Culturally Nourishing Schooling

Indigenous man spreading ochre on woman's face

Project name

Culturally Nourishing Schooling

Project overview

CNS is part of a collaborative research study investigating strategies to improve teaching and learning outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It emphasises the establishment of meaningful relationships and connections with Country and localised Indigenous knowledges, histories and experiences.

Our researchers and project staff are working with the learning communities connected with eight schools in NSW, to establish the ‘culturally nourishing’ schooling model as central to their current strategic planning and operations.

The model is a research-informed framework model designed to improve the academic achievements of Indigenous learners while concurrently fostering a strong and healthy cultural identity grounded in the local context. 

Project objectives

The CNS project involves eight schools and their communities in NSW, working to establish the ‘culturally nourishing’ schooling model as central to their current strategic planning and operations. 

The model is a research-informed framework designed to improve teachers’ understandings and practice about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and the aspirations of their families and communities.

We collect qualitative and quantitative data through focus groups, interviews and surveys of school leaders, teachers, Cultural Mentors and local community representatives.

We support teachers through scaffolded professional learning that involves working with local Cultural Mentors, and engages teachers through Learning from Country immersion experiences, targeted Curriculum Workshops, Professional Learning Conversations and reading, and pedagogical coaching toward Culturally Nourishing Pedagogies, with the overall goal of affecting practices.

Our aims are to:

  • Improve teachers’ understanding and professional practices in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

  • Establish a sustainable base for the long-term collaboration between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, communities and schools.

  • Establish a whole-school model of schooling that supports the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, their families and communities.

  • Develop an operational framework that will ensure schools and teachers can better meet the educational and relational needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their communities.

Who is involved

  • Associate Professor Kevin Lowe is a Gubbi Gubbi man from southeast Queensland. He is a Scientia Indigenous Fellow and Associate Professor at UNSW (University of New South Wales), working on a community and school focused research project to develop a model of sustainable improvements in the delivery of education to Aboriginal students. Kevin has had extensive experience as a teacher, program manager and university researcher.

    He has worked extensively with Aboriginal community organisations on Aboriginal language policy, school curriculum implementation and school reform. Recently he led the establishment of Aboriginal Voices research project, a broad-based program to develop a new socio-cultural and pedagogic framework for teaching.

    Kevin is a CNS (Culturally Nourishing Schooling) research lead at Oak Flats High School, Gilgandra High School, and Lake Cargelligo Central School and the Chief Investigator of the CNS project.

    Kevin is also the project Lead Investigator and program coordinator for the CNS project.

  • Associate Professor Cathie Burgess is a lecturer/researcher in Aboriginal Studies/Education, Aboriginal Community Engagement, Learning from Country and Leadership in Aboriginal Education programs at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney. She has extensive teaching and leadership experience in secondary schools and maintains strong connections with school-communities through teacher professional learning and research projects. Cathie’s work in Aboriginal Education/Aboriginal Studies is acknowledged through an Honorary Life Member, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and Life Member, Aboriginal Studies Association NSW. Cathie is the Lead Investigator on the Department of Education Strategic Initiatives Grant “Aboriginal-led teacher professional learning to develop culturally nourishing schooling practices.”

    Cathie is a CNS research lead at Alexandria Park Community School. 

  • Dr Greg Vass is a Senior Lecturer with the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith university. His work draws on critical and poststructural theories linked with the sociology of education. Greg’s research interests are focused on investigating policy enactment through teaching and learning practices. Central to this research is addressing the cultural politics of schooling and knowledge making practices that shape the experiences of teacher and learner identities in the classroom. Within the CNS team, Greg has been leading the Curriculum Workshops, which has provided opportunities to visit all the learning communities participating in the project.

    Greg is a CNS research lead at Tweed River High School and Gilgandra High School.

  • Dr Rose Amazan is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW, Sydney. She has extensive experience working with low SES communities in Australia and internationally. Rose’s expertise resides in two strands of research: Social justice in education/ pathways to educational equity and international education and development policy with an emphasis on gender.

    Rose’s research, teaching, and service activities are motivated by her commitment to community development and creating equitable and safe environments for marginalised and disadvantaged communities.

    Rose is a CNS research lead at Matraville Sports High School.

  • Professor Annette Woods is a professor in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is also a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child. She researches and teaches in social justice education and school reform; curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; and literacies and digital literacies. 

    She is currently involved in research related to migrant and refugee young people and their families living in rural contexts and issues of language, curriculum and pedagogy; investigating young children’s representations of learning with technologies; a curriculum project investigating history and science teachers’ engagements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content; a design-based project engaging young children in maker spaces and activities; and studies related to online programs and apps and the teaching of early reading. 

    Annette is a CNS researcher  lead at Tweed River High School and Lake Cargelligo Central School.

  • Dr Tracy Durksen is a non-Indigenous scholar who worked as a primary school teacher in Canada. She is a Scientia Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer of Educational Psychology in the School of Education at UNSW. Her research aims to impact the learning and development of students and teachers with a focus on interpersonal interactions and psychological characteristics like motivation and adaptability. She is a mixed methods researcher grounded in social cognitive and self-determination theories with expertise in community-based research and evaluation.

