5 Questions for Adele Paynter: Wonder, Wisdom, and Silliness

5 Questions for Adele Paynter: Wonder, Wisdom, and Silliness
5 Questions for Adele Paynter: Wonder, Wisdom, and Silliness
By Sacha Zimmerman

Adele Paynter has spent a lot of time in the classroom teaching, mostly in North Carolina and at the nearby Sheridan School. Paynter has taught kindergarten, 1st grade, 4th grade, and 6th grade. She even taught "Health, Wellness, and Puberty" to 6th through 8th graders. But it is in her role as the principal–which she has been for six years now–of the Sidwell Friends Lower School that makes her such a fun and dynamic presence on campus. Paynter talked to Sidwell Friends Magazine about being an administrator, working with Lower Schoolers, and harboring a revelatory Star Wars scene.

1. What do you like about teaching at a Quaker School?

It changes you. Over the last six years, it has been super cool to see how Quakerism transforms you personally but also in terms of how you educate, how you teach, how you listen to others, how you lead. I have really enjoyed flexing new muscles and helping others adopt new mindsets and skills.

2. What do you like about being an administrator as opposed to teaching?

Oh, but I love teaching! Okay, I do also love leading the Lower School. I love that you have an opportunity to zoom out and get the 20,000-foot view and be able to see how different components of the School can work together to create something really beautiful. I love the fact that in this position I get to know a whole swath of families and kids and teachers and see how all the parts fit together, versus being more siloed. I learn a lot from my conversations with families, which really broadens my understanding of things. I’m also interested and intrigued by how systems and institutions work, such as how the business side, guidance side, and admission side come together to support the academic mission of the School.

3. What do you like about working with the Lower School age group?

This age is known for teaching all of us habits of heart and mind. Little ones are so curious about the world; they are so open to new things. Other times, they are wildly wise: They say things and you’re just like, Oh my gosh, how do you have that understanding? They can be so funny, too. They’re at a silly age, and that combination of wonder, wisdom, and silliness is really beautiful. Plus, they love school, they love their teachers, and they love you. The joy they have when they come in is contagious. The best way to start your morning is watching these little ones tumble out of the car, because they are just so excited to get to school. They run in headfirst, and it’s just the best.

4. Are you looking forward to being on the DC campus one day?

Of course! There are going to be some really awesome opportunities for mentorship for our older kids. Our little ones adore the older kids. We had athletics teams come and talk with our kids, and the Horizon team met with our crew of our 3rd and 4th graders who started a newspaper. Just watching how excited the kids were that these older kids took them seriously, coached them, and gave them advice and mentorship was really special. It’s hard on a dual-campus to have those opportunities for intersection. It can be so powerful for the older kids as well. One of the boys’ basketball players who came by wrote a reflection about the best things that happened to him that year; he wrote about his time visiting the Lower School. There’s so much that older kids, who can be under a lot of pressure, get out of little kids’ enthusiasm for them and their excitement to know them.

5. You are famous for getting the entire Lower School to dress in Star Wars costumes for May the 4th. Obviously, you’re a huge Star Wars fan. What is your favorite Star Wars movie?

We started doing May the 4th as a silly way to have fun during the pandemic, to bring in some light and joy. And it just resonated with so many friends, and they took it and ran with it! So, true confession: I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan. I’ve only seen the three originals, and I don’t think I can pick one!

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Sidwell Friends Alumni Magazine is published three times a year for the community. It features School news, stories, profiles, and alumni Class Notes.

Email magazine@sidwell.edu with story ideas or letters to the editor.