Linda Cliatt-Wayman Profile

  • Amidst constant chaos and violence, educator and leader, Linda Cliatt-Wayman bravely transformed three underperforming high schools, including one of the most dangerous schools in the country.

  • Cliatt-Wayman’s remarkable example of leadership has been featured on Nightline, ABC’s World News Tonight, and the TED stage.

  • Blending strength and compassion, Cliatt-Wayman’s approach to turning around a struggling organization has resonated not just with educators, but leaders across every industry.
  • Principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman turned three of the country’s most dangerous and impoverished schools into successful centers of learning and development. The dedicated educator’s inspirational tale has been featured on TED, ABC’s World News Tonight and a special segment of Nightline with Diane Sawyer. She has been invited nationwide to speak at educational institutions, women’s conferences, and leadership events.

    Cliatt-Wayman entered teaching with a first-hand understanding of the myriad challenges her students faced. She had attended an impoverished school herself years before in the district she was now working in. She spent the first 20 years of her career as a special education teacher, helping her students do better by holding them to high standards and treating them as people rather than a procedure.

    Within her first hour as principal at a high school in Northern Philadelphia, she heard words from one of her students that would permanently shape her vision as a leader: “Miss, why do you keep calling this a school? This is not a school.” Silently agreeing that her students deserved more than the fear and violence driving the school’s chaotic culture, Cliatt-Wayman promptly took action, setting high expectations for students, implementing a “non-negotiable” discipline policy, providing rigorous teacher training, and cleaning the mountains of broken furniture that littered the building. She was not always liked and even frequently threatened; nevertheless, Cliatt-Wayman won her students’ respect. Scores and attendance rates started going up while violence and dropout rates started going down.

    Eventually, Cliatt-Wayman took the role of assistant-superintendent in the Philadelphia Public School District, but returned to school halls when she was unable to find a principal that could handle Strawberry Mansion High School, whose frequent rates of assault and arrests statistically made it one of the most dangerous schools in the country. Driven by unconditional love for her students and a belief in their potential, Cliatt-Wayman stepped into the job herself. Within one year the school’s proficiency scores doubled and Strawberry Mansion was removed from Pennsylvania’s list of “persistently dangerous schools.”

    Recently, Cliatt-Wayman has started a non-profit that will support underserved students in Philadelphia. Her book Lead Fearlessly, Love Hard: Finding Your Purpose And Putting It To Work details how to turn around a struggling organization and will speak to leaders not just in education, but any industry.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Linda Cliatt-Wayman is a passionate educator with an unwavering belief in the potential of all children.  Her leadership as a high school principal in North Philadelphia has been featured by TED, ABC World News Tonight, and Nightline.

      Wayman grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia, where she experienced firsthand the injustice being perpetrated against poor students in their education.  She has dedicated her career and her life to ending that injustice and to helping students succeed in school and beyond.

      Wayman earned her BA from Kutztown University and her MA from St. Joseph’s University.  She spent 20 years as a special education teacher before becoming a principal of FitzSimons High School in 2003.  Wayman led a turnaround of FitzSimons from a school known for low levels of academic achievement and high levels of violence to a safe space focused on learning.

      In 2005 she was given the opportunity to open The Young Women’s Leadership School at Rhodes High School.  Once again, Wayman led a turnaround at Rhodes. Before she arrived, only 3% of students were proficient in math and 9% were proficient in reading.  By holding students and staff alike to high expectations, providing intense professional development to her staff, building a strong leadership team, and always believing in and loving her students, Wayman oversaw the growth of Rhodes so that the majority of students were proficient in math and reading and 94% of seniors were accepted into college.

      Wayman spent two years as Assistant Superintendent of High Schools for the School District of Philadelphia, directly overseeing all of the district’s 52 high schools. But when the district decided to merge her two former schools, FitzSimons and Rhodes, with another North Philadelphia High School, Strawberry Mansion, Wayman knew she had to step in to lead the merged school as principal.  At Strawberry Mansion, not far from the North Philadelphia neighborhood where she grew up, Wayman and her team are once again proving what is possible for low-income children.  Test scores have improved every year since Wayman took over, and the school was removed from the federal Persistently Dangerous Schools list for the first time in five years.

      Wayman’s powerful leadership and the success of her students have caused people to take notice.  Diane Sawyer and her team spent an entire school year documenting Wayman’s efforts, which were featured on both ABC World News Tonight and Nightline.  She was named a KYW Gamechanger and won the 2014 Philadelphia Magazine Trailblazer Award and 2014 Philadelphia Maneto Award.

