Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.9, 63-68
Published Online Septe mber 201 3 in SciRes (http ://
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A Comparative Study of Two Schools: How School Cultures
Interplay the Development of Teacher Leadership in
Mainland China
Feiye Wang, Sally J. Zepeda
Department of Lifelong Education, Administrating, and Policy, University of Georgia, Athens, USA
Received July 2013
This article seeks to gain an understanding of the interrelated relationship between school cultures and the
teacher leadership development by comparing the experience of teacher leaders’ from two middle schools
in China that exhibited different kinds of school culture. The researchers argue that the better the school
culture was, the more prospective Teacher leaders would develop and the better Teacher leaders would
enact their leadership, which further would reinforce the building of a healthy school culture.
Keywords: School Culture; Teacher Leadership; Teacher Leader; Mainland China
Over the past decades, research has consistently underscored
leadership as a critical key to school improvement (Hart, 1995;
Wong & Nicotera, 2007). However, scholars (e.g., Lambert,
2002; York-Barr & Duke, 2004) indicated that the principal as
the sole lea der is no longer an effective model. And the central
role teacher leadership plays in school improvement efforts has
been gradually identified as a way to extend the leadership of
the principal (Harris & Muijs, 2003; Murphy, 2005). Although
there is a commonly held belief in the United States that teacher
leadership can have a wide range of impact, it has not been easy
to promote the development of teacher leadership because it has
been reported that assuming teacher leadership roles and re-
sponsibilities alters some traditional norms and beliefs that tea-
chers hold within the cultures in which they work (Murphy,
This article seeks to gain an understanding of the interrelated
relationship between school cultures and the teacher leadership
development by comparing the experience of teacher leaders’
from two middle schools in China that exhibited different kinds
of school cultures. Both schools are located in the same district
with similar school policies and regulations and engaged in a
series of activities to implement new educational reform. The
researchers argue that the better the school culture was, the
more prospective Teacher leaders would develop and the better
Teacher leaders would enact their leadership, which further
would reinforce the building of a healthy school culture. The
findings related to the performance of teacher leaders and school
improvement from these two schools provided solid evidence
for the interplay between school cultures and teacher leadership
The remainder of the paper is comprised of five sections. In
the first section, the research literature and the relationship
among teacher leadership, school culture, and school improve-
ment are reviewed. The second section describes the research
methods employed in the study. The third section summarized
the background of this study with regard to relevant policy con-
text and school data. The fourth section presents findings re-
garding the culture difference and the interplay between school
culture and teacher leadership. Finally, the conclusions and im-
plications of the findings are discussed.
Teacher Leadership, School Culture,
and School Improvement
Katzenmeyer and Moller (2009) defined the concept of tea-
cher leadership, stating, “Our definition is teacher leaders lead
within and beyond the classroom; identify with and contribute
to a community of teacher learners and leaders; influence others
toward improved educational practice; and accept responsibility
for achieving the outcomes of their leadership (p. 6). Literature
reported that teacher leaders have a solid foundation of teaching
experience and expertise and are respected by their peers
(York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Most commonly, teacher leaders
are assuming formal positions (e.g., department chairs, curricu-
lum leaders, etc.), or with formal titles (e.g., mentor, master tea-
cher, National Board Certified Teachers, etc.) to influence and
help other teachers to perform better, to participate in decision
making, to contribute to the development of learning communi-
ties, or to provide key professional development (Darling-Ham-
mond, Bullmaster, & Cobb, 1995; Moller & Katze nmeyer, 1996;
Murphy, 2005; Zepeda, 2011).
School culture is broadly accepted as a dominant ingredient
in overall school success (Fullan, 2001; Valentine, 2006; York-
Barr & Duke, 2004). According to Barth (2002), school culture
is a complex pattern of norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, va-
lues, ceremonies, traditions, and myths that are deeply ingrain-
ed in the very core of the organization. Culture is the historical-
ly transmitted pattern of meaning that wields astonishing power
in shaping what people think and how they act (p. 7).
