How to Fix a Broken School? Lead Fearlessly, Love Hard

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By James Mills, Associate Partner, Lighthouse International 

In our recent article on Jack Welch, we talked about the importance of developing new leaders as the cornerstone of ensuring success for organisations and the next generation.

This passionate 17 minute TED Talk is given by a Principal from North Philadelphia, Linda Cliatt-Wayman. She shares her experiences of leading and transforming schools labelled as ‘low-performing’ and ‘persistently dangerous’. Her story shows us what is possible when leaders make a stand against all the odds... enjoy!

Her key lessons are shared as slogans that she uses on a daily basis with staff and students at Strawberry Mansion High School to keep everyone on track...

1. If You’re Going to Lead, LEAD!

Linda is very clear about her role and responsibility as a leader - accepting that the buck stops with her! She recognises she can’t do anything by herself and took the time to assemble a top-notch team who also believed in the students’ potential. She worked tirelessly with them on the small things like cleanliness through to the big things like redesigning the school budget and timetable. The schoolwide discipline program ‘Non-negotiables’ promotes positive behaviour at all times.

2. So What! Now What?

When Linda began as Principal she was given a whole list of reasons why the school was failing. She sees her role as eliminating all excuses to ensure that students at the school receive the best possible education.

3. "If Nobody Told You They Loved You Today, Remember I Do"

Her love for students - seeing their potential and what they have the power to become - has been the secret to transforming the school. Linda grew up in similar levels of poverty and thanks her inspirational mum for empowering her to dream and have ambitions. She sees understanding her students as key, investing in getting to know them in both formal and informal settings. Her high expectations, desire to teach in every moment, and her willingness to be candid, has earnt the respect of staff and students alike.

Her approach has revolutionised the school. Through accepting responsibility as a leader, her willingness to question everything and a love for her students, Linda has removed Strawberry Mansion High School from the persistently dangerous list whilst also achieving exponential rates of improvement in literacy and numeracy. Her words and her actions show us that ‘leaders make the impossible, possible’.

What inspired you most about Linda’s transformation of Strawberry Mansion High School?

Share in the comments below...

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 Image courtesy of Ryan McGilchrist @ Flickr