Seeing, naming and participating: the work of school leaders

One of the great challenges of the work of Uniting Church school chaplains and school principals is to be receptive to God’s Spirit moving in their communities. Our schools are full of the joy of children and the energy of youth. When you meet at a school you can feel the vitality of youth throbbing through the culture of these important places.

However, schools are not only celebrations of youth and places for learning. Clearly, learning is central to the work of schools; however they are also places where the Spirit of God moves among the community. We know God moves ahead of us and that faith and the values of the Gospel are gifts and graces from God (Eph 2: 1 John 4).

The role of school leaders is to be much more than functionaries of the institution. Every day, our chaplains and principals see the work of God enacted before them in acts of reconciliation; members of the community championing justice and fairness; love and kindness enacted between distant peers; lives changed and directions altered; forgiveness given and received. It is these transformative moments that give schools their momentum and energy, and call the staff and parents into partnership with the children who are at the centre of these communities.

The great art of our chaplains and principals is firstly, to see these actions and be consciously aware and grateful for them. Like any workplace, the familiar can become an accepted ‘norm’. Gifted leaders are constantly aware of the movement of the Spirit of God to transform people and look to ‘see’ these events anew with fresh eyes.

Secondly, the gifted leaders of our Church Schools can name these things, not just as haphazard human events, but as signs of God amongst us. Naming these things as actions of God among us  is the prophetic role that particularly our chaplains play on behalf of the whole of the church.

Finally, our leaders create and nurture cultures and environments where the Spirit of God can work through the community continuously refreshing and renewing. Good leaders not only see and  name the work of God, but look to be willing participants; co-workers with God’s Spirit in acts of renewal, love, faith and justice.

Seeing God at work amongst the community; naming God’s work to the community and finally participating with God’s action is the enormous privilege of our leaders in Uniting Church schools.  Of course, when demonstrated by the leaders of our Uniting Church schools, staff and parents also become contributors in these Gospel events. We are well served by our chaplains and principals  who represent us to their communities and articulate the actions of God amongst them.


I am privileged to return to Western Australia and work two days a week in the Uniting Church Centre as the Executive Officer, Schools and Residential Colleges. This is a role already in existence in NSW/ACT, QLD, Vic/Tas and SA.

Since ordination in 1990, I have served the church and school communities in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria I have most recently held the positions of Principal of Caulfield Grammar School, Melbourne and Headmaster of Scotch College, Perth. My current role is to work with chairs of School Boards, principals and chaplains on the processes and actions that add value to the mutual relationship between church and school. It is a significant privilege and joy to be back in WA with some of my family and I look forward to my work within the Uniting Church WA.

Rev Andrew Syme. Executive Officer: Schools and Residential Colleges for the Uniting Church WA

Top image: Jim Walker, Chair of Wesley College Council, Ross Barron, Headmaster at Wesley College and Rev Nalin Perera, Chaplain at Wesley College. Picture was taken during Ross Barron’s recent Commissioning as Headmaster of the school.

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