Before Linda Cliatt-Wayman was the principal of Strawberry Mansion High School, she was the assistant superintendent overseeing all 52 public high schools in Philadelphia. In other words, to take the helm of Strawberry Mansion High, she demoted herself.
What’s more, she took the step down to work at a school that had the most-challenging-to-teach teenagers (three schools were being merged into one), in an impoverished and gang-ridden neighborhood.
The northern Philly area was so notorious, in fact, that two national searches for a principal turned up a total of zero applicants.
But tell Cliatt-Wayman, going on her fifth year at Strawberry Mansion, that what she did was extraordinary, and she’ll wave you off and make it sound like her selfless act was actually partly selfish. “When you move up in your career, you move away from what drew you to the career, what you love,” she says. “For me, that was the kids. I missed having kids, getting to know them, giving them hope and sharing in their dreams.”
Here, the inspiring educator whose story of courage (featured in an ABC News report and update with Diane Sawyer) has moved people to want to help Mansion students (including Grammy-winning artist Drake) shares what she has learned about work and success.
Best Career Advice She Ever Got
“My superintendent once told me to pick people for my leadership team who are expert at things I’m not good at. I’ve since seen how important it is to have people whose talents complement mine and who have different points of view. I need all of their strengths and voices to make the ship work.”
Her Secret to Being Brave
“It’s easier to put yourself out there when you know you’re right. Some people think I’m crazy. But I just say I’m not crazy. I’m right.”
Her Advice About Leading
“Realize that everything that happens in an organization is on you. Especially when things go wrong, be sure to take responsibility. If your team knows you will not share the blame, they won’t be afraid to take chances and they’ll do their best work.”
How She Breaks Through Impasses
“When people are sitting in a failing organization, you get explanations for what went wrong typed up and illustrated with charts. That’s when I bring out my mantra and just keep saying it: So what? Now what? Let’s move on from excuses and figure out what we’re going to do to fix the problem.”
Her Mental Strength-Building Routine
“I wake up at 4:20 am and I’m at the gym at 5 am. It’s where I get my energy and strength together. I listen to gospel music while walking on the treadmill or doing the stair climber for an hour. Then I sit in the sauna for 15 minutes and pray. It’s sometimes the only time in the day when it’s quiet and I can hear myself think.”
Strawberry Mansion High Report
“We’re still off the state’s ‘Persistently Dangerous Schools’ list. Attendance rates are up 10 points and test scores slightly go up every year. But what’s most important to the students is that Strawberry Mansion continues to be their refuge—and we are instilling hope and the belief that they can succeed.”
Linda Cliatt-Wayman will be a keynote speaker at the Texas Conference for Women on November 15, 2016.