Mediating effects of school capacity on the relationship between principal leadership and teacher professional learning: Evidence from Hong Kong primary schools

Lijuan LI

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


The series of education reforms that have taken place in Hong Kong are part of a global movement. While restructuring and adapting to meet the demands of these reforms, Hong Kong principals are also expected to build school capacity, which research shows to be directly associated with teacher learning (Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris, & Hopkins, 2006). Of the array of school capacity-related factors in operation, those connected to human relationships are most likely to facilitate teacher professional learning (e.g., Li, Hallinger, & Ko, submitted). They include trust (e.g., Hoy, Tarter, & Hoy, 2006; Leithwood & Beatty, 2008; Sleegers, Geijsel, & Van den Berg, 2002), communication (e.g., Danielson, 2006; Tschannen-Moran, 2000; Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008), and collaboration (e.g., Leonard, 2010; Quicke, 2000; Scribner, Sawyer, Watson, & Myers, 2007) at the school level. These human relationship-based factors also extend to the work environment and school success. Hence, to promote teacher learning, principals can use their human relational competencies to create a positive school environment in the process of capacity-building. This study constitutes a contextualized inquiry into how the school capacity factors of trust, communication, and collaboration mediate the effects of principal leadership on teacher professional learning in Hong Kong primary schools. Verification of these indirect effects illuminates the mediated pathways between principal leadership and teacher learning. Survey data were collected from a validated sample of 970 teachers from 32 primary schools. The two questionnaires used in the survey, which covered a range of principal leadership and school capacity factors, were found to be reliable and valid. This quantitative study is the first to examine teachers’ perceptions of principal leadership practice, school capacity, and teacher professional learning and the associations among them. Baron and Kenny’s (1986) causal steps procedure, integrated with the bootstrapping method, was adopted to test the presence of the mediating effects of trust, communication, and collaboration both individually and jointly. Where the seven core areas of principal practice revealed mediated effects on teacher professional learning, the strength of those effects was further examined. The survey respondents generally gave positive feedback on principal leadership practices, school capacity, and teacher professional learning in their schools. Evidence from a series of mediation analyses confirms the hypothesis that all three school capacity factors are significant mediators between principal leadership and teacher professional learning. Collaboration exhibits the strongest mediating power, followed by communication and trust. When principal leadership is conceptualized as the seven core areas of principal practice, teacher development and instructional leadership are sufficiently strong to directly affect teacher professional learning, whereas strategic direction has both direct and indirect negative effects and staff management has direct and indirect positive effects. Finally, managerial leadership (i.e., external communication, resource management, and quality assurance) exerts no significant influence. These findings are indicative, if not generalizable to, Hong Kong-wide primary school practice. Their implication is that principals should create conditions that facilitate the building of trust, communication, and collaboration to ensure that teacher professional learning develops and thrives in schools. When balancing their strategic direction with adequate staff management competencies, principals should also stress teacher development and instructional leadership. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Hong Kong Institute of Education
  • WALKER, Allan David 汪雅量, Supervisor
  • KO, Yue On James, Supervisor
  • HALLINGER, Philip, Supervisor
Award date01 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Elementary school principals -- China -- Hong Kong
  • Elementary school administration
  • Teachers -- In-service training
  • Educational leadership
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2014


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