Teacher leadership and a positive and collaborative school
culture promote and influence each other forming a virtuous
circle of the constant improvement of the school.
Teacher leadership is considered as “a vehicle for teacher
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
professional development and improvement in school organiza-
tion and classroom instruction” (Smylie, 2008: p. ix). Teacher
leadership promotes mutual learning between teachers and fos-
ters a more collaborative way of working toward collective
goals (Harris, 2003), which provide solid foundations for build-
ing a positive and collaborative school culture. The literature
indicated that a healthy school culture is usually marked by pro-
fessional collaboration and professional learning among all
members of the organization with a common core of values and
beliefs (e.g., Leonard, 2002; Valentine, 2006; Zepeda, 2013).
Therefore, through collaboration and collegiality, with the goal
of promoting the professionalization of all teachers, teacher lea-
dership strengthens the building of a healthy school culture and
further enhances the capacity for change and improvement at
both the school and classroom levels (Harris & Muijis, 2003).
School culture is regarded as a condition influencing teacher
leadership (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Teachers’ professional
relationships were characterized by privacy, autonomy, and
equality in the United States (Murphy, 2005). The norm of in-
dividual autonomy has bred a culture of isolation, which inhi-
bits teachers from interacting with their teaching colleagues and
administrators and exerting influence outside their classrooms
(Wasley, 1991). The norm of professional privacy was defined
as “freedom from scrutiny and the right of each teacher to make
independent judgments about classroom practice” (Little, 1988:
p. 94), which is closely related to cultures of non-interference
and non-judgmentalism. The norm of equality suggests that all
teachers hold equal positions and ranks except for seniority
(Wasley, 1991). Teacher leadership requires a collaborative
culture and frequent interaction with teaching colleagues and
brings about differentiated status based on knowledge, skills,
and initiative, which breaches all three norms of autonomy, pri-
vacy, and equality, assaults the culture of isolation, non-inter-
ference, and equality in most American schools (Murphy, 2005).
Therefore, “a prerequisite for successful and effective teacher
leadership is changing the culture of schools” so that old norms
are replaced with new norms of collaboration and teamwork
(Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium, 2008: p. 12).
This study took place in two public middle schools in China.
The norms of autonomy, privacy, and equality for American
schools are replaced by collectivism, elitism, and hierarchism
for Chinese schools. The value placed on elite and hierarchical
management has enabled the legitimacy of ranks with different
tiers of titles based on professional expertise in every field in-
cluding education. Compared to American schools, the belief in
collectivism has formed a more relatively collaborative culture
in Mainland China’s schools in which group lesson studies,
group class observations, and group evaluations are the custo-
mary responsibilities of teachers (Ding, 2004). Chinese teachers
are usually organized into teacher research groups, which are
led by a teacher leader who is identified as one of the best in
that group. Teachers in the same group share office space and
have common meeting times to discuss and exchange teaching
experience and skills (Preus, 2007). As a matter of fact, from
the perspectives of established norms in schools, the develop-
ment of teacher leaders in Mainland China seems to be evolv-
ing more naturally than in the United States.
Therefore, in this study, the Chinese teacher leaders would
not face the challenging norms which their American collea-
gues typically face. Without considering the influencing of the se
three norms, this study might more clearly present the relation-
ship between school cultures and the prospects for teacher lea-
dership by comparing how different school cultures enable tea-
cher leaders to do their work in two Chinese middle schools.
A qualitative methodology was adopted in this study to sup-
port “an inquiry process of understanding a social or human
problem, based on building a complex, holistic picture, formed
with words, reporting detailed views of informants, and con-
ducted in a natural setting” (Creswell, 1994: pp. 1-2). To under-
stand the relationship between teacher leadership development
and school culture building at two research sites in Mainland
China, the use of qualitative methodology was imperative.
