of this development.

Behaviour management
AIEOs will require advice, support and guidance when participating in behaviour management in relation to Aboriginal students. Their participation in many cases can be vital. The AIEO should be invited to attend behaviour management meetings. Involving the AIEO at the early stages can help to improve outcomes. When the AIEO is called to participate in an issue involving student behaviour, he or she will be required to explain, to each of the parties involved, the views of the other parties and the consequences of the actions, as stated in the school’s behaviour management plan.

In the case of behaviour management:

  • the student may need to be informed why his or her actions have infringed school rules;
  • the teachers may need to comprehend the reasons why the student acted in such a manner; and
  • parents may require an explanation of the actions of the school in relation to their child.

This requires diplomacy, competence in operating in two cultures, knowledge of school policies and sound judgement in the explanations provided.

Principals should ensure that classroom teachers are informed whenever the AIEO is called to participate in out-of-class activities when they are scheduled for classroom support.

It is sometimes appropriate in such situations to appoint a more experienced AIEO to these school-level tasks to ensure he or she has the status in the community to function effectively. An AIEO may be related to members of the community which can be helpful when dealing with sensitive issues. This relationship can help the school in the early identification of issues that may arise for Aboriginal students and provides the opportunity for the school to address these issues before they become major problems.

Being related to the community can also create challenges for the AIEO. Sometimes the AIEO may not be able to be involved in a situation because they are related and there are family conflicts. It can be difficult for the AIEO to remain neutral when families have long standing issues with each other or with the school. If the AIEO favours the school, especially on a discipline matter, the community may view their role as siding with school authority and the AIEO may lose community trust. Issues will also arise if the AIEO favours the community.

Agency liaison
Some AIEOs undertake agency liaison as part of their role. This may include liaison with agencies such as the Health Department, Centrelink, the Department of Housing, Department of Indigenous Affairs, Department for Child Protection, Department for Corrective Services (Juvenile Justice teams) and the Aboriginal Legal Service. This work requires extensive links with the community and an awareness of the range of services available. If the school allocates liaison responsibilities to the AIEO, time and resources should be available to enable them to maintain contact with the agencies:

  • to keep up to date with the changing client focus of the agencies;
  • to get to know the staff;
  • to maintain links when staff change; and
  • to travel to community or agency meetings.

Agency liaison can assist in gaining a holistic picture of the child and his/her family.

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Student needs

The AIEO role includes working with Aboriginal students. Determination of the AIEO role in the school requires consideration of a number of factors.

Age A young AIEO who is recently graduated from high school and can relate well to young people may be suitable as a role model for the students. Mature-age people bring a wealth of experience and a capacity to build strong relationships
Gender A male or female AIEO may provide balance to the gender mix of the school or class
Relationship skills A person who can build relationships with students or the community may be the right choice for a classroom where there is a need to develop bonds among students or between the students and the school
Education Literacy and numeracy skills are essential if the AIEO is to support students to improve those skills
Communication Communication skills include the knowledge of Aboriginal languages or dialects that enable the teacher to communicate with students who have limited Standard Australian English. This may be applicable in some remote communities
Cultural connections Cultural and family connections can assist in organising culturally inclusive activities including NAIDOC Week and Sorry Day. The AIEO can contribute to a learning program that incorporates Aboriginal perspectives and engages students
Instructional skills AIEOs can lead individual or small group instruction and, subject to the skill of the AIEO, the whole class, under the guidance of the teacher

AIEOs may need to develop their skills in some of the above areas. This can be achieved through Training and the employee performance process.

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Classroom role

An AIEO’s role may include working alongside the teacher in the classroom. Teachers can benefit from the knowledge and cultural perspective that the AIEO brings and this can assist them in meeting the educational needs of their students. AIEOs can provide:

  • knowledge of the students’ backgrounds;
  • assistance in communicating with students whose Standard Australian English is limited;
  • information to parents about their children’s progress under the guidance of the teacher;
  • assistance in understanding the reasons behind behaviour and more effective ways to respond to inappropriate behaviour; and
  • advice to teachers on the cultural expectations of the community and their children. Some behaviours, while appropriate in Western culture, may be inappropriate in some Aboriginal contexts.

The AIEO’s contribution is a vital addition to an effectively functioning classroom.

Teachers play an important role in supporting and upskilling AIEOs. For the AIEO program to be effective, the AIEO needs to be actively involved in the teaching and learning program. Principals can help to encourage collaborative relationships between teachers and AIEOs and support teachers to:

  • plan collaboratively with the AIEO;
  • involve the AIEO in the class activities;
  • explain the aims and outcomes for the lesson, the kinds of support students may require and the AIEO’s role in the lesson;
  • value the AIEO in the classroom and in the school; and
  • assist the AIEO to develop skills for classroom support.
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AIEO skill set

Principals consider communication as the most important skill for AIEOs to possess. These communication skills include:

  • ability to use Standard Australian English (SAE); and
  • ability to communicate with students, parents and community. This includes competence in local languages and dialects, including Aboriginal English.

The educational backgrounds of AIEOs vary. AIEOs should be recognised for the skills and knowledge they bring to the position. The value of an AIEO’s life experience should not be underestimated. AIEOs contribute strongly to:

  • linking the school with its community; and
  • relating well to students.

When an AIEO does not possess the necessary skills to undertake particular tasks that are allocated to them, principals need to establish support mechanisms and provide access to Training to assist the AIEO to meet job requirements.

When the school has more than one AIEO, roles may be allocated according to the strengths of each AIEO. An AIEO who has a good knowledge of the curriculum and sound instructional skills might work mainly in the classroom while one who has good community relationships might participate more in out of class activities and community liaison.

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Culture and community

The community’s relationship with the school depends on effective communication. The AIEO plays a central role in:

  • promoting the school’s policies and practices to the community; and
  • raising issues on behalf of the community and working with the school to address them.

As principals have noted, AIEOs:

…assist and advise teaching staff about all aspects of cultural sensitivities and raise awareness of the needs of Indigenous students and their families.

…provide the cultural link between school and community, understand the complexities of family relationships, clarify understandings between staff and students, advise non-Aboriginal staff on cultural issues, warn of issues in community which may impact on school, and act as positive role models.

AIEOs must be bi-culturally competent. Principals expect AIEOs to be able to communicate effectively, have local knowledge and links to the community, good interpersonal skills, and know how to operate in a school environment.

Many AIEOs are fluent in community languages and have strong community and cultural links. By helping teachers to understand local Aboriginal cultures, languages and dialects, AIEOs contribute to improved relationships with the community and provide schools with cultural direction. AIEOs are often related to community members and this ensures effective links to the community. AIEOs’ links to the community can help them to understand the need to be sensitive to tensions within families and ways to manage those tensions. At times, family feuds and community issues can be stressful for AIEOs.

The effectiveness of the AIEO role can be attributed to:

  • community membership and relationships with members of the community;
  • cultural understanding;
  • fluency in the local dialects;
  • knowledge of the community;
  • awareness of cultural sensitivities;
  • understanding of individual community members’ needs and experiences; and
  • ability to communicate between students, their parents and teachers.

One principal noted:

The community liaison and home visits that the AIEO is now able to do, we’ve got a lot better relationship…the families being more inclined to come and share what’s good and what’s bad, and be more communicative with the school…

Establishing the role of AIEOs

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