Teacher participation in school-based professional development in China: does it matter for teacher efficacy and teaching strategies?

October, 2019

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 25:7, 821-836

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study, based on a conceptual framework applying recent research knowledge of teacher professional development (TPD) studies, investigates the antecedents and effects of teacher participation in school-based professional development in the context of mainland China.
Specifically, this study will answer the following two research questions:

(1) How do teachers’ willingness to attend teaching research activities and perception of supportive principal leadership influence participation in school-based professional development?
(2) What are the effects of teachers’ participation in school-based professional development on their sense of self-efficacy and the adoption of desirable teaching strategies in the classroom? 

The results of this study enrich the operational knowledge of how TPD works to influence teachers and teaching and have implications for improving school-based professional development in China.
This study explores the roles of two factors in influencing teacher participation in school-based professional development in China, namely, teachers’ willingness to attend teaching research activities and supportive principal leadership. These two factors correspond to individual and school-based contextual factors, respectively.



All of the participants were secondary school teachers from Zhengzhou city, Henan, a province in central China.
A total of 1506 teachers from 53 schools participated in the survey.


A questionnaire survey was conducted between November 2014 and April 2015. The questionnaire consisting of five self-developed scales was adopted in this study.
Teacher willingness to attend teaching research activities and supportive principal leadership were assessed by a 3-item and 5-item scale, respectively.
Teacher participation in school-based professional development was assessed by a 14-item, three-factor scale.
Teacher efficacy and the adoption of desirable teaching strategies were measured by two 5-item scales, respectively.

Findings and Discussion
The role of teacher willingness in the institutionalised approach to TPD
Consistent with previous research findings (e.g. Blase & Blase, 1999; Geijsel et al., 2009; in de Wal et al., 2014; Gorozidis & Papaioannou, 2014; Scribner, 1999), the results of this study lend credence to the significance of teacher willingness and supportive principal leadership for TPD.
Considering that teacher participation in school-based professional development is an institutionalised or even mandated practice in China (Tsui & Wong, 2009; Zhang & Kong, 2012), the positive effects of teacher willingness on their participation revealed in this study have great relevance.
The study results echo the claims that teacher participation in professional development activities is a volitional action (in de Wal et al., 2014) and that autonomous motivation significantly predicts teachers’ intentions to participate in training (Gorozidis & Papaioannou, 2014).
In this sense, effective TPD programmes have to recognise that teachers are not passive but active adult learners.
The authors found that in general, participation in school-based professional development enhances Chinese teachers’ sense of self-efficacy and the adoption of desirable teaching strategies in the classroom, and confirm the positive mediating effect of teacher efficacy.
Their findings are in line with previous results about the positive relationships between TPD and teacher self-efficacy and desirable changes of instructional practices (Bruce et al., 2010; Lumpe et al., 2012). In addition, unlike previous qualitative studies reporting that school-based teacher learning in China can improve teachers’ professional growth and classroom teaching (e.g. Wong, 2012; Yang, 2009), the present study provides some quantitative evidence about the effectiveness of TPD in China.
These results indicate that even though there are some concerns about the institutionalised, hierarchical approach to TPD in China, teacher participation in school-based professional development is generally effective for improving teacher efficacy and teaching strategies adopted in the classroom.

The quality of teacher participation matters, not the quantity
This study reveals that it was not the frequency of participation, but collective lesson planning and teacher collegiality, that had significant effects on teacher efficacy and teaching strategies.
These results indicate that the quantitative and qualitative aspects of teacher participation have different implications for the effectiveness of TPD.
Compared with the quantitative aspects of teacher participation (i.e. participation frequency), the quality of teacher participation (i.e. collective lesson planning and teacher collegiality) should be given more importance.
As shown in this study, both collective lesson planning and teacher collegiality had positive effects on teachers’ efficacy beliefs and teaching strategies, providing evidence support for the significance of collaborative TPD. These findings are consistent with the results of previous qualitative studies on teacher collaboration in school settings (e.g. Butler & Schnellert, 2012; Erickson, Brandes, Mitchell, & Mitchell, 2005; Forte & Flores, 2014).
The results of the present study add new some quantitative evidences supporting the necessity of collaborative TPD.
The study’s results tend to highlight the role of collegial relationships among teachers in collaborative TPD.
Among the three dimensions of teacher participation, teacher collegiality was found to have the most notable positive effects on teacher efficacy and the adoption of desirable teaching strategies.
These results highlight the significance of creating a collaborative relationship among teachers for TPD in China.
The findings imply that the institutionalised approach to TPD in China does not necessarily mandate collegial support and partnership through force. In contrast, it may reflect an arranged collegiality.

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Updated: Aug. 25, 2020