Linda Cliatt- Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard (deconstruction)

As I remember from my school days, our school principal was one of the greatest persons who inspired students to build on their strengths, persuading to believe that all dreams and goals are achievable. This experience allows me to construe that the principal is the key figure in education who keeps the balance in schools. When I saw this videoLinda Cliatt- Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard (deconstruction) for the first time, I was speechless, because it really touched me with highlights of the impact and asset that this strong woman brought to the society. It was manifest from her speech that principal, teachers and students in school are more than the system. Linda Cliatt-Wayman is a great principal in Strawberry Mansion High School in the North Philadelphia, who has the 20 years’ experience on a special education for low-performing schools.  She is a solid principal who triggered off a broken school to ameliorate; the woman who had established a student code of discipline among the students with the most outrageous behaviour. The school is defined as a school with the bad reputation and was in the hit list of Philadelphia’s authorities as a “persistently dangerous school”. Nowadays the school is being transformed in a positive direction.

That’s how it was.

She claimed that there was no one around who could be a powerful principal to this school in the last four years, and finally she volunteered to be a principal.  On the first day of work she had witnessed her students fighting each other, after it she moved on to first action toward improvement. During the meeting, one girl named Ashley asked her “Miss… miss, why do you keep calling this a school? This is not a school”.  Linda says that this sort of question made her think back to her low-performing school where she had studied many years ago. Exactly, this was not a real school, the doors were locked with the chains, and the classrooms were almost empty, students carried weapons and there were a drug addicts. What is the worst that even the teachers were afraid for their personal safety. She obviously did a huge work to transform everything in the school, she compel herself to persist these challenges. In this way, her famous slogans were used as leverage to struggle for change. Anyway it seems to me that everything is not easy as it described in her speech.

Her first slogan is: “If you’re going to lead, lead”.

Cliatt-Wayman asserts that everything happens in the school depends on the principal. Being principal requires her to be a leader. She pinpointed that the leader should not sit back in the office, delegate work on others, and cannot allow herself to be afraid of tackling her students’ issues. Also, she emphasized that there’s nothing to be done alone. So, to carry out this task Linda gathered around herself the most skilled staff, who have the faith on children’s potential. All staff including teachers, police officers work constructively, tirelessly and consistently to help the broken school recover. Necessary steps were taken to strengthen the discipline entitled as: “Non-negotiable.” As a result, the school removed from the persistently dangerous list, which in my opinion reflects her truly leadership skills to lead people fearlessly. As she highlighted “Leaders make the impossible – possible”.

The next slogan is: “So what. Now what?”

The principal asserts that the school encountered the low attendance rate, many students were from dysfunctional families, they did not place a priority to study, and this in turn led the school fall behind.  Taking into account conversations about appalling conditions, bad-tempered students, the low results on algebra and literature, she set the goal in front of her colleagues: “So what. Now what? What are we going to do?” Linda depicts development problems and solutions, so she made teachers to differentiate the methodology which might be effective to pay respect to individuality of students. She made every effort to deal with the problems she encountered, but in this video she described only the top of the iceberg. For instance, I was curious to know how they elevate the level of education in details, what exact methods teachers used? So, these questions still required more precise answers.

Her final slogan is: “If nobody told you they love you today, remember I do”.

Her students had financial, social and emotional problems, and no matter what they had she tried to support all of them, because she knows the feeling what it’s like living on poverty.  She believes that opportunities for education and life skills help them to improve their lives and rise from poverty. Linda has daily conversations with her students and  she elevates with pinpoint accuracy those moments when her students feel themselves special, essential and awfully safe.

Though truth be told, my favorite spot is that Cliatt-Wayman has gained the respect and support of the audience on the basis of her work and results. She made tough decisions; she set a clear goal in front of her students, reminding them on a daily basis that education can change their lives.

In her speech there is a powerful message for all educators who have an opportunity to change the world, we should not stand idly by, experience the negative effects of poverty, and be satisfied with promises of authorities. Since any change would require broad support across all sectors of society, she encourages people to let us be prepared to take minute steps toward development of education worldwide.



