Author Identifiers

Megan Hayley Spiers
ORCID: 0000-0002-1893-8529

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Professor David McKinnon

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Glenda Campbell-Evans

Third Advisor

Dr David Rhodes


This doctoral dissertation presents an exploration of the journey to cultural competence revealed in the lived experience of teachers and boarding staff in a boarding school in northern Australia. The qualitative inquiry sought to discover the causal attribution and motivations of culturally competent teachers and to enunciate the essential skills, knowledge and understanding required to improve the development of cultural competence in teachers new to the phenomenon: namely, that of being a non- Aboriginal teacher of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, defined in the study as teaching in classrooms of cultural difference. The research was unique in being focused on the teachers’ perspective in a boarding school, an educational context that is not explored in any prevalent way in the current corpus of scholarly literature.

A qualitative research approach was applied, using phenomenological and ethnographic methods that revealed participants to be flexible teachers, caring and empathetic, without exception demonstrating an underlying ethos that entailed a service-oriented approach, an attitude of humility, equity and respect, a strong belief in social justice and endeavouring pursuit of quality teaching. The study found that effective teaching practice in classrooms of cultural difference required positive teacher-student relationships, community consultation and a whole-school approach to supporting teachers and students. Underpinning these culturally responsive policies and practices was an alertness by teachers to the unique complexity of the educational context and a deep commitment to Aboriginal students and the pedagogical practices that ensured cultural safety and security in the classroom.

The important relationship between motivation, causal attribution and cultural competence was presented in the unique context of the research site. Although the Australian Curriculum mandates the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and clear frameworks have been developed for cultural responsiveness in schools, there is a dearth of research focused on how teachers actually acquire and demonstrate cultural competence in the classroom. In proving a leverageable relationship between motivation, attribution and cultural competence, research findings will assist teachers new to the complexities of multicultural classrooms to develop adaptive pedagogical practices, self-efficacy and connectedness. Further research is recommended, with potential research questions identified concerning improvement in government policy associated with practice in Aboriginal Education; the level of cultural competence or knowledge in preservice teachers during initial teacher education; and the provision of opportunities for schools to actively contribute to the professional development of teachers in becoming culturally competent

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