Data Selection
The purpose of the study was to explore the interplay be-
tween the teacher leadership development and the school cul-
ture building. How teacher leaders enacted their leading roles
within the cultures that might support or challenge the develop-
ment of their leadership in public middle schools in Mainland
China was examined and compared. It was important to select
participants diversely from the groups of teacher leaders, their
peers, and principals in the schools with different school envi-
ronments because the researchers sought to understand further
the interaction among these school members. The research site
and participants were both purposefully selected because pur-
poseful sampling “leads to selecting information-rich cases for
study in depth” (Patton, 2002: p. 46, italics in the original).
The research sites were two public middle schools both lo-
cated in the QP District in HA City in Mainland China. All of
the names in the study that refer to the schools, cities, district,
and participants were pseudonyms. In this study, deviant case
sampling was used (Patton, 2002) to identify the two public
schools as examples of a high-performing school and a low-
performing school. The selection of a high-performing school
and a low-performing school was in accordance with the local
educational administrative rating system, which was based on
the 2011-2012 Unified Public School Entrance Examination
scores. In addition, both of the schools had implemented the
new curriculum reform, which required teacher leaders to take
the lead in developing the school-based curriculum.
Therefore, the top middle school in the QP District, KM
Middle School, as a high-performing school, which met all the
criteria for site selection, was chosen as one research site for
this study. SY Middle School, as a low-performing school in
the QP District, was chosen as another research site because the
school rules and policies in SY Middle School were very simi-
lar to those in KM Middle School. With the purpose of improv-
ing all schools, in 1992, the Department of Education in HA
City enacted a policy to form a partnership between a high-per-
forming school and a low-performing school to assist the low-
performing school in making progress with the help of a high-
performing school. Fortunately, SY Middle School was assign-
ed KM Middle School as its partner from 1992 to 1998. There-
fore, SY Middle School apparently learned a lot from KM Mid-
dle School. The rules and regulations related to professional de-
velopment and instruction such as lesson plan study meetings,
department teaching and research activities, monthly examina-
tions, and school teaching competitions were very similar in
both KM Middle School and SY Middle School.
Two teacher leaders and two of their teaching colleagues, as
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
well as one principal from each school were purposefully cho-
sen as participants in this study. In total, there were 10 partici-
pants, including 8 teachers and 2 principals respectively from
KM Middle School and SY Middle School in the QP District in
HA City. There were three groups of participants—teacher lea-
ders, teaching peers, and principalsfrom KM Middle School
and SY Middle School. Selected teacher participants met the
following criteria: (1) teacher leader participants taught Chinese,
Mathematics, and English in these schools, and their counter-
part participants, teaching peers, were selected for teaching
identical subjects; (2) teacher leader participants and their peer
participants shared the same office; and (3) teacher leader par-
ticipants were recommended to the researcher by the principals
at the two school sites, KM Middle School and SY Middle
Chinese, Mathematics, and English are core courses for Chi-
nese middle school teachers, which are also the main subjects
included in the high school entrance examination. Teachers tea-
ching core courses were usually engaged in more curricular and
instructional activities in the school compared to teachers teach-
ing other subjects. The recommended teacher leaders assumed
school leader positions such as the Department Chair, the Sub-
ject Chairperson of one specific grade, and the school supervi-
sor. Furthermore, the recommended teacher leaders all earned
many honorable titles related to curriculum and instruction such
as the Academic Leader, the Teaching Master, and the Teach-
ing Expert. Unlike in the United States, in Mainland China, stu-
dents usually do not change classrooms, but instead, the teach-
ers are mobile and able to go to different classrooms to teach.
