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Educational Leadership Graduate Examines Challenges and Opportunities for Principals in Saudi Arabia

Moneerah Alarefe


As women in Saudi Arabia gain rights, women are helping transform the national educational system. Moneerah Alarefe is one of them. An Arabic-language teacher, she, her husband, and their four children came to the U.S. in 2016 to develop the skills to help improve life at home.

Here, Alarefe discusses her decision to enroll in the Saint Rose educational leadership program, her research and how she presented it recently in order to earn her graduate degree.  

Please explain how you ended up here in Albany:

The Ministry of Education sends many teachers to foreign universities in many countries to build new educational experiences. My husband received a scholarship to study for a doctorate at UAlbany; then, I also received a scholarship, to study for a master’s in educational leadership at Saint Rose. I started in Fall 2018.

Why Saint Rose?

I came upon the recommendation of one of my colleagues, who praised the program, especially as it offers flexibility to suit the student’s goals and aspirations.

Although the program focuses on educational leadership within schools, I am not looking to work as a school principal.  I look forward to working to provide support, advice, and training to school principals, and I believe now that I am ready for that, thanks to what I learned in this program, especially the plethora of educational advice and opinions from my teachers and colleagues.

Please describe your research interest:

The term “teacher leadership” is still not used in Saudi schools. Dr. (Deborah) Shea (assistant professor and program coordinator) told me she is writing a book that will be ready for publication soon about teacher leadership. I was fascinated at what she said.  I liked the idea, especially since I think it suits my specialty and would help me achieve my goal of supporting school principals.

I did an exploratory study in the fall of 2019 on the perceptions of Saudi teachers of teacher leadership. Then, I worked with Dr. Shea on the thesis in the spring of 2020. It was a new experience for me, and full of many difficulties, especially challenges related to language.

What was the result?  

My thesis was “Teacher Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities for School Principals in Saudi Arabia.”

I think it will be very helpful to Saudi education by reducing the burdens on school principals and organizing work inside the school. It will enhance the concept of leadership inside the school at a time when Saudi schools are passing a qualitative change to get rid of the centralization and bureaucracy.

Given the move to remote instruction in March, due to the pandemic, how did you ultimately present it? 

The thesis was delivered online and discussed with the committee in the cross-conference meeting in Zoom.

Online discussion was a new and beautiful experience for me – letting me meet with the committee members who were encouraging and supportive of me to overcome the difficulties of the language, which made me feel comfortable and confident. I didn’t feel the difference between it and meeting on campus.

I will talk a lot when I return to Saudi Arabia about my beautiful experience of studying in Saint Rose and the support and help I found from teachers and staff at the college.

Anyone else join the discussion?

I was thrilled because my mother and my family in Saudi Arabia were able to celebrate with us remotely, after inviting them to the meeting and hearing the discussion.

What’s next?

The work and the challenges made me more prepared to provide many recommendations to stimulate leadership of  teachers in Saudi schools, and this is what I will work on upon my return –  especially since I received a great welcome from officials in my region to discuss my experience and provide support for what I want to do.

By Jane Gottlieb

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