7 Questions with Alex Wharton

Name: Alex Wharton

Current title: Head of Middle School

Current organisation: Carinya Christian School, Gunnedah NSW (Australia)

Alex Wharton is establishing a secondary high school in rural NSW, Australia. He is described by colleagues as “infectiously enthusiastic and a visionary Christian educator and leader”. Alex strives to visibly make Christ known in and out of the classroom. Drawing on his extensive teaching experience as an English literature teacher and school Chaplain, Alex is passionate about sharing gospel stories with students and staff alike. He holds a Masters of Educational Leadership (Macquarie University) and a Preliminary Theological Certificate from Moore College (Sydney). Alex is married to Jenny, and together they have one daughter, Evelyn.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?

“Mr Wharton, if we know God created the world, why doesn’t this Geography textbook acknowledge that?” This thoughtful question was posed to me by a Year 7 student mid-lesson as we were discussing different types of landscapes and landforms in the world. This perceptive question also reflects a much wider challenge facing all Christian school leaders, and one I feel acutely, of how do you manage external curriculum demands and requirements, with faithfully teaching and growing a biblical worldview in all aspects of school life? In many educational contexts, school leaders feel enormous pressure to meet regulatory demands to teach content from the curriculum authorities whilst at the same time, wanting to rightly prioritise Christian teaching and learning at the forefront of our work.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

As soon as my toes touch the ground in the morning, I am praying over my day and relying on Him and the Word. Mentally preparing my heart and mind for what God has in store for me, I refer to my to-do list which I wrote the afternoon before, and seek to tackle the hardest jobs first. When at work, I am focussed on people - students and staff, using my time to invest in them. My teaching timetable is peppered throughout the day, and in between lessons, I am encouraging, discipling, disciplining, mentoring, coaching, and reflecting. After school, I use the quiet afternoon to chew through and action my email (people during the day, paperwork in the afternoon). In the evening I spend time with my family, later preparing tomorrow’s to do list and finishing the day as we started, by praying!

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Continuing to think of the power of ‘we’. After returning to school from a holiday break and being out of routine, I was quick to remember that great Christian leaders think of the power of ‘we’, not ‘I’. Effective Christian leaders think ‘them’, not ‘me’. I know that my role as a school executive member is to make my team of teachers thrive in their work. As John Donne reminds us, “No man is an island” and my school community is so precious and special that it does not take long to remember that ‘we’ creates trust and builds a Christ-centred culture.

4. What one book has had the most profound impact on your Christian school leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

‘Wisdom in Leadership’ by Craig Hamilton (2015) remains the single most influential Christian leadership literature in my life to date. I look back and see how God has grown me in both church and school leadership roles, as I have journeyed and applied the wisdom found in these pages. This practical book has 78 bitesize chapters (literally, a couple of pages each) and has further developed my view of others to be one of humble service and example. The book challenges you to love others deeply, and rightly so! We are in the business of changing and shaping lives, let this truth happen ourselves from the inside out.

5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?

We know from the wisdom in Psalm 127:1 that “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain,” and so all our staff recruitment strategies begin in prayer. I pray, “Lord, you are our great provider, you know our staffing needs, please raise up the Godly men and women of You. This is Your school Lord, please bring who You want!” In terms of staff retention, sharing community and being a part of the vision and school’s journey is so important. Invest in your teachers, pray for them and with them regularly, encourage them, visit them at church, and together put Jesus in the centre and there is no where else we’d rather be!

6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

All of us are made in His image and likeness, therefore, we need to apply Biblical principles of rest and refreshment. We want to encourage a culture where Sunday is a day with the Lord, no email, no work, but Church, fellowship, family. Leading and creating this culture by example means we need to be intentional. Helping all students and staff see themselves as being fearfully and wonderfully made is at the heart of knowing our purpose and serving Jesus joyfully!

7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a Christian school leader so far?

With two arms full of books, and reaching for my car keys, the inevitable happens and my book stack goes all over the concrete floor of the school car park. Two students walk by, see what has happened and immediately come and help me. As they are gathering my books together, they see one of the books is a Bible and one of them says, “Mr Wharton, I know you’re a Christian. Well I’m not one of those...but after hearing the way you talk about God so passionately and reflecting on what he has done in your life, I think I might just have some questions for you. Do you think it would be okay if I came along to the group Bible study tomorrow lunch?”