Leaders of learning: Middle leader-led professional learning communities in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China

Anthony R. ADAMES

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


This qualitative study examined the role that middle leaders and their professional learning communities (PLCs) play in focusing teachers’ attention on student learning. The study presents an analysis of this phenomenon across multiple school types in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China using case study methodology as a vehicle to uncover factors which support and inhibit the work of middle leader-led PLCs in varying school contexts.
This thesis demonstrates that middle leaders use a plethora of skills and exhibit myriad attributes to form and maintain their teacher teams. The nine critical attributes presented here: (a) shared values and vision; (b) collective responsibility; (c) reflective professional inquiry; (d) collaboration, (e) promotion of group, as well as individual, learning; (f) mutual trust, respect and support among members; (g) inclusive membership; (h) looking beyond the school for sources of learning and ideas and (i) shared leadership, when present, create an environment where robust structures can be formed. Such structures create a forum for teachers to collaborate on instructional initiatives, curriculum enactment, teacher empowerment and team building. These opportunities for professional dialogue were welcomed by middle leaders and teachers across the study.
The findings from the interviews with middle and senior leaders, as well as with members of their PLCs, revealed there were five aspects that impacted middle leaders effectiveness with their prospective teams, depending on their school context: (a) funds for professional development; (b) the competitive environment; (c) staff stability and longevity; (d) the leadership style of the principal and (e) middle leader authority and role recognition. The nexus between school type and these five aspects impact on the middle leaders’ actions when working with their teacher teams. Middle leaders adapt their leadership to their situational contexts and customize strategies which cohere to the school’s ethos, the resources available and societal challenges facing the school and its school type.
The implications of this study contribute to the knowledge base of middle leadership, PLCs in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and the interplay between the two in the context of three different school types: international, government-aided and DSS schools. For policy makers, school type did matter when it comes to access to professional development, staff longevity and stability and competitive environment. Targeted funding, whether emanating from the school or via direct government grants, needs to be considered to minimize the disadvantages felt in certain school types.
Another significant contribution is the identification of shared (informal) leadership opportunities within PLCs, mention of which has been lacking in the literature thus far. Middle leaders who encourage such leadership opportunities for their team members within their PLCs and across the school are seen, by their staff, as being more effective leaders and are able to focus their teachers’ attention on student learning. The work of middle leaders and their teacher teams is critically important, and this study provides insight into middle leaders and their important role within PLCs. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • BRYANT, Darren Anthony, Supervisor
  • WALKER, Allan David 汪雅量, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Alt. title: The role of middle leadership-led communities of practice in focusing teachers’ attention on student achievement in direct subsidy scheme, aided and international schools in Hong Kong and Southern China
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2019.


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