Lancer Spotlight: Principal Cindy Hanlon tackles hybrid leadership

How does a leader motivate a community when the primary method of delivery is through screen time?


courtesy of Cindy Hanlon

Cindy Hanlon welcomes the community to the 2020-2021 school year.

Principal Cindy Hanlon visits Google Meets and says hello to students. She greets all with a smile, while learning the names and faces. It’s not the same as  the reliable image of the principal in a big yellow vest directing morning traffic, like former principals Nancy Doll or Dave Kehne, but those days will come–eventually. 

The new principal is not only working to keep the LHS family together, but also she working to obtain her doctoral degree about how to build and manage teams. She can juggle many different demands while being principal including taking classes at Hood College and focusing on her global pandemic case study.

Working a hybrid schedule (some days in school and some days from home), she is pulled in many direction–sometimes, literally, the opposite direction. 

Coming from Tuscarora High School where the building is identical, but flipped, Hanlon has found herself walking the opposite direction.

“I often found myself getting turned around in the building because it is so similar to Tuscarora’s layout. I’ve circled past the auditorium and gym many times trying to find the attendance office. But I am slowly finding out where to go, and it is all getting much easier with time,” said Hanlon.

But she knows what direction she wants to go for the LHS students. 

“It’s challenging to get to meet you all and get to know you better while class is virtual. I love popping into your classes and seeing everyone’s faces. Hearing you interact with teachers, that makes my heart very happy,” said Hanlon.

Not only is Hanlon finding ways to interact with staff and students virtually, she is also figuring out what it means to be a principal. Previous to joining the LHS staff, she worked as a vice principal and loved her formative teaching experiences, being a English, Spanish, and math teacher. This is her first year taking on the role as building principal, and on top of that, starting at a new school. 

“Now that I’m sitting in the principal chair, I get to look at the wide impact I have. I get to set the path, set the tone, and give the direction for the team, and you see a wider angle.”

NEHS officer, Ducos was able to meet Hanlon through a Google Meet in August, she observed that Mrs. Hanlon is a really hard worker and cares about all her staff and students. 

“I loved that she took time out of her busy day as a new principal during a transitioning phase amid a pandemic to just sit down and chat with one of our school’s club [NEHS]. I know we all appreciated her time and just got to know her better. She listened to us on a more personal level, and I am very excited for what she will bring to Linganore,” said Ducos.

Working a hybrid schedule of days at home and days at school, Hanlon smiles and greets visitors to her office (behind a mask). (courtesy of Cindy Hanlon)

Hanlon has been teaching others for as long as she can remember. Some of her earliest memories include her playing teacher with her sister and reading all the “big kid” books.

She has always been drawn to teaching. The professional relationships that she has made with other teachers helps her grow and learn more about leadership.

Science teacher Beth Ericsson has loved having the help and support of Hanlon in these virtually challenging times. Hanlon has made it a priority to get to know all departments individually. 

“The unknown is a little scary. However we have been happy to find that Mrs. Hanlon has kept us informed as she is able. Mrs. Hanlon has brightened my day on more than one occasion. She sent each teacher a personal card, which must’ve taken considerable time to do. But even more meaningful to me, is when I have been overly stressed and overwhelmed and talked about it with her, she has stressed the importance of self care. She is very supportive. We are a very hardworking group of teachers who care very much about our students,” said Ericsson.

She is also taking time to focus on racial equity, educating herself and others.

“I have worked with her on faculty training for race and equity issues, and she impresses me with her dedication and resolve to address racism,” Ericsson said.

Before Tuscarora, Hanlon was an Assistant Principal at Urbana. One of her mentors who made her who she is today is Dave Kehne, Urbana’s principal and former Linganore principal. She saw his thoughtfulness in leadership and hopes to follow a similar path now that she is principal.

“Being able to watch his [Kehne’s] leadership style. The way he cares for kids, cares for teachers, and is so thoughtful and careful in his process and decision making is something that I really hope to be similar to as I work on my leadership.” 

Not only does Principal Kehne think of Mrs. Hanlon as a mentor and friend, but he also thinks of her as a valuable part to any team.

“Mrs. Hanlon is committed to success for all students, and she recognizes that each student has inherent dignity and worth. She has helped me hone my ability to seek and understand the needs and dreams of some of our more quiet students, and I think that Linganore is most fortunate to have such a wise, trustworthy, and caring principal leading the school,” said Kehne.

She has also taught along side of Mr. Christopher Berry, a friend and coworker at Tuscarora High School. He has seen her grow from vice principal to principal.

“Mrs. Hanlon was an outstanding assistant principal at Tuscarora and a pleasure to work with. She was genuinely interested in knowing her students and families, and was very approachable by anyone who needed her assistance. I found her to be a great partner in our work, creative, always considering the needs of students first, and very clear and positive when she communicates with others. She has a calm intelligence and warm personality. Linganore is very fortunate to have her at the helm this year, said Tuscarora Principal Berry.

Mrs. Hanlon is working on getting her doctorate at Hood college and in one of her Google Meets with the doctoral candidates, the instructor asked, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Hanlon displays one of the elephants from her collection. (courtesy of Cindy Hanlon)

The elephant lesson captures Hanlon’s approach to this enormous job.

“This is my elephant. He sits on my desk here at school. I collect them. His little trunk is up because trunks that are up catch all the good luck. When something looks like it’s a lot and you just feel like you can’t get it done, you have to keep telling yourself, one bite at a time.” Hanlon shared proudly. 

Eager for more about Hanlon’s interests, students asked her about her hobbies.  In addition to reading and watching old movies, she is also into a good thrill or scare. In her free time two exhilarating activities that she loves are hatchet throwing and breakout escape rooms! 

As the community works to escape the grip the pandemic has on education, Hanlon’s puzzle-solving hobby may come in handy.