Friday, August 7, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Linda Cliatt-Wayman on fixing broken schools

I watched the 2015 TEDWomen conference via livestream, and was watching live when the conference came to a resounding close with Linda Cliatt-Wayman's talk on fixing broken schools. A Philadelphia school principal with a long career as a special-needs teacher, she told a story about a defining moment that occurred while she was giving a speech:
Shortly after I walked into my new school, a huge fight broke out among the girls. After things were quickly under control, I immediately called a meeting in the school's auditorium to introduce myself as the school's new principal. (Applause) 
I walked in angry, a little nervous -- (Laughter) -- but I was determined to set the tone for my new students. I started listing as forcefully as I could my expectations for their behavior and my expectations for what they would learn in school. When, all of a sudden, a girl way in the back of the auditorium, she stood up and she said, "Miss! Miss!" When our eyes locked, she said, "Why do you keep calling this a school? This is not a school." 
In one outburst, Ashley had expressed what I felt and never quite was able to articulate about my own experience when I attended a low-performing school in the same neighborhood, many, many, many years earlier. That school was definitely not a school.
It's a story loaded with great storytelling elements: scene-setting, dramatic tension, mirroring between herself and that interrupted student, and a conundrum, the school that's not a school. Cliatt-Wayman pulls all those threads all the way through her talk, sharing slogans she uses in her school to motivate the students and set the bar high. She uses a strong, forceful delivery throughout, and balances that with genuine feeling and insight. It was no surprise to me that this was among the first talks released from the conference. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Mix a calm body with a powerful voice: The power in Cliatt-Wayman's delivery is a mix of a non-anxious body, standing tall, and a strong, forceful voice. Her body moves little, and even when standing still, does not emanate anxiety--which helps lend a different kind of power and gravitas to her voice. To some ears, it will sound like she's close to shouting, but in fact, she's just projecting, like a principal might do every day. I love that she often stands tall, hands by her sides, a posture that's difficult for many speakers to pull off without looking like tin soldiers. And it's her posture that helps her manage it. 
  • Put yourself in your story: She could have talked only about the students, but the story of her broken school gains depth and perspective when we learn that she, too, went to a broken school, and that she's not a newcomer to the city's school system. When she reminds us that "Every one of them is just a child, often scared of what the world tells them they should be," you know that she knows what that feels like. While you may be tempted to describe events as an impartial or invisible observer, we'd much rather you took us by the hand and jumped into the story with us.
  • Don't be afraid to be forceful: One of her themes is persistence and commitment, and her delivery tells us without words that she has both those qualities. The force, in this speech, is well-played, conveying the urgency and importance and difficulty of her task...and lets you picture her as a forceful leader of her school as well.
Watch the video here or below, and go to TED for the transcript:

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

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