It is a story of a passionate educator who was assigned as the school principal for one of the most dangerous schools in the USA. Lina Claitt-Wayman sets an example for how a visionary principal can uplift a low-performing school and give hope to children in poor areas who want to develop and find a better place for themselves.
One of the many powerful slogans shared by the fourth principal of Strawberry Mansion High School, Linda Cliatt-Wayman during her TEDtalk about fixing broken schools. The passionate Philadelphian girl who grew up in a neighborhood where 40% of the people live in poverty, dedicated her career and her life to ending that injustice poor students are treated with and to helping them succeed in school and beyond. Having taught special need students for years, Wayman volunteered to lead one of the most dangerous schools in the United States, Strawberry Mansion High School Philadelphia. The school was not only poorly performing, it was also famous for drugs, high number of weapons, assaults and arrests.
Linda’s speech holds lots of beneficial pieces of advice for school leaders which she holds accountable for everything that happens inside their schools. “I am a leader, so I know I cannot do anything alone,” she said. The courageous principal, backed up with the best teachers she had in school, took several initiatives to redecorate the school, make it clean, well-lit, safe and above all fun to be in. The quick wins were astonishing. Strawberry Mansion School was removed from the “Persistently dangerous schools” on Linda’s first year.
Linda clearly stated how the school principal should neither avoid handling school challenges nor be afraid to address anything that may harm students. School students who believed that Strawberry Mansion was not a school also thought that poverty was an excuse for poor school performance and dropouts.
Wayman came up with this creative slogan “So what. Now what” to reflect her belief that the current situation can be worked on instead of blaming circumstances.
She knew immediately that the teachers needed assistance as they knew what to teach but not how to teach it. She, with their support, developed a lesson-delivery model for instruction helping individual students to learn in small groups efficiently.
The third slogan Wayman used in her heart-touching talk directly highlights the importance of loving your students and how she is driven by this emotion. She ends her announcements to her students every morning the same way.
Wayman proved her devotion and compassion by doing things that were traditionally considered out of the school headmaster’s responsibility like managing the lunch room herself every day, talking to students and showing affection to them. She made each and every one of them feel special by holding individual birthdays as a way of showing empathy for each student. Wayman, unlike some principals, interacted daily with students, listening to their complaints and problems and tackling all the challenges with undivided attention. As a result, average test scores went up, more students from the school got accepted in college, and there were fewer arrests.
Wayman, who believes an educational leader should always provide children with hope, had a great effect on Strawberry Mansion High School by using love and care as an approach.