Sommer Reynolds

Little Cypress Elementary School
Orange, Texas

Best Practices

1) Nurturing Positive Relationships with Students: When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know who my principal was. He was this elusive figure whose name was on my report card, but we dared not say his name because he may show up at our classroom door. I remember my kindergarten teacher telling us that he had eyes on the back of his head and could see us if we broke the rules. Suffice it to say, I did not have a positive opinion about “the principal.” When I became an assistant principal, I remembered my childhood thoughts about the principal, and I knew that I wanted to be different.

There’s something you need to know about me. I’m a smiler and an upbeat, positive person. My parents taught me the value of a smile and how it positively affects someone’s day. I always remember this and try to be friendly and kind to my students and teachers. When I interviewed to be an assistant principal, some questioned if I had it in me to be a tough, stern person. I thought to myself, “Is being an administrator synonymous with being a tough, stern person?” Through my experiences, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to be.

One of the best practices that I use is building positive relationships with my students, and I’ve found that starts with a smile and saying their name. There’s power in saying someone’s name. People feel seen and special. Once I heard a student say, “You remember my name!” With 650 students, that can be a challenge, but I do my best to learn. When I get to school each morning, I stand where I can greet every student that comes in. I want them to know who I am. I give a smile, try to greet them by name, and engage some in conversation. I want them to know that I think they’re important. I especially do this with the students who have had more discipline problems. I treat them respectfully and fairly.

To try to build relationships and make connections, I love to eat lunch with students. They tell me their interests, and we also talk about books! I value this time so much because it opens my eyes to understand how their minds work and what’s important to them. When I make connections with students, it’s easier to have hard conversations. There’s a level of respect where they know I care enough that they don’t want to disappoint me. If the time comes and we have to have a serious talk about their actions, they know I’m holding them accountable because I care.

2) The Power of Movement in Classrooms: I have three children of my own. It’s part of our routine to talk about our day when school is done. One thing they’ve all said consistently throughout the years is that their favorite parts of the school day are PE, fine arts, recess, and lunch. I would think, “What about reading? What about math? Those are fun!” What I realized is that they enjoyed moving and communicating with their peers. Movement enlivens the classroom. Incorporating movement is a best practice to engage students and to internalize the curriculum. Studies have shown that incorporating movement helps students focus, as well.

I lead our school district’s arts integration partnership with the Lutcher Theater and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It’s been an amazing experience and has opened my eyes to the value of incorporating movement and the arts into teachers’ lessons. Having students out of their seats creating motions to vocabulary words helps them understand. Giving students brain breaks to get up and shake the wiggles out helps them reset their brains and focus when it’s time to learn. Scavenger hunts around the school to find information create an experience. Students creating tableaus to help internalize the social studies curriculum engages them, and ultimately, just makes class more enjoyable.

As a teacher, I tried to do these things in my classroom. As an assistant principal, I encourage the teachers to incorporate movement to liven up their classes. Many of our neurodivergent students have benefited from having scheduled movement breaks. It helps them reset and focus their attention on learning. When it’s time to learn, they’re able to move, create, and connect to the curriculum. In turn, discipline has decreased for these students. I value and understand the importance of engaging our students. I truly believe that using movement will create an environment where students feel energized, focused, empowered, and present.