Bonnie Stelmach, PhD, MA, BEd
Pronouns: she, her, hers
Area of Study / Keywords
K-12 Education Rural Education Parent Involvement School Leadership Qualitative Research
I am proud to be a Professor in the Studies in Educational Leadership program in the Faculty of Education. I completed my doctorate in Educational Administration and Leadership in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, and a Master of Arts in Educational Philosophy at Simon Fraser University. My undergraduate degree is in Secondary Education, also from the U of A. I have taught in rural and northern Alberta, as well as at an international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Previous to joining the academic community, I served as district coordinator of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI). That three-year project directly influenced my decision to study secondary parents’ conceptualizations of their role in school improvement to earn a doctorate. My research has evolved to explore parents' sense of community with their children's schools, and I am particularly interested in rural schools. My current research interest is in rural school innovation, and issues unique to rural schools. I live in rural Alberta, and I love it there.
I supervise doctoral students pursuing varying interests in school leadership (e.g. hope, well-being, moral distress, gender issues, social media, and micropolitics).
At this point, I welcome expressions of interest for doctoral supervision from those who have identified a specific rural education matter to explore and intend on pursuing it full-time.
I am a qualitative researcher.
My signature on the research landscape is on parents' roles in K-12 schooling, but I’ve examined parents’ roles in education at the post-secondary level as well. My research has evolved toward an examination of school “community”—a logical extension of my research about parents’ roles. In particular, In light of diversification of families, trends toward radical individualism, and boundary shifting, I have explored what makes parents feel in community in their children's schools, especially at the secondary school level where traditional parent involvement shifts. Owing to my rural Alberta roots, I am committed to a rural research agenda in this regard as K-12 schooling assumptions tend to metrocentric, and rural is either stereotyped and idealized or positioned in deficit mode. I am currently developing a research program that aims to shift the prevailing deficit discourse about rural schools and rural communities. In particular, I want to contribute to appreciative perspectives about rural education and rural living, something that I have been thinking about ever since Michael Corbett released the first edition of his book Learning to Leave (revised and published in 2020). Corbett argued that rural schools ultimately convey a mobility imperative, the idea that 'success' for rural students is defined in terms of getting out of their small, rural communities.
In keeping with the University of Alberta's mandate, "for the public" good, working with practitioners and policymakers is my priority. In this regard, I have also been honored to collaborate with colleagues from the Universities of Calgary and Lethbridge, and Concordia University of Edmonton on research focusing on the implementation of Alberta's Professional Practice Standards as well as policy review of Alberta's Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation Policy. Additionally, I have completed research for the Alberta Teachers' Association on moral distress among school leaders, and the Alberta School Councils' Association on a project (It Takes a Virus) that examined how emergency remote teaching during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted parent-teacher relations.
I dabble in research regarding academic life.
My current research focuses on rural school innovation. Using a community-based research philosophy, I have partnered with New Humble Community School, a K-6 publicly funded charter school with an experiential learning and land stewardship philosophy, and an agricultural literacy pedagogical approach. Our partnership has been developing since January 2022. I would like to thank Mr. Sam Pelkey, who was an undergraduate research assistant who helped to forge that partnership. Sam contributed to developing a consultative process that was used during a community dinner called Growing Together. The dinner was sponsored by a KIAS Dialogue Grant and afforded us an evening in which we engaged parents, teachers, and community members in a discussion to determine research interests and needs for New Humble Community School. Sam convocated from the Faculty of Education and became a teacher at New Humble School!
