Learning-centered leadership and teacher learning in China: does trust matter?

Shengnan Liu, Philip Hallinger, Daming Feng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


PurposeIn this era of global education reform, teacher professional learning (TPL) has emerged as a key factor in efforts to create sustainable school improvement. The same holds in Mainland China where ambitious curriculum reforms have been undertaken since 2000. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of learning-centered leadership (LCL) and teacher trust (TT) in fostering TPL in Chinese schools. More specifically, the authors examined two research questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship of LCL to TT and professional learning?; and (2) How LCL practices influence TT and professional learning. Design/methodology/approachThe study employed a cross-sectional survey design. The authors collected survey data from 1,259 teachers in 41 primary and secondary schools in three different Chinese provinces. The research employed confirmatory factor analysis to confirm the measurement model and structural equation modeling to examine interactions among the three main variables. FindingsThe results affirmed a positive association between LCL and TPL, and highlighted TT as a significant mediator in this relationship. Additional analyses distinguished between the effects of different dimensions of LCL on TT and TPL. Although the results of these analyses were broadly consistent with prior findings reported in the literature, divergent findings also emerged. More specifically, there was a limited use and no significant impact of “leadership modeling” on either TT or professional learning. Research limitations/implicationsThe authors suggest that this pattern of leadership practice is linked with features of China’s institutional cum socio-cultural context. The authors recommend the use of qualitative and mixed methods studies capable of gaining further insight into relationships. Practical implicationsThese findings in Mainland China reaffirm the efficacy of school-level leadership that builds a safe, trusting but focussed environment for teacher learning in the workplace. This is a potentially significant finding in a society where the use of top-down directives and reliance on legitimate authority by leaders can rob teachers of the motivation and initiative that undergirds sustainable professional learning. The findings, in concert with those of other scholars, suggest that “building trust” represents a useful strategy for principals who seek to establish productive learning environments for their teachers. Originality/valueThe value of this study lies in two areas. First, this is one of a growing but still limited set of quantitative empirical studies of school leadership in Mainland China. Second, the study tests the nature of mediation in the relationship between leadership, trust and TPL, a topic of relatively recent vintage in the educational leadership literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-682
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Educational Administration
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2016


  • China
  • Leadership
  • Teacher learning
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


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