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Principal leadership and school capacity effects on teacher learning in Hong Kong

Lijuan Li (Hong Kong Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong)
Philip Hallinger (Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand)
James Ko (Hong Kong Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 11 January 2016




Over the past decade, studies of school leadership effects have increasingly aimed at identifying and validating the paths through which principal leadership impacts key teaching and learning processes in schools. A recent meta-analysis by Robinson and colleagues identified principal practices that shape teacher professional development experiences in schools as the highest impact path used by instructional leaders. The purpose of this paper is to examine relationships between principal leadership, dimensions of school capacity, and teacher professional learning in 32 Hong Kong primary schools.


The study employed a cross-sectional research design and quantitative methods to analyze teacher perceptions of principal leadership and key school conditions. The research employed hierarchical linear regression analysis to explore survey data collected from a sample of 970 teachers. The surveys covered a range of principal leadership and school capacity dimensions, as well as a measure of teacher professional learning.


Results indicated that multiple dimensions of principal leadership made significant contributions to both school capacity and teacher professional learning. The presence of cooperation, trust, communication, support for students, and alignment, coherence, and structure in schools also affected teacher professional learning.

Research limitations/implications

These findings contribute to the global discourse on leadership for learning. The study addresses the need established by multiple scholars (e.g. Leithwood, Hallinger, Heck, Robinson, Witziers) for research that further illuminates “paths” and “intermediate targets” through which leadership impacts teaching and learning. The findings elaborate on the means by which leadership can enhance school capacities that directly impact teacher classroom practice and student learning. Consistent with other scholarly research (e.g. Bryk and Schneider, Louis and colleagues, Sahphier and King) the findings also point toward the importance of establishing selected workplace conditions (e.g. trust, cooperation, communication) as a foundation for fostering teacher professional learning.

Practical implications

The study reinforces the finding from other studies that it is productive for principals to foster an environment aimed at enhancing teacher professionalism. The study also highlights the potentially dysfunctional consequences that can arise from competing system-level initiatives aimed at increasing monitoring and teacher accountability and fostering teacher professionalism.


The study contributes to a small but growing body of leadership effects research conducted in non-Western societies. As such the study offers insights with relevance for understanding leadership processes in other Asian and non-Western cultures.



This study was supported in part by funding support from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong through the General Research Fund Project No. 840509. The authors also wish to thank Rebecca Li and Bowie Liu for their assistance in data collection.


Li, L., Hallinger, P. and Ko, J. (2016), "Principal leadership and school capacity effects on teacher learning in Hong Kong", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 76-100.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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