The development of Backbone Teachers as teacher leaders in Mainland China
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The goal of this research was to explore the development of teacher leadership in two public middle schools in Mainland China. The practices and impact of current, formally appointed teacher leaders in Mainland China, called Backbone Teachers, were closely examined as the purpose of this study was to explore Backbone Teachers’ roles and their impact from the lens of teacher leadership as explicated in the literature in the United States. The 10 participants included 4 Backbone Teachers, 4 non-Backbone Teachers, and 2 principals respectively from 2 middle schools in the same district in Mainland China. Qualitative case study methods were used and included interviews and observations of the participants using shadowing techniques to examine the perspectives of the three groups of actors—Backbone Teachers, non-Backbone Teachers, and principals—involved in the school. The constant comparative method was used to make within-case analysis and cross-case analysis. The findings of the study revealed that the Backbone Teachers were role models and played a leading role in the teacher groups within these two schools. Backbone Teachers had positive, negative, and other instances of impact on themselves, their peers, their students, and their schools. In general, the overall sentiment was that the instances of positive impact outweighed the negative impact experienced by the Backbone Teachers. Additionally, to develop as Backbone Teachers, personal qualifications, the principal’s recognition and support, peers’ respect and trust, and a positive and collaborative school culture were significant. However, the overloaded work with limited time, work stress and interpersonal skills, and the lack of positive school culture might impede the development of Backbone Teachers. The findings of the study also revealed that there was no appropriate translation for the term “teacher leader” and the Backbone Teachers’ awareness of being teacher leaders was not always apparent to them. The findings suggest that the Backbone Teachers in this case study exerted their leadership, which was consistent with the teacher leaders’ practices identified in the literature in the United States.
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