Teacher development in rural China: how ineffective school leadership fails to make a difference

Shengnan Liu, Philip Hallinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined if and how the learning-centred leadership of rural school principals in China impacted teachers’ trust and agency, as well as their engagement in professional learning. In contrast to prior research, however, this mixed methods study sought to illuminate the impact of ineffective leadership on teachers and school improvement. Quantitative data analysis affirmed that learning-centred leadership was associated with more active teacher engagement in professional learning, and that these effects were partially mediated by teacher trust and agency. However, additional quantitative analyses revealed that rural principals in our sample exercised significantly weaker learning-centred leadership than their urban counterparts, and that this was associated with lower levels of teacher trust, agency and professional learning. This quantitative analysis set the stage for a case study of one rural school principal whose school was unsuccessful in implementing a reform aimed at building teacher capacity. The qualitative data illuminate how sociocultural norms shaped interactions not only between the principal and his teachers (e.g. hierarchy), but among the teachers themselves (e.g. hierarchy and collectivism). Finally, the case study illustrates how ineffective leadership engenders mistrust and resistance among teachers, making them wary of assuming ownership of change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-650
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Leadership in Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Strategy and Management


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