Leadership Insights: Sustaining joy and endurance in the principalship: Leadership insights from a 14 year veteran, Dr. Sharon Newman
In a job that can easily go 24/7, Dr. Sharon Newman, 2018 PIC Cohort Alumna and Principal at Jess Harben Elementary in Richardson ISD, has found ways to promote balance. As a wife and mother of two, she repeatedly urges the importance of hard stops, taking personal days, and blocking out time for family. In fact, when we caught her for this interview on the last day of school, she was quick to share that her summer break would be all about her personal life and fun: “I am not going to be touching anything school related. My first two years as principal I was still hiring over the summer and I never really unplugged but now I learned to put it all away and not work.”
Creating structures for balance
This ability to set personal boundaries is one of the things that gives Sharon endurance, and sustains her joy after 14 years of school leadership. When asked what wellness looks like in her role, she explained: “It means that it's okay to close my door. It's okay to tell somebody that just stopped by, to say is this an emergency, if not I will come see you when I am completed. I set my boundaries, support my teachers, and have to be able to prioritize.”
Part of what helps Sharon maintain these boundaries is that she has built a culture of mutual understanding and respect with her faculty. “I recently had a staff member ask to leave early so she could see her daughter’s soccer team and I assured her that it wasn’t a problem. I want to make sure my teachers can be there for their family so that when they come back they can focus fully on their kids here… Plus, If I expect my team to understand when I have to leave campus for family reasons, then I need to understand that for them as well. To me, it’s all about mutual understanding and respect that you build with your people.”
Ashley Bouras, a staff member at Jess Harben, affirmed this culture and added that Dr. Newman excels in empathizing with others. “Dr. Newman runs the organization smoothly and with a human touch,” she shared. “It’s been invaluable because that empathy we receive makes us want to be at work. It would be really hard to find someone in this building who is unhappy.”
Another thing Dr. Newman emphasizes is advanced scheduling and clear communication. “If I have a certain time that I have to leave or I have an appointment, I communicate well with everybody around me. I calendarize it and make sure everybody knows I’m out of the building. If something happens during that time, then I’ve got a stream of people that know what to do. It’s all about strong communication.”
Finally, Dr. Newman recommends that school leaders create systems for distributive leadership to create margin in their own days and better lead their school. “Make sure you have people around you that can do pieces of the job and that you can trust to give certain responsibilities to. Build a system where you're not the only one that knows and does everything. Don’t pass off critical decisions, but choose the little things that maybe don't need as much time and attention.”
Reenergizing through professional development
When the demands of the job are still overwhelming, Dr. Newman believes that professional development opportunities can help to provide a perspective shift. “Solid staff development that is outside of the realm of the things you always do can be really reenergizing,” she said. One experience Dr. Newman benefited from was a two and a half day, on-site Deloitte Courageous Principals Training. “Getting off campus allowed my mind to open up,” she shared.
Dr. Newman also thanks her two year PIC 2018 Cohort experience for giving back the energy and passion she had for school leadership. “All the life and passion were gone and PIC helped bring that passion back. I was ready to leave school leadership altogether but PIC changed my life.”
Part of PIC’s impact was that it had been so different from her previous learning. “PIC was so different than anything I had ever done,” she explained, “in my doctorate program I dealt with things on a theoretical level but PIC was a personal journey where I could also develop myself in practice. I was able to learn from experts in wellness and experts in management theory, which no one ever talks about as principals.”
And while making time for these sort of leadership development opportunities can be difficult, Sharon shared that she feels grateful she took the time to invest. “Sometimes I was tired or I didn’t want to go, but I was always glad I did because it helped me to see things differently.”
We’re grateful that Dr. Newman was so positively impacted by the PIC program, and we have all the confidence in the world that she will continue to maintain joy as she enters her 15th year in the principalship.