N. Pang, J. Cao

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (HONG KONG)
Extensive studies have identified the importance of teacher professional learning for school development and improvement. Promoting teacher professional learning is one of the most important responsibilities for school leaders. Although many studies have identified the leadership types that could affect teacher learning, how does school leadership lead to effective teacher professional learning is still not adequately examined. Attempt was made in this study to contribute to this area and to fill the gap in the literature. This study investigates how principals lead to teacher professional learning in Shanghai schools in China.

Shanghai has been ranked at the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by OECD in 2009 and 2012. As a pioneer of educational reform in China, the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission has made great efforts to promote curriculum reform and to turnaround weak schools’ quality. In 2010, the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission initiated a Program of New High-Quality Schools (xinyouzhi xuexiao). The program grouped some successful schools together as models of school change and as agent of change for weak schools. Those schools labeled with ‘New High-Quality’ (NHQ) were not traditional key schools but weak schools originally. The New High Quality schools were usually admitting ordinary students from families of low SES, but had been making great progress in school improvement and finally getting success in schooling through school change. The evidence of identified and observable changes in the NHQ schools include:
(i) having increased students’ performance to the expected standard level,
(ii) having developed featured school-based curriculum to enhance students’ holistic development, and
(iii) having gained recognition of successful change from the local community.

In order to deeply understand how principals can effectively promote teacher professional learning in school, a qualitative case study method was utilized in this study. Two NHQ primary schools as typical cases were purposefully selected for this study. Both primary schools were failing schools in the past. When the present principals took over the schools, they made great efforts to initiate school reform and promote teacher professional learning and development. At last, the two primary schools have made great progress in school improvement and teacher professional growth. The two schools have been selected by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission as New High Quality schools to recognize their successes. In each of the school, semi-structured interviews were conducted to the Principal and a group of 3-5 teachers in the form of focus group discussion. Each interview lasted for about 90-120 minutes.

Findings show that effective leadership strategies that lead to teacher professional learning included:
(i) providing professional learning opportunities and resources,
(ii) distributed leadership for collaborative learning,
(iii) monitoring the effectiveness of teacher learning, and
(iv) committing teachers to professional learning.

The findings have matched with the similar evidence in the western literature, but some different characteristics were also identified. This study contributes to the understanding of the relationship between school leadership and teacher professional learning and sheds light to the theories and practices of educational leadership.