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Deconstructing and Reconstructing Systems

Culturally Responsive Leadership
By Ryan Persaud
Deconstructing and Reconstructing Systems

In the second article of this series, we dove deeper into Culturally Responsive Leadership (Lopez, 2016), and examined the purpose behind starting with step one, critical self-reflection, as seen below. This necessary first step in examining our bias, power, and privilege is essential as it allows us to build a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. This enables us to work towards greater relationships in the school and community, which are more inclusive, more equitable, and more authentic.

(Photo source: Lopez, 2016)

Deconstruct and Reconstruct

All schools have policies, practices, procedures, and systems. A Culturally Responsive Leader (CRL) will look to examine these structures within their educational institution, looking for signs of oppression, and how these systems may marginalize not only students, but your staff, faculty, and community. As Lopez (2016) states, "As school leaders work to create change, they must examine current practices and seek ways to change those practices that are inequitable and construct new ways of going about schooling, re-shaping, and reconstructing processes that will benefit diverse students" (pp. 25-26). Even if your institution has a largely homogeneous student body, there may be systems at play that oppress their way of thinking, being, knowing, and doing. For example, many of our schools have embedded in our philosophies the idea of global citizenship. How are your systems truly preparing students to move through a diverse, complex, and interconnected world beyond the walls of our institutions?

How To Deconstruct and Reconstruct?

How do we determine what needs changing? I would like to suggest that we use data as a starting point. This involves collecting both quantitative and qualitative data about your school and community. One of the strengths of quantitative research includes the fact that numerical data can allow for periodic comparisons if conditions remain the same. This can provide highly useful information when considering long term analysis. Qualitative data should also be used in order to dig deeper into the numbers. "Qualitative may also be useful for eliciting contextual data to improve the validity of survey instruments and questionnaires used in quantitative research" (Fossey et al, 2002, p. 718). Qualitative data provides us with the story behind the numbers and helps the researcher uncover deeper meaning in the numerical data.

One consideration for digging deeper into the data is the concept of street data. This comes from the work of Safir and Dugan (2021), where street data is defined as "qualitative and experiential data that emerges at eye level and on lower frequencies when we train our brains to discern it" (p. 57). This recent work is highly profound in its poignant stance in that schools wanting to do diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work must look below the surface at data that is not traditionally collected in order to understand equity, or lack thereof, in schools. An example of this might be conducting exit interviews of students or staff leaving the school. This could entail looking at what barriers would have impeded their success at your institution. Another example is taking a deep dive into examining the curriculum. This could involve looking at the amount of student choice in your assessments, or what worldview(s) are represented in your resources and texts.

Where Do We Get the Data?

One methodology to collect your data is through an equity audit. The idea behind an equity audit is to assess the barriers to full participation and access in a school setting. Once these barriers have been assessed, the data can be used for discussion and to drive school improvement. As Skrla, McKenzie, and Scheurich state, "School leaders need to have data for their schools and districts arranged in a clear and understandable way that reveals levels of equity and inequity in key areas. The results of these audits also need to be usable for planning and monitoring school change" (2009, pp. 23-24). Khalifa goes so far as to say that "a comprehensive equity audit must be the starting point for culturally responsive school leadership and equity reforms" (2018, p. 148). We collect pre-assessment data to guide teaching and learning; likewise, equity data can focus your school's equity journey. A comprehensive look at data may include examining your curriculum, your hiring practices, your school policies and procedures, and your students, staff, and faculty makeup. It may go even deeper, analyzing such areas as which post-secondary programs are attended by which genders. Or what do the consultants and outside experts look like whom your leadership team hires? Or what languages do we communicate out to our community with, and why? 

Authentic Reconstruction

As you begin to analyze your data looking for trends and patterns the real work begins, reconstructing the systems in which you have identified issues. For example, if your curriculum is homogeneous, and provides little opportunity for teaching and learning around DEIJ topics, then there is work to do in order to make the educational experience more equitable and inclusive. What I advocate for is what I call authentic reconstruction. This means meaningful change.

The "saris and samosas" approach to DEIJ is no longer acceptable. Food and dance won't solve issues of racism, gender inequality, and homophobia. Deep, critical work that leads to meaningful change is what is required for the betterment of our school communities.

For curriculum, it means actually reconstructing units to embed DEIJ topics into them and allow for student voice on these matters to come through, and ensuring your teachers are trained to handle the questions that will naturally and inevitably arise. This could be a collaborative inquiry for teachers and students such as, “How might we use literacy as a vehicle for social justice and belonging”? As I mentioned above, the idea of street data would reveal and lead to this; in your data collection phase have you spoken with students about their experiences with the curriculum?

When adding books with diverse characters and themes to the library, we need to go a level deeper. Are diverse characters from typically marginalized groups appearing as victims, as those who have conquered injustice, as normative main characters in a non-stereotypical story? Have you audited the classroom libraries in your school?  Who has been involved in the process? Here is a good process for auditing classroom libraries.

Another example might be looking at your hiring policies and practices. Is your policy open to all applicants but your institution leans towards certain ethnocultural backgrounds of applicants? Are local staff being given the opportunity to rise through the ranks at the same pace as your foreign hires? We have seen examples where "native English speaker" is still a requirement at some institutions. Does this apply to your institution? Are the hiring agencies you work with doing DEIJ work themselves so that their institutional bias is not being reflected in the applicants brought forward to you?

There are many more examples of authentic reconstruction to consider. The bottom line is, how accepting is your school community? How are you rebuilding systems to be more inclusive so all can thrive? And how are you involving your students, staff, and faculty in your rebuild?



Khalifa, M. (2018). Culturally responsive school leadership. Harvard Education Press.

Lopez, A. E. (2016). Culturally responsive and socially just leadership in diverse contexts: From theory to action. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Fossey, Harvey, C., Mcdermott, F., & Davidson, L. (2002). Understanding and evaluating qualitative research. Australasian Psychiatry: Bulletin of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, 36(6), 717–732.

Safir, S. & Dugan, J. (2021). Street data: A next generation model for equity, pedagogy and school transformation. Corwin.

Skrla, L., McKenzie, K., & Scheurich, J. (2009). History and overview of equity audits. In Using equity audits to create equitable and excellent schools (pp. 17-28). Corwin Press.



Ryan Persaud is the director of IT and Innovation at the International School of Curitiba in Brazil.

Twitter: @ryanpersaud23
LinkedIn: Ryan Persaud


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