Thus, teachers in Mainland China, like administrators, always
have independent offices separate from the classrooms. To cap-
ture more interaction among the teacher leaders and their tea-
ching peers, the teachers teaching the same subjects and sharing
the same office with the recommended teacher leaders were
Data Collect ion and Analysis
The use of multiple data-collection methods can “contribute
to research trustworthiness and verisimilitude, or sense of au-
thenticity” (Glesne, 2011: p. 48). In this study, after giving the
participants the consent forms and demographic sheets to fill in,
the data were collected through interviews, observations, sha-
dowing experiences, and artifacts and documents, in accor-
dance with the study’s pursuit of participants’ perspectives of
the influence of school culture and teacher leadership develop-
Interviewing allows researchers the ability to enter into par-
ticipants’ perspectives to gather their stories and construct mea-
nings (Patton, 2002). To gain personal accounts from partici-
pants in a limited time, the semi-structured interviews were
used. The interview question guided the conversations with the
individual groups of participants, and the semi-structured inter-
view for each participant lasted approximately two hours. Fol-
low-up interviews with participants were not planned to occur
unless stray categories emerged from the data and required
further information or elaboration from specific participants.
All participants agreed to possible follow-up interviews, but no
follow-up interview actually occurred. With participants’ per-
mission, all the interview conversations were recorded. In the
meantime, field notes were written during the interviews.
To capture how the Backbone Teachers exerted their leader-
ship in the Chinese middle school context, observations were
conducted by the researchers at the research sites. Observations
were performed during the regularly scheduled formal meetings
hosted by the principal and regular activities including weekly
lesson study meetings and weekly teaching and research activi-
ties led by teacher leaders in the two schools.
Shadowing is “a research technique which involves a resear-
cher closely following a member of an organization over an ex-
tended period of time” (McDonald, 2005: p. 456) to capture be-
haviors and perspectives. In this study, the researchers shadow-
ed in total four teacher leaders each for one week outside of
their classroom environments in the two schools. When sha-
dowing the teacher leaders, the researchers often asked ques-
tions on site, and the participants answered those questions quick-
ly and even provided more illustrations to amplify their res-
ponses. Field notes of observations and shadowing experiences
were taken to record the events, and the filed notes were further
expanded soon after each encounter.
Artifacts and documents about the literature on teacher lea-
dership in both United States and China, the research context
included basic school information and participant information,
and methodological notes were searched and reviewed. Fur-
thermore, memos were written to record insights gained from
data collection and data coding, which were considered as data,
The constant comparative method was adopted to conduct
the data analysis for this study. This study strictly followed the
four stages of constant comparative analysis—(a) comparing
incidents, (b) integrating categories and their properties, (c)
delimiting the theory, and (d) writing the theory—so as to “ge-
nerate theory more systematically” (Glaser, 1994: p. 182). With
the research purpose as the guiding framework, data coding was
conducted to develop categories, patterns, and themes. Even-
tually, several major themes for this study were constructed
based on the framework.
In 2002, a new round of curriculum reforms, with the same
theme of promoting quality-oriented education, formally began
in Mainland China. The new curriculum reform emphasized the
diversity and usefulness of the curriculum, especially school-
based curriculum or activities, called for an increase in formal
or informal training programs for teachers to serve new stu-
dents learning demands for a quality-oriente d educ a ti on ( Mi nis-
ter of Education in China, 2001). The teacher leaders are ex-
pected to play the key role in initiating new school-based cur-
riculum and activities and promoting teacher professional de-
velopment in this new wave of educational reform in China.
Since 2002, all the public schools in the QP District have begun
to implement the new curriculum reform.
This study took place in KM Middle School, representing a
high-performing school, and SY Middle School, representing a
low-performing school. These two middle schools were both
located in an urban area of the QP District in Mainland China.
In 2012, KM Middle School supported approximately 3,100
students in 52 classes from grade 7 to grade 9 with 200 faculty
members, while SY Middle School supported 890 students in
22 classes from grade 7 to grade 9 with 102 faculty members.
The percentage of teachers with bachelor’s degrees or higher
degrees in KM Middle School was 100%, in which more than
10% of the teachers had master’s degrees, while the average
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
percentage of middle school teachers with bachelor’s degrees or
higher degrees in SY Middle School was 49% and 62% for the
QP District.
