Associate Professor Rachel McNae

Rachel McNae

Director - Centre for Educational Leadership Research, Master of Educational Leadership Programme Leader


Education; Leadership; Learning and Education; Learning Centered Leadership; Learning Environment; Management and Education; Organisational Learning; Professional Studies in Education; Strategic Management; Teacher Professional Learning/Development; Teaching; Teaching Ethics and Professionalism; Women and Gender Studies; Youth

Educational Leadership and Administration Gender and Leadership Social Justice Oganisational change and development

Qualifications: PhD (Educational Leadership)

Personal Website:

Contact Details

Email: [email protected]
Room: TT2.12
Phone: +64 7 838 4500 ext 7731

Papers Taught

About Rachel

Dr Rachel McNae is Director of the Centre for Educational Leadership Research at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand and Co-Founder of The Good Human Project, an organisation supporting young people and their families to flourish.  Rachel’s research agenda is founded on a firm belief for social justice and her numerous research projects span the fields of leadership innovation, student voice and agency, strength-based inquiry, youth and women's leadership.  Her supervision portfolio extends across the field of educational leadership, innovative teaching and learning, women's leadership and the development of strength-based approaches to leadership formation.

Rachel has held numerous national and international leadership roles such as National President of the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society in New Zealand, International Women Leading Education,  and the International School Leadership Development Network supporting leadership growth across numerous contexts.   In 2018 and in 2016 Rachel was awarded the position of New Zealand Educational Leadership Society Visiting Scholar and was the recipient of the International Emerald-European Foundation for Management and Development Outstanding Research Award for Leadership and Strategy.

In 2015 Rachel  received the Meritorious Service Award for her service to leadership in New Zealand and was awarded the New Zealand Education Administration and Leadership Society Presidential Research Award for her work with young women leaders in schools. Rachel’s recently published books include Realizing Innovative Partnerships in Educational Research (Sense, 2017), Educational Leadership for Social Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand (New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 2017) and Harnessing the Joy in Leadership (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

Research Supervised

Rachel is Programme Advisor for the Doctorate of Education and Programme Leader for the Master of Educational Leadership.  She currently supervises in the area of educational leadership at the Masters and Doctoral level.  Examples of her supervision portfolio include; Educational Leadership in Developing Countries, Educational Leadership in the Pacific; Mentoring Beginning Teachers in Education, Leading Learning in Innovative Learning Environments, Women and Educational Leadership, Youth Leadership, Appreciative Inquiry, Leading Turn Around Schools, Mentoring in Higher Education; The Influence of Social Networks on Educational Leaders Performance.

Research Interests

  • Socially Just leadership theory and practice
  • Youth leadership, women and leadership, the representation of women and adolescents in educational leadership opportunities
  • Leadership development - Developing understandings related to alternative leadership development approaches for teachers and students
  • Student voice and youth-adult partnerships
  • Appreciative Inquiry, Action Research Methodology
  • Teaching and learning about leadership in educational settings
  • Adolescent development, global citizenry, youth and student voice in qualitative research approaches
  • Feminist research approaches
  • Alternative forms of research representation

Rachel's research portfolio is founded on issues of social justice.  Key areas include leadership for social justice, women and leadership, positive youth leadership development and learner agency in times of educational change.  She works within strength-based paradigms to expose, question and disrupt processes and practices which marginalize and minoritize and prevent people from being the best version of themselves.

In 2019 Rachel was awarded a Ministry of Education Grant ($870,000) to partner with Waikato Tainui and explore the use of inquiry to support curriculum leaders to generate and lead local curriculum.

In 2017 Rachel was awarded a Ministry of Education Teaching Learning Research Initiative Grant ($200,000) to explore the ways in which teachers and students make sense of working in a new school.  She completed this work with her colleague Dr Noeline Wright.

In 2016 Rachel partnered with a Primary School to examine the use of appreciative inquiry to support transitions within and across classrooms. This gained support from the Ministry of Education - Teacher-led Innovation Fund ($40,000).

