The Wellbeing of Sexuality and Gender Diverse Students in New Zealand Secondary Schools: An Exploration of Principals’ Perspectives

Cornelis, Daniel
Gibbons, Andrew
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Master of Educational Leadership
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Auckland University of Technology

The wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students is significantly worse than their heterosexual peers, while it is expected of educational leaders to create a safe and inclusive environment in their schools for all students. This thesis explores five secondary school principals’ perspectives on how they believe they accommodate for the wellbeing of these students in New Zealand secondary schools. This expectation for educational leaders is set by the Ministry of Education (MoE, 2007, 2017a) and the Education Council (Education Council New Zealand–Matatū Aotearoa, 2017). There are also explicit recommendations on how principals can accommodate for the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students to accompany the expectations (Te Kete Ipurangi, n.d.-b). Furthermore, transformative leadership (Shields, 2010) and applied critical leadership (Santamaría & Santamaría, 2012) are two theories that can be considered as accommodating for the wellbeing of this group of students. These documents and leadership strategies indicate that principals have the material available to create a safe school environment that could benefit the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students.

In this research, the participating principals wrote an anecdote and were interviewed to gather data and explore their perspectives using Vagle’s post-intentional phenomenological approach (Vagle, 2018). Individuals create a version of events in and through their own consciousness, and their experiences are embedded with their own subjectivities, including their backgrounds and environments (Cohen et al., 2018). In this research, the phenomenon consists of principals’ perspectives on leadership practice and strategies that accommodate for the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students within the experiences of the principals. To explore their views meaningfully, the gathered phenomenological material from written anecdotes and transcripts of interviews were analysed to recognise productions and provocations of the phenomenon. In the exploration of the gathered data, there were recurring themes in the perspectives of the educational leaders regarding their accommodation for the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students; gender-neutral toilets and uniforms, student groups supporting sexuality and gender diverse students, external providers for staff and students, the New Zealand Curriculum and National Administration Guidelines, wellbeing of transitioning students, and usage of pronouns. These recurring themes are explained with principals’ perspectives, which are analysed as productions and provocations of the phenomenon – their awareness of practice that accommodates for the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students.

It became evident that the principals, whether they had knowledge of the literature and leadership strategies, or not, all displayed affective language that indicated the genuineness of their practice towards accommodating for the wellbeing of sexuality and gender diverse students. Their perspectives provide for a deeper understanding of principals’ leadership practice in New Zealand secondary schools, and also nurture a sense of hope and confidence that principals are apt in decision making concerning the wellbeing of these students, with or without explicit knowledge.

Wellbeing of students , Sexuality and gender diverse , Secondary school , Principals' perspectives , Principals , Phenomenology , Post-intentional , Educational leadership , Education , Applied critical leadership , Transformative leadership , Secondary students
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