Based on the community's feedback, our partnership was successful in securing a research grant through Alberta Education's Research Partnership Program. Our project, School is Such a Chore! Agriculture as a Lens for Enhancing Learning and Life Skills will follow an interpretive description research design, but we have committed to building research capacity, in keeping with a community-based approach. Our funded study will explore how an agricultural literacy lens can support students' curricular learning in the new Alberta K-6 Physical Education and Wellness curriculum, and the K-6 social studies curriculum, as well as life skills (e.g. responsibility, empathy) development. We recently completed a pilot, Pepper & Triscuit Go to School: Elementary School Students' Learning With and From Animals, in March 2023. I would like to thank Mr. Jihoon Jang, who assisted with data collection in the pilot, and as an elementary specialist, taught me a lot about how to interview young children! Jihoon will convocate in June 2023, and has already secured a substitute teaching contract with Edmonton Public Schools! A new undergraduate research assistant, Mr. Aidan Ritcey has joined the research, and we are ready to undertake data collection in Fall 2023.
Rural education is my passion. I am a proud graduate of Andrew School in Andrew Alberta, which, sadly, closed in June 2023. Rural schools are persistently marginalized because of metrocentric assumptions, and what rural educational scholar, Michael Corbett, calls the "mobility imperative" - the assumption that "success" means moving away from a rural community to pursue a professional, urban life. I know rural schools are incredibly innovative and resourceful, but the dominant narrative is one of deficit. I am committed to interrogating that.
As a qualitative researcher, I particularly enjoy teaching research methodology/methods courses. But I have created and taught graduate courses in organizational behavior, rural education, qualitative research, working with parents, and school leadership. At the undergraduate level, my teaching focus has been on legal and ethical issues for teacher candidates.
Highlights of Graduate Courses Taught/Designed, University of Alberta:
- Rural Education Issues and Advantages (EDU 550)
- Foundations of School Leadership (EDU 520)
- Evolving Concepts in Educational Administration and Leadership (EDPS 511)
- Working with Parents/Caregivers in Schools (EDPS 501)
- Research Frameworks and Qualitative Methodologies (EDPS 681)
- The Principalship (EDPS 595)
- Introduction to School Improvement (EDU 511)
- Leadership in Educational Settings (EDU 512)
- Philosophy of Teaching (EDPY 597)
- Introduction to Evaluating Educational Research (EDPS 581)
- Educational Learning and Change (EDPS 541)
Graduate Courses Taught, University of Saskatchewan:
- Parents and Educational Theory and Practice
- Introduction to Research Methods
- Qualitative Data Analysis
- Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods
- Trends and Issues: Parents and Education
- Organizational Behaviour
- History and Development of Organizational Theory
- Education in Rural and Sparsely Populated Areas
- Trends and Issues: Gender Roles in Educational Administration
- Organizational Theory
- Critical Perspectives on Policy Making in Education
As Professor, mentoring graduate students is an area of teaching that gives me energy and inspiration. I have had the pleasure of working with masters and doctoral students. Currently, I supervise students whose research foci include:
- moral distress among principals of Canadian-accredited international students
- the role of hope among K-12 principals
- school leaders' wellbeing
- social media and its micropolitical impact on school leaders
- leadership in international school settings
I am currently interested in working with students who have a particular interest in rural education matters. Please contact me if your graduate studies are going to take you down that path.
This course provides an introduction to leadership theories and concepts that are foundational for understanding the philosophical assumptions that drive leadership practice in schools and higher education contexts. May contain alternative delivery sections; refer to the Tuition and Fees page in the University Regulations section of the Calendar.
This course explores the philosophical/epistemological underpinnings of selected research frameworks as well as relevant qualitative methodologies within the specializations of the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Students may receive credit for only one of EDAL 611, EDPS 611 and EDPS 681.
Using scholarly and professional research, this course focuses on foundational dimensions of school leadership. Sections may be offered at an increased rate of fee assessment; refer to the Tuition and Fees page in the University Regulations sections of the Calendar.
Stelmach, B., Smith, L., & O'Connor, B.
International Journal of Leadership in Education. 2021 September; Advance online publication
School Community Journal. 2021 August; 31 (1):9-40
The state of the system: A reality check on Canada's schools (book review)
Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 2021 January; 67 (1):100-104
Pelkey, S., Stelmach, B., & Hunter, D.