      Wayman has shared her story with audiences across the country.  In May 2015, she delivered a TED Talk at TED Women in which she described her loving, fierce leadership for children.  Other speaking engagements have included the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, the Massachusetts Conference for Women, the Raytheon Leadership Conference, the Cancer Treatment Center for America Luncheon, and the Exelon Women Luncheon, and the Dallas Bar Association.

      Above all, Linda Cliatt-Wayman is driven by her love for her students.  She ends her announcements to her students every morning the same way: “Remember, if no one told you they loved you today, remember I do and I always will.”

    Linda Cliatt-Wayman Speaking Videos

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    Linda Cliatt-Wayman on Speaking

    I want people to learn that it is on us, as leaders, to achieve success.

    SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn / take away from your presentations?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: I want people to learn that it is on us, as leaders, to achieve success. I want them to understand that all children, regardless of background, can achieve at high levels, and that all problems in education are adults’ problems that we are responsible for solving. I want people to understand that we need to dramatically transform our education systems for the future, but that we also need to demand our schools be better right now, under our current systems.

    SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How to you prepare for your speaking engagements?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: It’s important to me that my speaking engagements are valuable and relevant to conference organizers and attendees. I customize every presentation to meet the unique themes and needs of an event. Usually I have a call with the conference organizers to get a clear picture of the mission and themes of the conference, and then develop my presentation in pursuit of those themes.

    After the ovations were finally over, Hillary Clinton took the stage. Before she began, she shook her head with this big smile and said, “How about that Linda Cliatt-Wayman?”

    SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations arise while on the road?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: One of my most memorable speaking engagements was the 2014 Pennsylvania Conference for Women. I was asked to speak on the same stage as Hillary Clinton. It was my first major speaking engagement, and the audience size was 10,000. I wrote and delivered a seven-minute speech that, to my surprise, the audience loved so much they gave me three standing ovations. It was surreal. After the ovations were finally over, Hillary Clinton took the stage. Before she began, she shook her head with this big smile and said, “How about that Linda Cliatt-Wayman?” The audience erupted and I nearly fainted.

    SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: Leaders from any sector can benefit from my message. Of course, as a 30-year educator, my specific experience and commitment to educating children in poverty resonates with principals, administrators, and teachers. But my overall themes are about taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges, setting a clear vision, building a team to support you, and holding yourself and everyone else around you accountable to achieve. Those themes are relevant to educators, business leaders, non-profit administrators, government worker, and anyone taking on professional challenges.

    SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: My favorite topics are the ones I am most passionate about: bold, principled leadership, helping children escape poverty through education, and the intersections of education, poverty, and criminal justice.

    Much like being a principal, I did not choose speaking. Speaking chose me!

    SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: I did not plan to be a speaker. After my work was featured by ABC World News and Nightline, I was approached by the organizers of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women to speak prior a speech by Hillary Clinton. When they approached me, my first response was “no.” There would be 10,000 people attending the conference, and I did not feel prepared.

    My students convinced me to say yes and the rest is history. The speech was very well-received, and then the TED organizers asked me to speak at TED Women. I know that this is not a traditional path into the public speaking area, but the success of my speaking engagements helped me understand that the next phase of my journey was to use my voice to advocate for the lives of children around the world.

    Much like being a principal, I did not choose speaking. Speaking chose me!

    SPEAKING.COM: How much do case studies, personal stories and or humor factor into your keynote speech content?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: I always include personal stories from my decades of experience working in low-income schools to illustrate the themes of my speeches. I use them to engage the audience, to humanize the challenges I’m discussing, to provide lessons on leadership, and to inspire action for children. I do not use humor in the sense of telling direct jokes, however many of my stories are humorous and touching.

    SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes you’ve helped clients make?

    CLIATT-WAYMAN: It is important to me that my clients feel that I enhanced their program just by hiring me to speak. I want to excite them, renew them and inspire them just as much as my audience. I want my clients to know that the theme of their conference matters to me and I will personalize my speech to enhance the overall theme of their conference. Exclusive Interview with Linda Cliatt-Wayman
    Improving America’s Educational System, with Linda Cliatt-Wayman
    In this exclusive interview with SPEAKING.COM, leadership keynote speaker and educator, Linda Cliatt-Wayman discusses:
  • How she turned around 3 of the most dangerous schools in America.
  • Using your leadership position to influence your work environment.
  • Reaching students in difficult situations. Read the Full Interview
  • "The most important part though is following through with that accountability: monitoring against the expectations I set, holding myself to the highest standard, and holding everyone accountable who’s not meeting expectations. That doesn’t make me popular with everyone, but it’s a necessity to turn around neglected schools for children. "
    - Linda Cliatt-Wayman

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