NZEALS Visiting Scholar 2016 – Rachel McNae

Author Bio for Dr Rachel McNae

Dr Rachel McNae (PhD) is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and the Director of Te Puna Rangahau o Te Whiringa – The Centre for Educational Leadership Research (CELR) at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. The national and international work of the Centre seeks to support educational leaders in their work as they negotiate the forever changing educational landscape.

Rachel’s personal research agenda is founded on a firm belief for social justice and utilizes strength-based approaches to assist centre and school leaders to enhance their leadership practices. Generating research that spans the fields of pedagogical leadership, student voice, youth leadership, women and leadership, appreciative inquiry and leadership curriculum development in schools and communities, Rachel seeks to disrupt practices and systems which oppress and marginalize educational leaders. With a background in secondary and tertiary teaching, she advocates for reshaping leadership learning in order to seek out and interrogate the relational aspects of leadership, so that experiences of leadership formation are authentic, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful.

Rachel is recognized as a key researcher in the field of educational leadership, and her scholarship in these areas has resulted in numerous overseas invitations to publish, join editorial boards, lead research teams and coordinate conferences. She has researched, published and contributed to presentations and professional learning workshops and research agendas across many national and international contexts and enjoys working alongside leaders in their schools and centres. Rachel receives large numbers of invitations for keynote addresses and demonstrates leadership in a range of contexts – not-for-profit organisations, international scholarship groups and educational review committees.

Rachel chairs the International Women Leading in Education conference group who recently hosted a conference at the University of Waikato in September 2015 and is a member of the International School Leaders Development Network. In 2010 Rachel was awarded the Presidents Research Award by the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society. This award recognized meritorious research and scholarship in the field of educational management, administration and leadership. In 2011 Rachel received the European Foundation for Management and Development Outstanding Research Award in Leadership and Strategy. In 2011 research by Rachel was published in the special edition of the Journal of Educational Administration “Globalization: expanding horizons in women's leadership” and was awarded the Emerald Publishing Outstanding special issue. In 2015 Rachel was awarded the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society Meritorious Service Award.

Abstracts for consideration and selection by NZEALS Branch Committees

1. School leaders making sense of the ‘self’ with[in]social justice: Embodied influences from lived experiences

While recent research has explored the topic of leadership for social justice, it rarely considers the embodied practices centres and school leaders draw on from their personal life stories. This gathering will explore leadership as an embodied activity through engaging the theoretical lens of sense-making (Weick, 1995), extending this theory to consider the macro, meso and micro contexts of school leadership. The presentation will include case studies of New Zealand Principals from an international research project as to make a compelling case for leaders to reflect upon the nature of how they came to be leaders for social justice. Central to this time together is considering how formative experiences have influenced, sensitized and inherently mobilized each of our leadership practices.

2. Coming to know: Developing the insight to flourish in educational leadership through appreciative inquiry

With leadership positioned as a complex and contextual concept, conversations about educational leadership are frequently founded on managerial, administrative and sometimes even deficit theorizing in order to meet educational policy demands. Attention to notions of flourishing, personal attunement, and the articulation of praxis is rare as leaders struggle to find the time, courage and mechanisms to interrogate how their leadership practices and priorities have come about.

This presentation will share insights into an alternative approach to leadership formation, where centre and school leaders explored their personal leadership formation through a dialogic and reflective process incorporating appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005). Through this mechanism, the leaders participated in a strength-based investigation into their own leadership to come to a deeper understanding of how they might flourish in their leadership.

This presentation reveals the strategies that the school leaders identified and mobilized to enact essential elements of their leadership and assist with educational change within their leadership contexts. Attendees are given opportunities to explore how this approach to inquiry might be applied their own leadership context and are supported in developing initial strategies for enhancing their leadership formation through this proactive and strength-based approach.

3. In their wor[l]ds: Engaging voice to enhance student learning in socially just ways

Social justice in educational settings can take many different forms. One particular focus of social justice might be the nature of student agency and voice within educational settings. Key questions that leaders might ask themselves could be - What does student voice look like in schools and centres of learning and how can we extend our understandings of it’s potential? Where are the places/spaces that students and their voices are welcome and a sense of student agency is generated? What potential does student voice have to enable transformation in teaching and learning approaches in schools?

The focus of this presentation will be to call into account the role of 'student voice' in creating twenty-first century learning environments. Together we will interrogate the concept of student voice highlighting the powerful potential of student voice initiatives to effect change in schools, centres of learning and teachers practice. Discussion opportunities will follow this think piece and thought explosions, new ideas and possibilizing is encouraged by all who attend!

4. When are we leading at our best - Engaging student voice in leadership development with student leaders.

Significant leadership expectations are placed on students in school contexts. With few opportunities to practice leadership prior to entering formal leadership roles, it can be difficult for students to articulate the support they may need from educational leaders to be effective leaders themselves. Traditional approaches to leadership development frequently draw on Eurocentric, patriarchal discourses that may not be culturally or contextually relevant; or fail to pay attention to the needs of all students within and beyond their school communities.

This presentation will share research which engaged an alternative strength-based approach to leadership development where students participated in an appreciative inquiry seeking out instances of when they believed they were leading at their best, and exploring ways of amplifying these experiences across a range of contexts. The findings draw attention to student’s lived leadership experiences; call upon their leadership strengths and ‘raise consciousness’ to the varied experiences and challenges youth meet within their schools and communities. Key to this presentation is exploring how schools can best support student leaders in their leadership practice.