KM Middle School had an abundant number of teacher lead-
ers with various titles and honors. For instance, until 2012,
there were 9 teachers receiving national-level honors and 14
teachers receiving provincial-level honors, not to mention a
large number of teachers who received city-level honors and
district-level honors. However, so far, the highest level of honor
for the teacher leaders at SY Middle School was at the dis-
trict-level. Teachers in KM Middle School were extremely good
at cultivating higher leve ls of student achievement, and for many
years, the school had won awards for being an excellent teach-
ing community.
The students’ achievement for SY Middle School was just
passable compared to other schools in the QP District and much
lower compared to KM Middle School. The average scores in
2011 on the Unified High School Entrance Examination for SY
Middle School were 530.57, while the scores averaged 697.36
for KM Middle School, 519.17 for the QP District school sys-
tem, and 513.21 for the whole HA Public Middle School Sys-
tem. Based on the variable of average scores, SY Middle School
ranked 4th out of the 9 schools in the QP District and 33rd out
of 155 schools in HA City. Table 1 Table 4.3 shows the de-
tailed data comparison between KM Middle School and SY
Middle School.
Three major themes were constructed in this study. The first
theme is the discussion of t he different culture in the two schools.
The second theme is related to the influence of school culture
on teacher leadership development. The third theme is referring
to the teacher leaders’ impact on building a healthy school cul-
Comparison of Culture Indicators
There existed a partnership between KM Middle School and
SY Middle School from 1992 to 1998. To help SY Middle
School improve, during that period, KM Middle School con-
stantly sent experienced teachers to SY Middle School to coach
teachers, to share lesson plan models, to examine papers and
subject assignments, and to conduct professional development
projects together. Therefore, until now, the rules and regula-
tions related to professional development and instructions such
as mentor programs, lesson plan study meetings, department
teaching and research activities, monthly examinations, and
school teaching competitions were still very similar in both KM
Middle School and SY Middle School. However, all the partic-
ipants including the teacher leaders, their teaching peers, and
the principal from KM Middle School proudly indicated that
they had a healthy school culture, while all the participants from
SY Middle School admitted with a little embarrassment that
their school culture was not as healthy as KM Middle School,
which was also strongly felt by the researcher.
The interview and observation data showed three dominant
indicators that clearly distinguished the cultures of these two
schools: 1) positive attitude toward learning, 2) collaboration,
and 3) relational trust. Teachers in KM Middle School vigo-
rously pursued learning. They grasped every learning opportu-
nity to improve their knowledge and skills. Teachers from KM
Table 1.
Data Comparison between KM middle school and SY middle school
during the 2011-2012 school year.
KM Middle Scho ol SY Middle Sc hool
Numbers of student class 52 22
Student numbers 3100 890
Faculty members 200 1 02
The percentage of teachers
with bachelor’s degrees or
higher degrees 100% 49%
Highest honor received
for teacher leaders
National -lev el District-level
Average Scores for student
achievement in the Unifi ed
High School Entrance
697.36 530.57
1st place out of 9
middle sc hools in the
QP District;
1st place out of 155
middle sc hools in
HA City
4th place out of 9
middle sc hools in
the QP District;
33rd place out of
155 middle schools
in HA City
Middle School participated in the regular lesson study meetings
and activities with positive attitudes and made their own contri-
butions by asking questions, sharing ideas, and providing feed-
back. Compared to KM Middle School, the similar activities in
SY Middle School were more casual, with rare discussions or
feedback. Many teachers at SY Middle School apparently just
“lazed away” without much desire to learn.
Although both KM Middle School and SY Middle School
had regular professional development programs that needed col-
laboration such as lesson plan study, mentor programs, the
range of collaboration at KM Middle School was much wider
than that at SY Middle School. The participants from SY Mid-
dle School frankly admitted that they actually worked alone
except for the required collective activi ties. In c ontrast, t eachers
at KM Middle School were more actively participated in diffe r-
rent kinds of collaborative activities. The observation data of in-
dividual teacher’s preparation for teaching competitions clearly
demonstrated the different degree of collaboration. At SY Mid-
dle School, the individual teacher prepared the teaching compe-
tition alone. However, at KM Middle School, all group mem-
bers which the teacher belonged to collaborated together to help
the teacher prepare for the teaching competitions by sharing
ideas and providing advice. Except for the required collective
activities, other collaborative activities (e.g., voluntary class de-
monstrations with observations) were often observed at KM
Middle Schools, but rarely at SY Middle School.