Rachel's professional work has explored young people’s beliefs and understandings of leadership and is designed to investigate ways that engage students as co-designers of their leadership learning. Her research emphasizes the need to reshape leadership learning opportunities so that the experiences are relevant and meaningful for students and reflect inclusive and culturally responsive approaches for progressive and sustainable leadership development.

Rachel has completed collaborative research in the Pacific Islands, working with a research team in the Ministry of Education to investigate educational leadership development with Ni Vanuatu women.  Rachel also works with a number of not-for-profit organizations in New Zealand to facilitate leadership development opportunities.

Current Research and Projects Being Undertaken

National Grant Project: Leading Local Curriculum

National Grant Project:  The Architecture of Ownership and Innovative Learning Environments

International Research Project:  Women of the Commonwealth Leading for Social Justice in Education: An exploration in women’s leadership experiences (4 countries – UK, Scotland, Jamaica, New Zealand).

National Research Project:  Women Leading in Higher Education: An exploration in women’s leadership in the tertiary context (New Zealand).

International Research Project:  Educational Leadership for Social Justice:  International School Leadership Development Network.  An international collaborative research project which involves a 20-nation study initiated by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA, based in the US) and the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS, based in the United Kingdom).

National Research Project:  Appreciating Youth Leadership:  Developing youth leaders through appreciative inquiry.  A longitudinal study into the leadership perceptions of adolescents.

Regional HEADZUP:  The leadership beliefs and understandings of 120 Head Prefects in New Zealand Secondary Schools

Research Awards and Recognition

In 2016 Rachel was awarded the NZEALS Visiting Scholar Award and travelled to numerous New Zealand destinations to speak on the topics associated with leadership and learning.

in 2015 Rachel was awarded the New Zealand Leadership Society Meritorious Service Award for her service to the New Zealand Leadership Society at the local and national level.

In 2015 Rachel was awarded the NZEALS travel scholarship to attend the Australian Council of Educational Leaders conference in Sydney.

In 2013 Rachel was one of two academic staff nominated by the University of Waikato and awarded a scholarship by NZWIL to attend the New Zealand Women in Leadership Programme in Wellington 24-28 June.

In 2011 Rachel was awarded the 2011 Emerald Publishing/European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Outstanding Doctoral Research Award. The award was for her research titled “Young women and leadership development: Co-constructing leadership learning in a New Zealand secondary school” and is in the Education and Leadership Strategy category.

In 2010 Rachel was an author in the Special Edition of Journal of Educational Administration 48(6).  This edition was awarded Outstanding Special Issue Award for 2011 by Emerald Publishing.

In 2010 Rachel was awarded the National New Zealand Educational Administration Leadership Society 2010 Presidential Research Award. This national award recognized meritorious research and scholarship in the field of educational management, administration and leadership.

In 2005 Rachel was awarded the University of Waikato Emerging Academic Scholarship to visit and teach at University of Victoria, Canada.

© Dr Rachel McNae

Recent Publications

  • Blackmore, J., & McNae, R. (2021). Educational reform and leading school change. In S. L. Courtney, H. M. Gunter, R. Niesche, & T. Trujillo (Eds.), Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches. Bloomsbury Academic.

  • Torrance, D., Potter, I., Forde, C., Angelle, P., Arlestig, H., Branson, C., . . . Travers, J. (2021). What factors help and hinder the work of social justice leaders? A summary of findings from the social justice leadership strand. In B. Barnett, & P. Woods (Eds.), Educational Leadership for Social Justice and Improving High-Needs Schools: Findings from 10 Years of International Collaboration. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.

  • Gurr, D., Drysdale, L., Longmuir, F., McCrohan, K., McNae, R., Morrison, M., & Robertson, S. (2021). Leading successfully in high needs contexts: Australian and New Zealand cases. In P. Woods, & B. Barnett (Eds.), Educational Leadership for Social Justice and Improving High-Needs Schools: Findings from 10 Years of International Collaboration. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.

  • McNae, R., & Barnard, S. (2021). Educational leadership for social justice: Bringing connection, collaboration and care from margins to centre. In Educational Governance Research (Vol. 16, pp. 193-212). Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-74497-7_11

Find more research publications by Rachel McNae