Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Education and Human Development

First Advisor

Susan Piazza, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sean Lancaster, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

June Gothberg, Ph.D.


Educational change, educational practices, leadership, principals, qualitative research, secondary education


Chinese principals play a significant role in recontextualizing the U.S. principals’ practices in leading their school reform and student outcomes in Chinese social, cultural, and educational contexts. The purpose of this basic qualitative study is twofold: (1) to describe and interpret how Chinese principals make meaning of their experiences as active democratic leaders and (2) to identify the challenges they are going through in creating an educational environment based on the creative use of U.S. research and theory supporting best practices for principals. The study has a total of 50 participants (n=50) across the United States (n=32) and China (n=18). The U.S. interviewees consisted of principals (n=10), teachers (n=7), parents (n=10), and students (n=5); while the Chinese interviewees consisted of principals (n=4), teachers (n=5), parents (n=4), and students (n=5).

Through a comparative multi-case analysis, findings reveal that Chinese principals face three major challenges, including (1) achieving high test scores (2) hyper-competitiveness, and (3) unequal distribution of academic resources; and comparatively, the U.S. principals are faced with three challenges in the areas of (1) multiculturalism, (2) limited educational resources, and (3) behavioral issues. This study also finds that Chinese principals deal with the challenges in three ways, including (1) military management style, (2) individualized instruction, and (3) collaborative and self-directed learning, while U.S. principals use three different ways, including (1) seeking more resources, (2) presence and visibility, and (3) community partnership.

Results from this study also show that Chinese principals use three strategies to improve their leadership knowledge, including efforts to strengthen and rely upon (1) continuing education, (2) learning from colleagues, and (3) self-learning. However, the U.S. principals enhance their leadership knowledge through (1) professional and academic training, (2) knowledge gained on the job, and (3) self-knowledge and self-skill enhancement. Additional findings reveal that Chinese principals use three strategies to build and nurture a relationship with stakeholders, including (1) multi-dialogue, (2) credibility and prestige, and (3) fulfilling the promise. On the other hand, U.S. principals use three different approaches, including (1) multichannel communication, (2) academic expert and guidance services, and (3) evaluation of delivering a quality-oriented education. This study discovered that Chinese principals have three major philosophies, including (1) student-centered, (2) value-based strategy, and (3) academicoriented top culture. U.S. principals hold the beliefs of (1) paying full attention to the students’ needs, (2) cultivating students’ educational core values, such as creativity, and (3) fostering students’ success through team spirit. By using a recontextualization approach, Chinese principals can benefit from using the U.S. principals’ top three practices, including (1) presence and visibility, (2) effective communication tools, and (3) education for core values in leading their school reform and enhancement in China. Thus, findings suggest that Chinese principals must promote individualized teaching and learning for student whole-person cultivation. They must shift from top-down to bottom-up, distributed, transformative, service-based, and value based leadership when leading their school reform and student outcomes. Several implications and recommendations are suggested.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access