Purpose: Both Hong Kong and Singapore leverage teacher collaboration to improve student learning, but state reforms differ in how teacher collaborative capabilities are prioritized. This paper provides a nuanced comparison of Hong Kong and Singapore teachers' values (risk-taking, power distance and uncertainty avoidance) to develop insights into how different policy focuses cultivate teachers' capabilities to focus on improving student learning. Design/methodology/approach: Employing Hargreaves and Fullan's (2012) concept of professional capital, statistical analyses determine teachers' values profiles of high, medium and low professional capital in the respective contexts. Leveraging related research on Singapore teachers (Lee and Lee, 2018), nuances in teachers' values in the Hong Kong results are identified via cluster analysis and explained via structural equation modelling. Findings: Medium professional capital Hong Kong teachers' values matched Singapore's, but teachers in other clusters are nuanced. Compared to Singapore teachers with similar levels of professional capital, high professional capital Hong Kong teachers have higher uncertainty avoidance, while low professional capital teachers are the opposite. In Hong Kong, high uncertainty avoidance values positively influence teacher leadership and focus on student learning. Nevertheless, as with their Singapore counterparts, high professional capital Hong Kong teachers have low power distance and high risk-taking values. Originality/value: This paper raises awareness regarding policy's influence in cultivating teachers' values and their transformational change capabilities. By comparing two hierarchical Chinese societies, the discussion questions whether Chinese and Western cultural influences are mutually exclusive, and whether transformational change in cultural values, if achievable, is necessary. Copyright © 2021 Emerald Publishing Limited.