IRIS Area and International Studies Awards for Incoming Graduate Students: Micaela Wensjoe

“Exploring School Leadership Potential in Rural Peru”

Micaela Wensjoe, a second-year PhD student specializing in Comparative International Education and Global Studies, embarked on research trip to Peru, supported by the IRIS Area and International Studies Award for Incoming Graduate Students.

Micaela’s academic background is rooted in her Peruvian heritage, providing her research a unique perspective. Her primary research interests encompass rural education, teacher development, and promoting educational equity. This year marked a pivotal moment in her academic career, as she undertook a crucial pilot project vital to her PhD in Education Policy Studies.

The core focus of Micaela’s pilot project revolved around the intricate theme of school leadership within multi-grade schools in Peru. Effective school leadership is widely acknowledged as a catalyst for enhancing educational quality. However, traditional leadership models may not be readily applicable in diverse contexts like multi-grade schools in the Global South. The significance of Micaela’s qualitative case study lay in unraveling how teachers in Peruvian multi-grade schools perceive and implement school leadership practices. Her research also delved into the primary barriers and facilitators impacting the implementation of these practices, especially considering the unique challenges multi-grade schools pose.

Micaela dedicated a month to fieldwork in the Ucayali region, located in the Peruvian Amazon. The region faces the dual challenges of educational underachievement and linguistic diversity, with multiple languages spoken. In this region, a significant portion of students attend multi-grade schools. The extensive data Micaela collected, including interviews with 16 teachers and observations of both classes and teacher meetings, painted a comprehensive picture of multi-grade school leadership.

Micaela’s preliminary findings from this research trip yielded key insights. Principals in multi-grade schools often grapple with an overwhelming number of responsibilities, leaving limited time for effective leadership and classroom engagement. Collaborative leadership styles, open communication, and a positive school climate emerged as essential priorities for teachers in multi-grade schools.

At present, Micaela is meticulously analyzing the wealth of data gathered during her fieldwork. Her research’s significance goes beyond academic exploration; it aims to inform policy and practice in rural multi-grade schools. By identifying the barriers and factors that facilitate effective school leadership, her work has the potential to guide policymakers in allocating resources and developing context-specific policies for these schools. Ultimately, Micaela’s research seeks to contribute to the enhancement of education, particularly in rural areas, by highlighting the importance of tailored school leadership practices within multi-grade school settings in the Global South.

Campus units can nominate candidates for the IRIS Area and International Studies Awards for Incoming Graduate Students. The purpose of these grants is to recruit strong incoming graduate students who will at some point in their graduate training require a period of international fieldwork or development of language or cultural competence off the UW-Madison campus. In addition, UW-Madison graduate students planning to conduct six or more weeks of summer fieldwork outside of the U.S. can apply for the IRIS Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Award. For more information about these and other awards, please visit our website and sign up for the IRIS Awards Office monthly newsletter.