The practices of distributed leadership within an instructional reform environment in China

Chunping RAO

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


The objective of this case study was to identify and explain how distributed leadership in schools was shaped by the context of Chinese instructional reform policy and Chinese culture. This reform was an extension of a national curriculum reform in China starting from 2001, which borrowed educational ideas from the West. The reform caused cultural dilemmas for both school administrators and teachers, which brought difficulties for the implementation of distributed leadership in Chinese schools, although distributed leadership was promoted as one of the ideal leadership practices by the Chinese government and scholars. The research reported here was an in-depth qualitative case study of three primary schools in Nanshan District, Shenzhen. The central research question of this study was: How does context and culture influence distributed leadership in schools? To answer this question, three specific questions were posed to frame the research design: 1. What are the contextual influences on the practices of distributed leadership? 2. What are the cultural influences on the practices of distributed leadership? 3. How is distributed leadership practiced within an instructional reform environment in China? In-depth interviews of 34 participants of three case study schools were conducted, and the data were analysed together with documents and participant observations. The research presented a real-life picture of how context and culture at different levels influenced distributed leadership in Chinese schools in the background of an instructional reform. Contextual influences identified in this research were of three levels: a macro-level or national-level “New Curriculum Reform” launched in 2001; a meso-level or local level context of a district-level “Excellent Classroom Culture Construction” reform starting from 2009 in Nanshan District, Shenzhen; and a micro-level or school level context of different foci of the reform in each school. This research identified three levels of cultural influences on distributed leadership: societal culture shared by Chinese people; local Shenzhen culture; and school culture. The research outcomes suggested that distributed leadership was effectively implemented in Chinese culture and context, and the main reason may be that the culture of openness and reform in Shenzhen, and the harmony, collaboration, democracy and inclusiveness emphasized by the school culture of the schools, helped them to overcome cultural dilemmas and guarantee the effective implementation of distributed leadership. Leaders with typical Chinese characteristics in schools were identified and explained by terminology such as “soul leaders” (líng hún liˇng xiù, 靈魂領袖), “backbone teachers” (guˇ gàn jiào shi, 骨幹教師) and “master teachers” (shi fu, 師傅). Culturally-rooted leadership practices in Chinese schools such as “ shi tú jie duì” (master-disciple relationship, 師徒結對) and “jiào yán” (teaching and research, 教研) were acknowledged to be the most influential leadership routines and tools in Chinese schools. This research enriches the cultural knowledge base on distributed leadership and provides an empirical and contextualised understanding of school distributed leadership in schools in China. The research findings have significant implications for policy, practice and future research of distributed leadership in China and in other parts of the world. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • BRYANT, Darren Anthony, Supervisor
  • CHENG, Yan Ni Annie, Supervisor
  • LU, Jiafang 陸佳芳, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Educational leadership -- China
  • Curriculum planning -- China
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'The practices of distributed leadership within an instructional reform environment in China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.