9 thoughts on “Linda Cliatt- Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard (deconstruction)

  1. Thank you for such an inspirational post! Personally, I was always imbued with American life because movies and some other contents show as it that very way. Alas, Miss Cliatt reveals that everything is not what it seems. Sometimes stakeholders forget that students are children and they are vulnerable to “exist” in the system. I am sure that there are thousands of “broken” schools in the world and if a school principle does not espouse the opportunity that he/she can fix the school then no one really cares. Principles must be passionate about their job since the big responsibility is on their shoulders.


  2. Great video to share 🙂
    Honestly, I was on the verge of tears at some point. Her speech, her tone, her body language tells the audience that she is putting her heart and soul in what she is doing. She has convinced me that good principal can make tremendous changes. Her words were based on facts: she has used statistics to contrast school’s past and presents. These facts made me trust and believe in her message. I also love that she has mostly used word “we” to refer to group of school staff who started making change: it is another evidence that she is a great leader who promotes collaboration and team work.


  3. Thank you for sharing such an impresiive talk! As far as I know TED usually do not let speakers come and speak about motivation and slogans. But this talk is really exceptional and worth watching. Strength is that it is not only slogans and inspirational words, but real-life example of how people can realize what we sometimes consider “impossible”. As you said, her message is for all educators of any level to do the job with perfection.


  4. With all due respect, Dinara, it looks more like a summary than a deconstruction. Although I myself haven’t done one yet:), I think you should have focused on how she delivered her speech rather than what she said.
    I think you made a good point on insufficience of examples of how they improved performance. I had the same thought after watching the video.
    There is one more thing. Although she was very emotional and could make everyone shed a tear (including me), during the whole speech I had a feeling that it was a bit unnatural. And the reason for that was her strategic use of some phrases (“Miss… miss… this is not a school”) and slogans. I know that it is one of the strategies to make a successful speech, like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…”, but in this case it seems to have had an opposite effect on me.


    1. Thank you Makpal for the comment. It is Moldir, actually, not Dinara) I agree with you partially that my deconstruction post is more likely a summary, next time I try to pay attention on critical discourse more. This time, I try to add my personal opinion and feelings to express how I admire this great woman. The overall analysis of the video is included.


  5. Thank you, Moldir for sharing this amazing video. In my point of view,your post (deconstruction) about “How to fix a broken school” is very important for educational stakeholders, for instance, who struggle despite money in school education is extremely scarce after the economic crisis. As we know that, most modern school principals do not want to improve the situation with students’ low academic performance or students’ bad behavior without identifying the “real” reason why these school children do not want to go to school or why their academic performances are lower. But miss Cliant-Wayman shows that she is a hard-working principal who is not afraid of difficulties in her workplace because she loves her job, her students despite they are from disadvantaged families. Her belief in her students helped them to imrpove their academic performances.


    1. Be careful with statements like this: “As we know that, most modern school principals do not want to improve the situation with students’ low academic performance or students’ bad behavior without identifying the “real” reason why these school children do not want to go to school or why their academic performances are lower.” How can you prove that? I, for one, do not “know” that this is true.


  6. Moldir,

    Thanks for this deconstruction post. I have to agree with all your commenters that the video is inspiring and paints an optimistic portrait for the future of schools, if we can just get the right people leading the way forward. However, I do agree with Makpal that the post is most summary and personal reaction. You give a thorough overview of the speech’s content, but not much analysis of the argument she presents. My central question is whether or not the speaker’s argument is convincing. What evidence did she present? Why did you find it convincing. In this case, she is sharing her personal experience. For me, that has some major limitations, as it is only one person’s view, and other people in similar situations would have wildly different viewpoints. I find her message inspirational and her approach interesting, but I found myself wanting more concrete evidence to show that this approach worked, not just her one experience. This kind of commentary is what I think is missing from your post.

    One quick comment about sentence structure:

    Exactly, this was not a real school, the doors were locked with the chains, and the classrooms were almost empty, students carried weapons and there were a drug addicts. (this is a run-on sentence and a comma splice. Be careful to use appropriate punctuation to divide your ideas)

    Exactly, this was not a real school: the doors were locked with the chains, the classrooms were almost empty, the students carried weapons, and there were a drug addicts.



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