Revisioning theories of rurality and rural educational leadership: Rural contexts and rural school principals in Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

Author: Kathryn Hardwick-Franco

Hardwick-Franco, Kathryn, 2021 Revisioning theories of rurality and rural educational leadership: Rural contexts and rural school principals in Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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This doctoral thesis examines the intersections between rurality and rural educational leadership. Yet the rationale for this research extends far beyond this nexus. What happens in rural contexts also impacts non-rural contexts, and it is leaders in the rural setting who bear the responsibility of supporting the rural community to address the complex and multiple impacts. Currently, political leaders and citizens are looking for ways to navigate the effects from multiple crises including climate change, health pandemics, resulting mass movement of humanity, the black lives matter movements and a pending collapse of capitalism. Much of the impact from these effects are experienced in rural contexts. Within our current global environment, there is an urgent need to understand and account for the ways in which rurality and rural educational leadership can support the planet, thereby ensuring a future for humanity. My original contribution to knowledge includes revisioning theories of rurality, reconfiguring rural educational leadership and revealing the nature of rural educational leadership in Eyre Peninsula, South Australia (EPSA).

This doctoral thesis summons existing research, while offering a new pathway to combine the theoretical and empirical, to formulate new models of rurality and rural leadership. Section One revisions theories of rurality. This cannot be achieved through contemporary conservative empirical research, for rurality does ‘not sit in a petri dish, waiting to be researched’ (Brabazon, Redhead & Chivaura, 2019, p. 4). Results highlight an urgent need to reference contemporary knowledge about rurality, to revision theories of rurality. The result of revisioning rurality is a model that articulates 6-meta-impacts. The implication from my research is that the 6-meta-impacts can inform future research undertaken about contemporary rurality. Section Two, similarly, theorises rural educational leadership. The result is a model defining nine aspects, which configure rural educational leadership. A consequence of my findings is that these nine aspects inform research into rural educational leadership. Section Three undertakes empirical research through an examination of results of interviews with rural educational leaders who live and work in EPSA. I show how to use the two models, the 6-meta-impacts that inform revisioning theories of rurality, and the model that defines nine aspects of rural educational leadership. While the research examined rural leadership through the role of the rural principal, the theorising has implications for other leaders in rural contexts. Results highlight the nature of educational leadership is distinct for rural principals. An outcome of the findings is a set of recommendations designed to inform the support required by rural educational leaders.

My research is informed by an examination of the work of scholars, global-NGOs, and nation-states. I show ways in which the work of each of these three sectors influences the work of the other sectors. I investigate how the work of each sector (data collection, research, publications, policy and funding decisions) impacts the data, research, publications, policy and funding decisions of the other sectors. My examination exposes that currently, there is not sufficient disaggregation of data to determine the levels to which rurality is different from non-rurality. Instead, I show that rurality and non-rurality are at once the same as - and different from - one another. Future research is required that differentiates for a range of rural contexts, before disaggregated data can expose the full nature of the reality of contemporary ruralities and rural leadership.

The thesis shows how revisioning theories of rurality contributes to - and intersects with - theorising rural educational leadership. The two models I developed are used to create new knowledge that exposes the nature of contemporary rurality and rural leadership. It is this knowledge that is required in order to determine ways in which the world can support rurality and rural leaders, for the success of rurality and rural leaders also impact those in non-rurality. It is in rurality that leaders are now required to address the multiple crises playing out across the globe that threaten the existence of much of humanity.

Keywords: rural, leadership, theory, rural educational leadership, rural principal, rural education

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Professor Tara Brabazon