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Principal seeks to spark passion, empathy in middle school students

Castle Rock Middle School Principal Lee-Ann Hayen

CASTLE ROCK – Lee-Ann Hayen loved horses when she was growing up and had her sights set on becoming an equine veterinarian when she graduated from high school. She recently took a moment from her current role as principal at Castle Rock Middle School (CRMS) to remember when her path turned toward education.

“One day at Colorado State University, I sat in a vet seminar course of about 500 students, and was told that there would only be four or five of us who would make it through vet school. I was a decent student, but worked hard for my grades. In fight or flight mode, I walked down to the English department and changed my major (this was the one place where learning came easy for me, thanks to a love of literature). I was hooked after one small taste of spending time with kids, and I never looked back,” Hayen said with a smile.

Following her new-found mission, Hayen earned a Bachelor's degree in English and Education, and subsequently taught Language Arts at a middle school. She went on to serve as a middle school instructional coach for eight years. When Hayen was tasked with implementing the Parallel Curriculum Model (a model designed for gifted students) for all students, she came to the realization that true and deep learning stems from passion and curiosity. 

Q & A with Lee-Ann Hayen

What was your first job?
Mucking out stalls. I was a HUGE horseygirl growing up. I lived at the barn and loved every minute of it. 

If you had the opportunity to pursue another career, what would you choose?
I have always wanted to be a writer, but my thoughts are too disorganized!

What advice would you share with a college graduate entering field of teaching?
You have graduated one stage of your life. There are so many more to come. Always embrace what's coming, as it will continue to shape who you are.  

Who inspires you?
We are surrounded by inspiration. It can manifest in words of wisdom, seeing someone overcome an obstacle, witnessing pure joy. The biggest mistake we make is that our eyes are not wide open enough to those who have lessons to teach us. 

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
A hindsight button like the "easy" button… have the chance to look at my hindsight thoughts before I dive in too deep. 

If you could uninvent one thing, what would it be?
Chocolate- so bad and yet, so good!

What is the last book you read?
I'm reading Leaders Eat Last as a professional read, and revisiting an old friend, School of Essential Ingredients, to remind me of balance and living life.  

What was your favorite subject in high school?
English – To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, Fahrenheit 54... does life get any better?

What is your favorite store to browse?  
A used book store. There's not many left.

Do you have a favorite Colorado getaway?
I love Estes Park. It is such a beautiful place to hike, play, reflect.  

What is your favorite restaurant?  
India's Castle- I love Indian food and my family has been eating with the owner for 15+ years.

What is your favorite quote?
A new friend tweeted it: "You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety" –Maslow

Do you have any pets that enrich your life?
I have an incredibly overweight and gassy English Mastiff, but she is the best dog a gal could ask for, always ready for a hug or horse ride for my kids.

“It not only changed how I taught students, but it made me realize that my purpose could extend beyond my own classroom walls and I could impact more students,” Hayen said.

She earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and her principal licensure from the University of Phoenix. Hayen arrived in Douglas County School District two years ago, and is enjoying her first year in the role of principal at CRMS. When asked about the dynamics of leading a middle school, she responded with enthusiasm.

“Middle school is such a special place, because kids are developing their identity and searching for power and identity. We need to offer middle school students as many moments to spark passion as we can, and then harness their power for good,” Hayen said. “If we can nurture empathetic thinkers, whose realization is that middle school teaches that we get by giving (through thoughts, ideas, and actions), I will sleep with peaceful dreams.”

To illustrate her philosophy, Hayen shares a story about an experience when she taught a unit on power versus powerlessness, using genocide as a case study.  

“I conducted a simulation using the eight stages of genocide and went through the process of classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and denial. One of the students I had that year was intolerant, tough and unkind to other students. During the debrief of the lesson, he raised his hand and said, ‘I just realized I commit genocide in the lunchroom everyday.’ With tears in his eyes, he embraced the persuasion part of the unit and used public service announcements to eliminate intolerance in his own school and life, something he saw as the heart of the problem of genocide. It was stunning - and it was his to own.”

The experience emphasizes what motivates Hayen, and her firm belief in the potential of students and the staff at CRMS – that we all have a voice and the power to change lives.

“We are here to prove the Margaret Mead quote, that one should ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’"

Hayen explains that the staff at CRMS have spent the last year designing a moral compass that will guide how they operate, pulling in the voices of students and community. 

“CRMS is amazing. We stand upon a precipice and we are ready to take a giant leap together. We will do this with brand new teachers, teachers who have been in DCSD for 30 years, and everything in between. We have committed to an identity of exploration, where every student, teacher, and adult in the building is a learner and explorer. This precipice is scary and unknown, but exhilarating and energizing.”

Hayen has great confidence in the teachers at CRMS, and is committed to supporting them in everything they do, and watching for the moments where she can help push them to the next level. She acknowledges that while push and support is a fine balance, you cannot have one without the other when operating from a growth mindset.

“Teachers need to know that you believe they can move mountains. When they believe this of themselves, they can foster this in students,” Hayen said.

Hayen reflects that each role she has served “has allowed me to see kids in a more global way. I believe we must serve them in different ways, and that the best way we can serve them is to ignite a hunger in learning.” 

“Both students and teachers inspire me daily,” Hayen concluded. “I couldn’t ask for a greater honor than to serve them."

March 10, 2015 | By SCPaulsen | Category: District, Middle School Education

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