How subject and curriculum leaders support in-service teachers' on-site professional learning in China

Anthony R. ADAMES, Darren Anthony BRYANT, Yiu Lun Leo WONG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Objectives: This paper examines middle leaders’ (MLs) roles in building the capacity of in-service teachers. MLs include teachers appointed to positional authority within organizational hierarchies, e.g. subject and year level leaders, or cross-curricular specialists, e.g., special educational needs and curriculum coordinators. Given MLs' proximity to the classroom and specialist knowledge, they potentially influence teachers’ professional learning. This research asks: How do middle leaders conceptualize and enact their potential as builders of in-service teachers’ capacity?

Framework: The research builds on findings that successful senior (Day et al, 2011) and middle leaders (Author, 2018) build teaching capacity. It examines MLs' beliefs about leading teaching and learning, e.g., pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and pastoral care (Gurr, 2015) and takes a distributive perspective that leadership constitutes interactions among leaders and teachers (Spillane et al., 2008; Spillane & Coldren, 2011).

Data: Interview and advice network data were collected from a young K-12 International Baccalaureate school in southeast China undergoing K-5 curriculum reauthorization. Senior, middle and teacher interviews examined beliefs about middle leadership for instruction and capacity building. Qualitative data were coded for related practices. An advice network survey asked teachers and leaders to identify individuals consulted about instruction.

Methods: The qualitative data were coded for leadership practices related to teaching and learning and capacity building. The analysis measured centrality: (a) closeness, network pathway distance, (b) in-degree, inbound advice seeking, and (c) brokering, potential as information conduits. These were used to re-analyze the qualitative findings.

Results: Qualitative data shows that reauthorization processes focused primary curriculum leaders’ energies around capacity building. Social network analyses ranked primary curriculum coordinators highly across the K-12 network on in-degree (0.134, ranked 2nd) and closeness (0.35 and 0.312, ranked 2nd and 3rd). One was ranked first for brokering (0.499). All curriculum coordinators accounted for 21% of total in-degree, subject heads 6% and year level leaders 12.4%.

Middle leaders facilitated teacher empowerment and team building and ensured that curriculum delivery met external standards. This involved mediating instructional initiatives, devising structures curriculum enactment, and creating opportunities for professional dialogue. Teachers valued middle leaders who provided regular feedback, demonstrated openness, and facilitated team learning; they associated these with capacity to adopt new practices.

Subject leaders distributed leadership by engaging team members to lead in areas of individual expertise, but co-opted curriculum leaders’ authority and cross-curricular perspectives. Collectively, their advice was sought by teachers, senior and subject leaders. Combined, the two primary curriculum leaders indegree centrality were being greatest across the network, implying a shared workload in leading teaching and learning. Of them, one had the highest brokerage measure school-wide, suggesting an indispensable position as conveyor of instructional information.

Significance: Despite subject leaders reported engagement in building capacity, this research found two tiers of middle leaders. Curriculum coordinators emerged as the go to leaders for subject heads, teachers and senior leaders, and ranked highly across the network. They share the largest proportion of indegree centrality amongst all leader groups. It appears that catalysts, such as curriculum authorization processes, may influence such distributions. Copyright © 2019 AERA.


Conference2019 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: Leveraging Education Research in a “Post-Truth” Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence
Abbreviated titleAERA 2019
Internet address


Adames, A. R., Bryant, D. A., & Wong, Y. L. L. (2019, April). How subject and curriculum leaders support in-service teachers' on-site professional learning in China. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2019 Annual Meeting, Toronto, Canada.


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