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Teachers shine research focus on regional issues

USC PhD candidate Amelia Olsen is determined to help improve outcomes for regional, rural and remote school students across Australia by identifying the key strategies used by school principals to boost students’ academic success and wellbeing.

The Kilkivan State School teacher has joined a growing number of local educators embarking on Higher Degree by Research programs through USC’s Fraser Coast campus.

Senior Lecturer in Education Dr Sharon Louth, who is supervising Ms Olsen’s thesis project, said USC Fraser Coast’s expanding focus on post-graduate research was helping to build the capacity of local teachers and raise the profile of regional educators.

“By embracing this opportunity, our new PhD and Master students are working to bring regional issues and solutions to the forefront of Australian educational research and ensuring the voices of our teachers, our students and our community are heard,” Dr Louth said.

Ms Olsen is using case studies from more than 10 regional, rural and remote schools across Australia to identify which innovative practices are making the most difference.

She said teaching at Kilkivan, west of Gympie, for the past eight years had added to her professional and personal insights into the challenges faced by rural communities.

“Before becoming a teacher, I was a dairy farmer in Victoria,” she said. “We moved to Queensland when our children were young for a fresh start after being drought stricken.

“This research is my contribution to improve the lifelong outcomes for people who live, learn and lead in country areas and work in some of the most challenging contexts across the nation.”

Ms Olsen said she aimed to identify strategies some principals have used to transform low student engagement into high levels of wellbeing and academic improvement.

“My goal is to then establish a hierarchy of priorities that can be adopted by principals to create successful cultural change, while avoiding the pitfalls of leadership burnout,” she said.

“This will not only help existing principals working in rural, regional and remote locations, but also teachers electing to step up to leadership roles in these areas.”

Experienced Fraser Coast educator Lauren McGeorge has also embarked on postgraduate research through USC Fraser Coast.

Ms McGeorge said her PhD thesis would investigate ways to support self-initiated professional development for beginning teachers and strategies to reduce the rate of early-career educators who leave the education sector within five years.

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