Loudoun County, Va. (September 10, 2014) – Shawn Lyons is going from being the principal of two of the smallest schools in Loudoun County (Aldie and Middleburg) to helming a large suburban elementary school, Newton-Lee.
The transition is not as hard as one might have imagined.
“To be honest, it feels like coming home a little bit, having been at Pinebrook for five years. It’s been a comfortable transition. The whole way I felt about the structural organization of a school – the way teachers and staff members collaborate – was built on that larger school where we had grade-level teams and specialist teams working together.”
Lyons has large-school experience as an assistant principal at Pinebrook and as an administrative intern at Mill Run Elementary. He said he’s looking forward to “the challenge of working with a group of students who are quite capable and a group of teachers who are motivated… I’ve been so impressed with the staff here.”
Shortly after it was announced last spring that Lyons would be taking over for the retiring Carol Winters, teachers started reaching out to him with initiatives they wanted to get started. “They’ve been very, very energetic and enthusiastic. It’s been a pleasure for me, because they love what they’re doing. “
Lyons said his teachers have gotten to know his style of leadership and philosophy during the past few months.
“My style is pretty simple; it’s all about the kids. We, as educators, are doing our job best when we feel the joy in the job… It’s striking the right balance and making sure we’re working collaboratively with the students and parents and each other. This can be the most rewarding job in the world if we strike that balance. It can also be a very overwhelming job, the responsibilities have never been greater for educators.
“I want to cut through a lot of the clutter that makes the busyness of our day so tough. I want to focus on the most important things: instruction for kids and trying to reach their potential.”
Focusing on students means staff might have to focus less on their technology, Lyons said. “All that multi-tasking we do on a daily basis; the technology that we love, but which actually makes us a little less productive and creative.”
To drive this point home, Lyons began Newton-Lee’s teacher in-service days in August by going to the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship near Purcellville for some team-building. The theme for the day was “Disconnecting with Technology and Connecting with Each Other.” Lyons led his staff on a hike so that they could “let the mind wander and wonder.”
“The research has shown the more multi-tasking we do, the less creative we become. If we want to remove that clutter, we’ve got to make sure we strike the right balance, focus on the things that are most important. Technology is great – don’t get me wrong – but sometimes it can get in the way of our ultimate goals.”
Lyons’ goals include challenging his students to get the most from their potential.
“I believe in challenging kids, providing them with a program of studies that will push them further than they would achieve on their own. I believe in partnering with parents. I believe teachers are great at what they do and that we should make school a place of learning joy for kids and the teachers.”
Newton-Lee’s new principal knows what he wants his students to feel every day when they think about their school. “I want you to wake up every day and say ‘Today is a great day. I’m looking forward to coming to school. I wonder what’s going to happen today.’ If they walk out of the building and say ‘That really was a good day’ we’ve done our job.”
Lyon’s own family will be based at Emerick Elementary (where Lyons taught from 2005-2007) this year. His wife, Susan is a reading specialist there and his two sons will be students. The family wanted to reunite with Emerick Principal Dawn Haddock, who worked with Shawn Lyons at Pinebrook. This fulfilled a wish that Shawn Lyon made several years ago.
“If I ever have a chance to have my kids in a Mrs. Haddock-run school, I’m doing it.”
Lyons said he’s devoted his career to elementary education because of the nature of its students.
“It’s the innocence, the wonder, the pure joy in everything they do. There’s that spark in them that they share with us. The best that I can hope to do is that we return that spark to them and get that spark burning as a flame.
“As kids are learning things for the first time, you realize how special it is for them and you get to re-live it all with them.”