7 Questions with Charlie Mooney
Name: Charlie Mooney
Current title: Director (Head of School)
Current organisation: International Christian School-Pyeongtaek in Korea
I've been at ICSP for 8 years and have been the head of school for the last 3 years. I'm a native of Arkansas (USA) and came to Korea with my family to serve at ICSP as the high school Bible teacher. I have four children under 12 years of age, and I've been married for 20 years. At present, I'm pursing a masters degree in educational leadership.
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
The thing I've found most challenging really shouldn't be a surprise, given my theological training and beliefs. It's that people are messy sinners. I serve a great school with committed, Jesus-loving teachers, but we are all still sinners whose flesh gets in the way of harmony and getting the job done. I've had to learn that Christians (myself included) are just as capable of poor behavior and eccentricities as anyone else. To the degree that I learn to remove them from a holy pedestal, I get better at leading my team. Of course, that's not to say that we don't aim for Kingdom values and actions.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I'm in the habit of getting to work very early when the office is quiet and distraction free. I do this also because my family is still asleep and I don't sacrifice time with them. I can catch up on work or focus on my own study of the Bible and prayer. I leave work with everyone else at 4pm and almost never take work home with me. I put my children to bed and spend some time with my wife for about an hour before we're off to bed. I aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I lead a small school, and we often call ourselves a family. To a degree, that is a wonderful sentiment that serves us well. There is, however, an important way in which a school is not like a family. I was reading John Maxwell's "5 Levels of Leadership" this week and he put it in a way I knew but had never articulated.
In a family, community precedes contribution. Even if my wife and kids don't contribute, I love and include them unconditionally. In a business (even a school), contribution precedes community. We do love one another, but, if you can't contribute to the mission and function of the school, you will eventually not be included. That isn't to say that we don't approach one another with grace and patience, but, at the end of the day, our school is a mission of Jesus with Kingdom work to get done.
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?
As previously mentioned, I'm currently reading Maxwell's "5 Levels of Leadership" for a graduate course. It is basic and really pretty simple, but the concepts have been very helpful to me in thinking about how I balanced the relationships with the need for results.
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
I don't know that I have an answer that is dripping with great wisdom, but my first objective in the interview is to find mission-mindedness. Does this teacher want to come to ICSP because he or she believes in the mission of ICSP specifically and of Christian education broadly? I lead in the international school setting, so I get a significant number of Christian (and even non-Christian applicants) who just want to see the world.
I believe even the best candidates have mixed motives, and that's OK, but I need to know that mission is first on the list. Loving Jesus doesn't mean you'll make a great teacher who will put in the time, prayer, and effort to love students with the love that God loves us. Keeping them, then, is a matter of continually reminding ourselves that our mission is to serve our Lord Jesus in his work. We have an annual theme related to this and go over it repeatedly throughout this year. This sense of calling and the joy of pleasing our Lord gets us through the hard days and probably makes those who remain on mission remain longer than they may have otherwise.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
Listening is the most important skill a leader needs to promote wellbeing. It's remarkable how it so often makes others feel better, even if you don't do anything at all. Careful and sincere listening to staff and students can also give the sensitive listener hints that small things are becoming big things. If you can act before they become big things, you can save your organization a lot of unnecessary grief.
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?
This is not a story that reflects well on a decision I made. Many years ago, I made the decision to expel a high school senior for drug possession. In that moment and ever since, I have regretted the way I handled it.
Over 10 years later, that young man (almost 30 years of age) contacted me and asked me why I expelled him. He explained to me how it made things worse. I wept with him. I didn't try to go through my thought process at the time, but I did tell him I was deeply conflicted even at that moment and that I deeply cared for him. A burden seemed to be lifted from his shoulders. We prayed and slowly restored our relationship. We are now friends and have kept in touch over the last few years. We talk about our kids and how he is trying to walk with the Lord after a hard-spent youth.
As a Christian school leader this just reiterated that Christian education should always be about connecting meaningfully with students. For various reasons related to my own negative feelings about him at the time, I never did connect with him as a student. I didn't go far enough to extend grace and help. I thank God that he gave me a second chance with this young man. I'm now more sensitive about the first chances.