    Tracy is the CNS research lead at Condobolin Public School and Condobolin High School.

  • Dr Claire Golledge is a Lecturer in Education and the co-ordinator of Humanities Curriculum in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Claire’s background is as a secondary teacher of humanities, as well as in school executive leadership positions, leading teacher professional learning.

    Claire is a CNS researcher at Matraville Sports High School and the research lead for the Culturally Nourishing Leadership partnership with Social Ventures Australia (SVA).

  • Professor Andrew J. Martin is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.

    Andrew is a CNS quantitative research lead.

  • Dr Keiko Bostwick is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Education at UNSW. Her work broadly focuses on the impact of students’ and teachers’ motivation on students’ academic learning and wellbeing.

  • Dr Sara Weuffen is a non-Indigenous teacher-researcher specialist with a Ph.D. in cross/inter-cultural education research between non-Indigenous people and First Nations Peoples in Australia. She grew up on Gundijtmara Country in Warrnambool and currently lives and work on Wadawurrung Country in Ballarat. Sara works on the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project as the qualitative Postdoctoral expert.

    Her research focuses on developing relational educational practices and professional development for teachers specifically within the secondary education space and discipline of History. Sara also specialises in learning and content design and user experience for diverse cohorts across a broad range of platforms; online, blended, face-to-face.

  • Dr David Coombs is a non-Indigenous scholar of public policy, focusing on topics related to First Nations health, employment and education. He grew up on Dharug Country in the NW suburbs of Sydney. He now lives and works on Bedegal and Gadigal Country. David is part of the research team on the Culturally Nourishing Schooling project and is also Senior Advisor, Academic Quality and Strategy at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG).

    In 2019 he completed his PhD in Aboriginal health policy at UNSW. He has taught and researched in the academic disciplines of public policy and administration, Indigenous studies, and teacher education. Before coming to academia, David worked as a Spanish interpreter.

  • Zana Jabir is a Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati, Kamilaroi (Aboriginal) and Moroccan woman. She has experience teaching at secondary international baccalaureate (IB) schools abroad and locally. She currently teaches with the Department of Education (DET) and is the Aboriginal Community Research Assistant (ACRA) for the Culturally Nourishing Schools Project. She was born, works and still resides on Darug Country, Western Sydney.

  • Shanna Langdon is a non-Aboriginal researcher at the UNSW School of Education. Before moving into the field of education she worked in the refugee sector and on issues of environmental justice for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Her research focuses on the pathways to teachers becoming community focused, culturally responsive educators. She has taught at UNSW and the University of Sydney in the areas of socio-political contexts of education and leadership in Aboriginal education.

    Shanna is a CNS researcher at Alexandria Park Community School and at Oak Flats High School.


Four Australian universities – led by The University of NSW and including The University of Sydney, Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology – are collaborating with eight schools and communities across urban, regional and remote parts of NSW.

CNS is supported by the Paul Ramsey Foundation, the National Indigenous Australians Agency and the NSW Government Department of Education, in addition to monetary and in-kind contributions from university, school and community partners.

Project updates/milestones

  • Staff and community leaders from our participating schools came together for the CNS symposium, sharing knowledge and experiences of connecting to the community.

    We were proud to also welcome community champions and elders, including Aunty Bronwyn Penrith, to the Symposium, hosted by the Gadigal Centre and The University of Sydney, over three days in December 2022.

    More than 100 people attended, including community elders, leaders, teachers and support staff from rural and urban schools, as well as partner organisations including the Paul Ramsay Foundation and Social Ventures Australia.  Stakeholder groups including the Department of Education, the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) and highly respected community Elders from both Redfern/Waterloo and La Perouse also attended.

In the news

Research that underpins the Culturally Nourishing Schooling project has been published in a special issue of the journal Australian Educational Researcher (AER).

CNS researchers including Chief Investigator Associate Professor Kevin Lowe, Professor Cathie Burgess and Dr Sara Weuffen have authored papers in the Special Issue - Aboriginal Voices: The state of Aboriginal student experiences in Australian secondary school project.

The papers are part of the Aboriginal Voices project, which included systematic reviews on 10 major topics affecting the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

“These new papers resulted from interviews with over 100 Aboriginal students and their parents, Aboriginal educators, teachers and school principals,” said A/Prof Lowe.

“The focus of these investigations was how students, parents and their teachers understood and reacted to underpinning community and media discourses about student success at school, parent and community interest in schooling and teachers perceived abilities to meet the needs of these students.”

The first paper situates the context of the Aboriginal Voices: The state of Aboriginal student experiences in Australian secondary school project in the wider context of First Nations educational research.

While the other papers within the special issue contribute towards developing a more nuanced, research-informed, and deeper understanding of the current state of Aboriginal education in Australia from the voices of those at the coalface.

Contact us