Educational Leadership in China

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  • Topic: Leadership, Education, Education in the People's Republic of China
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Front. Educ. China 2011, 6(3): 331–341 DOI 10.1007/s11516-011-0135-1


Educational Leadership in China: Contexts and Issues
© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2011

Educational leaders serve as important anchors, providing guidance in times of change, and being responsible for the accomplishment of educational goals. Leaders and administrators occupy positions in which they are expected to exert leadership, a process of social influence (Gamage & Pang, 2003). The primary importance of educational leadership for the success of any educational institution and educational reform is universally recognized. Why do some teams and schools, as well as policies and reforms, succeed while others fail? The credit or blame tends to be assigned to the principals, administrators, curriculum or educational leaders involved. Not surprisingly, educational leadership continues to be an important area in the field of education, attracting much attention. It has been the subject of a large number of publications in the West. Comparatively, educational leadership in the East including China has been largely neglected in English language publications. What makes an effective educational leader in China? How is the concept of educational leadership defined in China? What sort of theoretical concepts enable us to understand this elusive but absorbing concept in Chinese culture? A common assumption is that educational leadership encompasses a social process of influencing others. In leading and managing an organization, an educational leader needs to endeavor to establish appropriate relationships with external John C. K. LEE ( ) Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Faculty of Education Studies, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong, China E-mail: Nicholas S. K. PANG ( ) Department of Educational Administration and Policy, Faculty of Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China E-mail:


John C. K. LEE, Nicholas S. K. PANG

authorities and internal members of staff. The focus of this special issue relates to notions of leadership and management in Chinese culture and how these are connected with the realization of goals of school organizations as well as educational reforms in the mainland of China.

The Need to Understand the Concept of Educational Leadership in China Some scholars like Dimmock (2000) argue that theories and practices tend to be ethnocentric and influenced by Western philosophy and values. Nicolaidou (2008) has explored the notion of the “Europeanization of educational leadership” in the multicultural context of the European Union. In China, educational leadership continues to be a fascinating but off-radar topic for most scholars, policy makers, and administrators. However, over the last two decades, the number of books and articles on educational leadership in China attests to the collective efforts to improve our understanding of the concept. Leadership in China has been characterized as patriarchal, deriving its power and responsibilities from a social ideology drawn from Confucius, and functioning within that value system (Tung, 2002). “In Chinese society, social harmony is highly valued and it determines the leadership concepts and practices, expectations and responses” (Shah, 2006, p. 365). However, until now, attempts to reach a consensus on an accurate definition of educational leadership in China have not been successful. Even though some useful insights have been found by some research studies, no comprehensive theory of educational leadership in China has received universal acceptance. A senior position in an administrative hierarchy in education provides opportunities to exercise leadership, but the position itself does not guarantee the effective use of this opportunity by its occupant. There are schools in China where persons, other than those...
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