The teacher leaders at KM Middle School earned the trust
from their peers and from the principal. The repeated interac-
tions signaled that teachers accepted the teacher leaders’ pro-
fessional judgment without hesitation clearly showing the trust
from the teacher leaders’ peers at KM Middle School. The prin-
cipal empowered teacher leaders at KM Middle School to ini-
tiate and lead different kinds of curricular and instructional acti-
vities, and he gave the recommendation authority to the teacher
leader. He indicated that he trusted the expertise of his teacher
leaders and was satisfied with their performance.
However, it was a different case at SY Middle School. The
principal at SY Middle School was not satisfied with the cur-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
rent teacher leaders’ performance. He thought teacher leaders at
SY Middle School could neither follow the trends in the educa-
tional field nor figure out creative activities to impress the stu-
dents and teachers within the schools. Therefore, almost every
new plan, activity, or project at SY Middle School was initiated
by the principal because he could not trust the teacher leaders’
“creativity” and “an overall view” of teaching and learning in
his building. The teacher leaders at SY Middle School were not
sure about their leading role. Their uncertainty about their lead-
ing impact on their peers apparently reflected that the relation-
ships between the teacher leaders and their peers were not of
trust and respect.
In brief, KM Middle School had a healthier school culture
than SY Middle School. Teachers and the principal had formed
a learning community with collaboration and trust at KM Mid-
dle School, while teachers and the principal still needed to nur-
ture a positive sc hool cult ure th ro ugh stren gtheni n g mutual lear n-
ing, pro mot ing wide r col la bora tion, and bui ldi ng mor e tru st amon g
teachers and between teachers and the principal.
The Influence of School Culture on Teacher
Leadership Development
The comparison data from KM Middle School and SY Mid-
dle School showed that school culture plays a significant role in
developing teacher leadership. With a healthy culture, more
prospective teacher leader could develop. The teacher leaders
from KM Middle School clearly expressed that a positive and
collaborative culture had become a major reason why they
would stay at KM Middle School. They admitted that the posi-
tive culture consistently reminded them to become better and
they were c ultivating more poten tial teac her lea ders in their groups
within such a collaborative culture by sharing what they learnt.
The teacher leaders’ peers from KM Middle School commented
that within a positive and collaborative culture, more teachers
would have enough qualifications for becoming teacher leaders.
The principal from KM Middle School agreed that within a po-
sitive and collaborative school culture, teachers were willing to
learn new knowledge, to exchange ideas, and to share experien-
ces with each other, which could lead to the improvement of
their professional knowledge and skills and the emergence of
teacher leaders.
At SY Middle School, although the teacher leaders did not
consider the culture as a necessary condition for the develop-
ment of teacher leadership, their peers and principals both em-
phasized the influence of the school culture on developing tea-
cher leaders. One teacher participant claimed that a bad culture
would “awake the lazy nature,” and he would “drift along” like
other teachers in the school. Another teacher indicated that such
a culture would “marginalize the teacher with learning pursuits
from the whole teacher group” and “worsen the positive impact
brought about by Backbone Teachers.” And the principal claim-
ed that lack of a positive school culture made it hard to develop
Backbone Teachers among those teachers without learning pur-
With a healthy school culture, teacher leaders can enact their
leading roles efficiently and further had a positive impact. At
KM Middle School, the teacher leaders were confident with
their leading role and positive impact on their peers. They ex-
pressed that with a positive and collaborative culture, the new
knowledge and good instruction can be spread and learnt quick-
ly among their peers. Their peers and the principal confirmed
the teacher leaders’ claim and satisfied with teacher leaders’
performance in the school. The high achievement of students
with almost no difference between in teacher leaders’ class-
room and in their peers’ classroom clearly provided some evi-
dence for the effective impact of teacher leaders on their peers
through sharing good instructions.
