Building Teacher Leadership Capacity

Building Teacher Leadership Capacity: School-University Partnership Approaches in a Chinese Local Authority’


Global interest in distributed leadership does not always have analogues at country level. For instance, principal preparation and development has been prioritised in China by 14 important government directives between 1989 and 2011 (Zheng et al., 2013). However, there is little public recognition of the leadership roles that teachers play. Not surprisingly, precise definitions of teacher leadership are scarce in Chinese journals. Frost (2006) conceptualises it as the process whereby teachers enhance their human agency within a culture of shared responsibility for reform and the outcomes for all students. As a subset of distributed leadership, Muijs et al. (2013) considers teacher leadership a narrower and broader concept than distributive leadership as it is exclusively about the leadership roles of teaching staff while comprised of both formal and informal leadership roles. Case studies of school-university partnerships affiliated with HertsCam Network suggest that teacher leadership is successfully fostered when there is a genuine collaborative partnership between university-based academics and experienced practitioners (Frost, 2013).

In China, there has been no general reform strategy to school-university partnership (Teng, 2008). School-university partnership in most local authorities is an untried phenomenon for two reasons: firstly, the central mission of the university is teaching and large commitments of faculty time and resources to schools and community service cannot be justified; secondly, Chinese education departments do not prioritise empirical research since their scholarly traditions are characterised by ideological writing with no empirical base (Zhao et al., 2008; Law, 2012). The existing partnerships take a bottom up approach and have been formed for different purposes, ranging from promoting university qualifications; the education of gifted and talented children; to teacher training (Niu, 2006; Niu et al., 2010; Zhang, 2013). With universities providing ad-hoc interactions, these partnerships fall short of structured and sustainable mechanisms for engaging with schools in their region (Liu, 2011). Since collaboration remains elusive, few partnerships hold significant promise for promoting teacher leadership. Despite various different approaches of partnership, the conceptual underpinnings of these partnerships are generally lacking. There is very little written about how universities contribute to the preparation and development of teacher leaders; nor is there any work published about how schools are involved in teacher leadership development in Chinese literature.

Research Aims

The research aims to address the following questions:

  1. What hierarchies and power dynamics characterise school-university partnerships in relation to the promotion of leadership development?
  2. What strategies, programmes, and system of support have school-university partnerships established for promoting leadership development among teachers at different stages of their career?
  3. What professional groups benefit from leadership development provided by the school-university partnership?
  4. What distinctive contribution does the school-university partnership make to teacher leadership development?
    1. What division of labour characterises different roles and contributions of schools and universities in the promotion of teacher leadership development?
    2. In relation to what aspects of teacher leadership development have schools and universities developed collaborative ways of working?

Principal investigator:

Dr Wei Zhang


Dr Xiaohua Zong

Dr Feng Wei

Collaborating Institutions in China:

Nanjing University

Nanjing Normal University

Source of funding:

British Educational Leadership, Management & Administration Society

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