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Agency and Action

Culturally Responsive Leadership
By Ryan Persaud
Agency and Action

In the third article, we examined step two in the Culturally Responsive Leadership (Lopez, 2016) framework; deconstruction and reconstruction. In the model (seen below) this involves examining current structures within your school and community, whether it be policies, procedures, practices, or systems, and looking at ways these can be dismantled and rebuilt utilizing a diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) lens.

(Photo source: Lopez, 2016)

Agency and Action

The next step in the framework of a Culturally Responsive Leader (CRL) is to build agency and provide the platform and space for action. When speaking about agency, Lopez (2016) states that "Agentive leaders act on behalf of those who have been marginalized, recognize that there will be tensions along the way and seek out possibilities for action" (p. 26). As leaders, it is our privilege to represent and consider all students, faculty, and staff in our schools and how the decisions that we make impact the experiences that they have. In the previous article, I spoke about ways leaders might restructure systems in order to make them more inclusive. This restructuring cannot take place without building a coalition. Any initiative or change that we may be trying to move forward is going to take buy-in and a collaborative effort. Leadership gurus, including Kotter (1996), Kouzes & Posner (2009), and Senge (2006) have written about the importance of a shared vision and building momentum. This vision will not come to fruition on its own but requires agency. When speaking about being agentive France (2022) purports, "It’s a way for all stakeholders to collectively, and through a trusting relationship, reach certain goals" (para. 15). Trust is absolutely foundational to building teams and having the resolve to move DEIJ initiatives forward.

Student Voice and Empowerment

 Our teachers are not the only ones that need to have their voices heard and be given the opportunity to take action. Students need to be empowered as well. "Children need to learn to collaborate, to have empathy and kindness, to look after each other and the environment, as well as to solve problems and think critically" (The Lego Foundation, para. 2). Providing students with the space to have agency and take action is one way to build these skills. Critical educational theory describes empowerment as the ability to think and act critically and to be agentive (Giroux,1992). It is not simply enough to provide students with a platform to speak out or provide feedback. Student voice is only authentic if they are given the freedom and support to act. They must be given the leeway to make decisions, make mistakes, work with mentors, reflect, and iterate so that they grow. Challenge them to make action plans, create budgets, manage time, build social media campaigns, and work with mentors and experts; all the real-world skills that make learning authentic. For those looking for a deep dive into student agency, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Student Agency for 2030 is a comprehensive document on the topic worth reading. 

Action Plan

One method that you may want to employ in order to organize your initiatives may be a DEIJ action plan. If your school has completed an equity audit (Khalifa, 2018), an action plan may be the next logical step since the data from the audit should reveal where your school’s strengths and areas for improvement exist. Taking into account the agency that you have built in your institution will impact how far you can take your authentic reconstruction. Curriculum is always a great place to start and an area that your teachers and students can have great influence and impact. Shields (2019) speaks to the fact that a transformative leader will require "that equity, inclusion, excellence, and social justice move into the classroom and are considered in the curriculum, the conversations, and pedagogy of the school as well as in institutional conventions and traditions" (p. 200).

Taking Action

 What platforms do we collaboratively create to provide the space for teachers and students to take action? It could be an action team, a working group, a feedback loop, a writing group, a think tank, an outreach team, the list goes on. The important factor is not the name but allowing your teachers and students to voice how they might take action and where that action might be focused. Furthermore, a safe space and structure must be provided for this to happen. This should be based on data, including that from your equity audit, including student voice, and providing the platform for the work to move forward. Your job as a leader is to support the work, offer guidance, and clear a path of least resistance for success, utilizing your positional power to allow change to flourish. The other important consideration when taking action is reflection and iteration. For example, if a change has been made to a unit of study to include more DEIJ, reflection should be part of the process, both from students and the teacher(s). This data should then inform how you might iterate that unit to be even more inclusive the next time. Making time for iteration is key, and if we think about it from a design perspective (see IDEO or Stanford), a constant cycle of improvement should be a natural part of your thinking as you implement action.

Final Thoughts

In summary, transformative leaders support teacher and student agency and action when they use their positional power to bring people together, empower them, make data transparent and available, allow diverse teams to ideate, and implement and iterate DEIJ action plans.



France, P. E. (2022, October 1). If we want sustainable schools, we've got to build teacher agency. ASCD. schools-weve-got-to-build-teacher

Giroux, H. A. (1992). Border crossing: Cultural workers and the politics of education.Routledge.

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

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business School Press.

Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B. (January, 2009). To lead, create a shared vision. Harvard Business Review.

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

The Lego Foundation. (2023, March 30). Here's why education systems need to start taking a 'skills-first' approach. World Economic Forum. heres-why-educations-systems-need-to-start-taking-a-skills-first-approach

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Crown Business.

Shields, C. M. (2019). Becoming a transformative leader: A guide to creating equitable schools (1st ed.). Routledge.



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

Twitter: @ryanpersaud23

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