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy. 2021 January; 196
Alberta School Councils' Association. 2020 December;
Leadership in education: The power of generative dialogue (book review)
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy. 2020 January; 193
Rural, secondary school parents’ discourses about feeling in community in their children’s schools: Insights to shape teachers’ and principals’ questions
Rural teacher education: Connecting land and pedagogy (Editors: M. Corbett & D. Gereluk). 2020 January;
The surprisingly empty feeling of getting full: Contemplations on the contradictory nature of full professorship
Kovach, M./Stelmach, B.
Women negotiating life in the academy (Editors: S. E. Eaton & A. Burns). 2020 January;
Lesbian and gay parents' experiences and their relationships with/in schools: An Alberta study
Michaud, C., & Stelmach, B.
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy. 2019 January;
Parental helping with science fair projects: A case study
Bowen, M., & Stelmach, B.
Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. 2019 January; 20
Stelmach, B., & O'Connor, B.
Canadian Association of Principals Journal. 2019 January;
A study of teacher growth, supervision and evaluation in Alberta: Policy and perception in a collective case study
Adams, P., Mombourquette, C., Brandon, J., Hunter, D., Freisen, S., Koh, K....Stelmach, B.
Journal of Educational Supervision. 2018 January; 1 (2):1-16
From compliance to capacity building: A Canadian case study highlighting central office support for school council development
International Studies in Educational Administration. 2018 January; 46 (3):24-46
Casting a new light on a long shadow: Saskatchewan Aboriginal high school students talk about what helps and hinders their learning
Stelmach, B., Kovach, M., & Steeves, L.
Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 2017 January; 63 (1):1-20
Issues with evidence in constructivist/interpretivist educational research.
The best available evidence: Wise decision-making for educational improvement (Editors: P. Newton & D. Burgess). 2016 June;
Parents’ participation on school councils analysed through Arnstein’s ladder of participation.
School Leadership & Management. 2016 January; 36 (3):271-291
School district conditions and practices that lead to school council effectiveness.
International Journal of Social Sciences. 2012 January; 1 (2):48-70
A survey of international rural education issues and responses.
Rural Educator. 2011 January; 32 (2):32-42
Metaphor as insight into parents’ conceptualizations of their role in school improvement
Including families and communities in urban education (Editors: C. Hands & L. Hubbard). 2011 January;
A challenge to metrics as evidence of scholarity.
Stelmach, B., & von Wolff, S.
European Educational Research Journal. 2011 January; 10 (1):64-83
The construction of parental roles at eight Western Canadian universities.
Stelmach, B., & von Wolff, S.
The Journal of Educational Administration & Foundations (now Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy). 2010 October; 21 (1):60-83
Filling in the pieces: Interpreting “parent involvement” at the secondary level
The leadership compendium: Emerging scholars of Canadian educational leadership (Editor: K. Anderson). 2010 January;
Stelmach, B., Parsons, J., & Frick, W. C.
Academic Matters. 2010 January;
Legal and cultural contexts of parent-teacher interactions: School councils in Canada
Brien, K., & Stelmach, B.
International Journal About Parents in Education. 2009 January; 3 (1):1-14
Research or in-search? A non-Aboriginal researcher’s retrospective of a study on Aboriginal parent involvement.
First Nations Perspectives. 2009 January; 2 (1):35-56
Five Aboriginal mothers’ views on the role of parents in secondary school improvement
The Journal of Educational Administration & Foundations (now Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy). 2008 January; 19 (2):1-18
High school students’ perspectives on the role of parents in school improvement.
Journal of School Public Relations. 2006 January; 27 (1):50-83
A case study of three mothers’ experiences in the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement: Having a voice versus getting a hearing
International Journal of Leadership in Education. 2005 January; 8 (2):167-185
Unlocking the schoolhouse doors: Institutional constraints on parent and community involvement in a school improvement initiative
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy. 2004 January; 31