Within a healthy culture, the principal trusted his teacher
leaders and were willing to give power to his teacher leaders.
The principal of KM Middle School empowered the teacher
leaders to lead in curricular and instructional field and provided
every support the teacher leader needed at KM Middle School.
Consequently, many projects and works initiated and led by the
teacher leaders at KM Middle School become successful mod-
els for other school teachers to learn. Briefly, the teacher lea-
dership flourished at KM Middle School within such a healthy
culture characterized by trust among school members.
However, at SY Middle School, the teacher leaders doubted
their leading impact since they were not sure whether their
peers learned from them. Considering the culture in SY Middle
School was not positive and collaborative, the teacher leaders in
SY Middle School believed that they only had great impact on
teachers who wanted to learn, but their efforts seemed to be
wasted on teachers who did not wish to learn or advance. In
addition, the principal from SY Middle School were not satis-
fied with the performance of teacher leaders and the current
school culture. The principal at SY Middle School complained
that his teacher leader lack of “creativity” and “an overall view”
of teaching and learning in his building. Therefore, he did not
trust them to do their leading job and was not willing to em-
power them. As a consequence, with such a culture of distrust,
the teacher leader at SY Middle School just organized and im-
plemented the activities initiated by the principal. Therefore,
the teacher leader at SY Middle School considered them as
“executants” rather than “leaders”.
The Teacher Leaders’ Impact on Building a Healthy
School Cultur e
Data from KM Middle School provided evidence that the
development of teacher leadership also reinforce the building of
the healthy school culture. The teaching peer participants at KM
Middle School showed enough respect and trust for the teacher
leaders and they expressed that the teacher leaders were their
role models and they were highly influenced by the teacher lea-
ders’ attitudes and behaviors. As the teacher leaders at KM
Middle School recalled that before they became teacher leaders,
they leaned a great deal from the former teacher leaders who
were actively sharing experience, exchanging ideas, and offer-
ing solutions with them. Now they were doing the same things
with their peers that the former teacher leaders had done with
them. The support and empowerment from the principal and the
respect from their peers enabled the teacher leaders to enact
their leadership efficiently. Therefore, a virtuous circle had been
formed that the more teacher leaders developed, the more simi-
lar collaborative interactions would occur and reinforce a more
healthy school culture.
The same situation had not occurred at SY Middle School
where teacher leadership did not flourish. Without the empo-
werment of the principal, teacher leaders considered themselves
as executants of the principal instead of the leader among tea-
cher groups. Compared to teacher leaders at KM Middle School,
the teacher leaders’ leading impact was very weak at SY Mid-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
dle School. In addition, unlike KM Middle School, the teacher
leaders at SY Middle School had no established custom of ac-
tively participating in the interactions with peers. The expe-
rience of becoming teacher leaders only reflected their own
active learning pursuit but did not show the active help or gui-
dance from the former teacher leaders. As a consequence, tea-
cher leaders actively retained and enhanced a healthy culture at
KM Middle School, while the developed teacher leaders at SY
Middle School seemed to not have an impact on building a
healthy school culture.
Conclusions and Implications
In summary, the teacher leadership and the school culture
were two interrelated factors. A healthy culture marked with
positive learning attitudes, a wide range of collaboration, and
trust provides a foundation for teacher leadership. At KM Mid-
dle School with a healthy school culture, more prospective
teacher leaders developed and the current teacher leaders were
able to exert their leadership efficiently with a positive impact.
At SY Middle School with a unhealthy school culture, it was
hard to develop teacher leaders and the current teacher leaders
were not able to do their leading job and might not have effi-
cient impact on their peers.
The development of teacher leadership could reinforce the
building of a healthy school culture with conditions that teacher
leaders should actively and efficiently play their leading roles.
