Rachel McNae PhD
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 marginalise and prevent people from being the best version of themselves.

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 is completing 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

Women Leading Education in Informal Settings

Educational Leadership in Post Covid Times

Recent Research Completed

National Grant Project:  Leading Local Curriculum: Partnership with Waikato Tainui and the Ministry of Education

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

National Grant Project:  Appreciative Inquiry and School Transitions.

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 2018 Rachel was recognised alongside her colleagues Professor Ross Notman (Otago University) and Michele Morrison (Waikato University) as the National Visiting Scholars for the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society. The topic is Leading for Social Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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.


Research Interests

  • Leadership for Social Justice - 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


© Dr Rachel McNae
Powered by Wild Apricot. Try our all-in-one platform for easy membership management