Leadership lessons with Linda Cliatt-Wayman

Thanks to Carl Hendrick for sharing this talk from TEDWomen 2015. In it, Linda Cliatt-Wayman sets out her approach to fixing a broken school. She talks about her work at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, once branded “the most dangerous school in America.” She illustrates three slogans which, as Carl Hendrick said, set the standard for school leadership.

Slogan 1: If you’re going to lead, LEAD. 

The strength of will to keep going, to set the example, to believe in the vision, is what brings about change. “Leaders make the impossible possible,” she says. She describes sweating the small stuff – the displays, the lightbulbs, the environment, the lockers – and tackling the big stuff. Budget. Behaviour. Scheduling. Support.

Slogan 2: So what? Now what? 

Cliatt-Wayman lists the intimidating odds she and her staff were up against – attendance at 68%, 1% parental engagement, 38% SEN – and uses her mantra “So what? Now what?” This really struck home to me. Here is a problem, or an issue – and that is what it is. A problem. An issue. It is not an excuse. What can we do about it? It reminded me forcefully of Ros McMullen’s wonderful blog on addressing inequality, and her attack on what she calls “cuddle and muddle” culture: “these kids have got problems, therefore we should expect less from and for them.” This isn’t good enough McMullen and Cliatt-Wayman, and it shouldn’t be good enough for any of us.

It strikes me also that “So what? Now what?” is an equally useful mantra for times of success. You get your best ever GCSE results, or a shiny outstanding from Ofsted. So what? Now what? For Cliatt-Wayman, being removed from the “persistently dangerous” list after five straight years was her triumph. Her “now what?” was professional development for her teachers, and an “intense focus on teaching and learning” in order to eliminate excuses for underachievement. The result? A 171% rise in algebra scores and a 107% rise in literature scores.

Slogan 3: If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.

At this point, I don’t mind admitting, I had tears in my eyes. John Tomsett talks about “love over fear” and this final slogan puts humanity at the centre of leadership. I know that Tom Starkey has discredited passion, but when you see the passion here, I think even he’ll agree it’s inspiring. She talks about her moral purpose with such heart that you can see her eyes glisten, hear her voice crack. She talks about eating lunch with the students, to talk to them and know them as people, to build the relationships that are the cornerstone of effective teaching. And she talks about the rewards of the job:

My reward, my reward for being non-negotiable in my rules and consequences is their earned respect. I insist on it, and because of this, we can accomplish things together. They are clear about my expectations for them, and I repeat those expectations every day over the P.A. system. I remind them of those core values of focus, tradition, excellence, integrity and perseverance,and I remind them every day how education can truly change their lives. And I end every announcement the same: “If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.”

There’s been a lot of excellent focus on women in leadership recently, thanks to #WomenEd and others, and here is a fantastic role model not just for women, but for all school leaders. Behaviour. Teaching and Learning. Love. Now that’s getting your priorities right.

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2 thoughts on “Leadership lessons with Linda Cliatt-Wayman

  1. Pingback: The F-Bacc is On the Way | @LeadingLearner

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