KM Middle School flourished with teacher leaders actively
participating in different kinds of interactions with their teacher
peers, and this retained a very healthy culture. At SY Middle
School, although teacher leaders developed, their passive par-
ticipation in interactions among their teacher groups and lack of
trust from the principal and the peers enabled them not to be
able to exert their leadership efficiently and actively. Hence,
they did not have a strong impact on building a healthy school
The current literature on culture and teacher leadership most-
ly focused on the confrontation of American schools’ norms as
an inevitable part of school culture (e.g., Little, 1988; Murphy,
2005; Wasley, 1991). This study might provide fresh insight on
the interrelationship between teacher leadership and school cul-
ture without con sideri ng the exi sting n or ms of A merica n school s.
Through compari ng data fro m different sc hools, e vidence e merg-
ed showing the interrelated link bet ween teacher leadership de-
velopment and school culture building. More researches are
needed to examine such an interrelationship from a variety of
perspectives or through different methodologies so as to con-
firm or disconfirm the findings of this study. Moreover, school
leaders and educational scholars might need to consider how to
use the interrelated link between teacher leader and school cul-
ture to achieve school improvement.
Barth, R. (2002). The culture builder. Educational Leadership, 59, 6-
Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative and quantitative
approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Darling-Hammond, L., Bullmaster, M. L., & Cobb, V. L. (1995). Re-
thinking teacher leadership through professional development schools.
The Elementary School Journal, 96, 87-106.
Ding, G. (2004). Teachers’ p rofessional leadership: The tea m plan. Re-
search in Educational Development, 10, 20-33.
Fullan, M. (2 001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA:
Glaser, B. G. (1994). The constant comparative method of qualitative
analysis. In B. G. Glaser (Ed.), More grounded theory methodology:
A reader (pp. 182-196). Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.
Glesne, C. (2011) Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction
(4th ed.). B os ton, MA: Pearson.
Harris, A. (2003). Teacher leadership as distributed leadership: Heresy,
fantasy or possibility? School Leadership & Management, 23, 313-
Harris, A., & Muijs, D. (2003). Teacher leadership and school improve-
ment. Education Review, 16, 39-42.
Hart, A. W. (1995). Reconceiving school leadership: Emergent view.
The Elementary School Journal, 96, 9-28.
McDonald, S. (2005). Studying actions in context: A qualitative sha-
dowing method for organ izational research. Qualitative Research, 5 ,
Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (1996). Awakening the sleeping giant:
Leadership development for teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant:
Helping teachers develop as leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Lambert, L. (2002). A framework for shared leadership. Educational
Leadership, 59, 37-40.
Leonard, L. (2002). Schools as professional communities: Addressing
the collaborative challenge.
Little, J. W. (1988). Assessing the prospects for teacher leadership. In
A. Lieberman (Ed.), Building a professional culture in schools (pp.
78-106). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Minister of Education in China (2001). The guideline of basic educa-
tion curriculum reform (the pilot version).
Murphy, J. (2 005). Connectin g teacher leadership and schoo l improve-
ment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd
ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Preus, B. (2007). Educational trends in China and the United States:
Proverbial pendulum or potential f or balance? Phi Delta Kappan, 89,
Smylie, M. A. (2008). Forward. In M. M. Mangin, & S. R. Stoelinga
(Eds.), Effective teacher leadership: Using research to inform and
reform (pp. ix-x). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium (2011). Teacher leader
model standards.
Valentine, J. (2006). A collaborative culture for school improvement:
Significance, definition, and measurement.
Wasley, P. A. (1991). Teachers who lead: The rhetoric of reform and
realities of practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Wong, K., & Nicotera, A. (2007). Successful schools and educational
accountability: Concepts and skills to meet leadership challenges.
Boston, MA: Pearson Education
York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher
leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of
Educational Research, 74, 255-316.
Zepeda, S. J. (2011). Professional development: What works (2nd ed.).
Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Zepeda, S. J . (2013). The principa l as instructional leader: A practica l
handbook (3rd ed.). Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.