Author: Rachel Doherty | Tweens 2 Teen.

If you’re about to walk into school for the first time as a chaplain, there’s a few things you probably don’t know about the job yet. If you want to make the best start possible, it’s worth thinking through these five things that can stump even the best of chaplains.

Until you’re there at school, it’s difficult to grasp how the role really works. That’s because every school uses their chaplain in their own unique way. Some chaplains are more involved in the class work of kids. Others run support programs for those who are falling through the cracks. Some chaplains do a lot of extra-curricular activities, and others do none.

Being a chaplain is about serving your school and the broader community. It’s about caring for those in need and contributing to the culture within your school.

Rachel Doherty

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

Starting as a school chaplain

Congratulations! I bet you’re excited to be starting your new job soon.

It’s such a unique job and I’m sure you’re going to love it. But there’s also some parts of the job that aren’t always clear on the job description. It’s easy to get a picture in your head of hanging out with the kids all day and playing handball. But the job of a chaplain is far more complex than that.

The first few weeks as a school chaplain are so important that I’ve written a free program to help. It takes you through the foundations of a great chaplaincy, week by week.

But if you’re into working things out on your own, this is what you should focus on in your first few weeks:

  • Get a feel for the culture of your school and it’s wider community. Understand the strengths and weaknesses. The triumphs and challenges.
  • Find out where you fit into the academic program. Some schools separate social and emotional learning from the ins and outs of numeracy and literacy. Others are more holistic. Both ways can have great outcomes for kids, but look quite different.
  • Read all the policies and procedures. There are lots of processes in schools that you need to know. Find out what your role is in an emergency. Learn how the school cares for kids who are hurt, sick, hungry or sad. And the ones who break the rules.
  • Meet the kids. Make the most of break times to interact with the students and get to know who they are and what they like about school. Or don’t like. Find out who are the movers and shakers, and who are the quiet ones.

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

5 challenges of being a chaplain

Starting a new job can be overwhelming, and school chaplaincy is no different. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get ready and go in with your eyes open. Here’s five challenges of the job you should know about.

1. It can be a lonely job

Most school chaplains have three masters to serve. Their principal, their employer’s line manager and then a community committee as well. They can all have different opinions about what you should be doing and how they’d like you to do it.

There’s also the challenge of working for one organisation while working in another. Most school chaplains develop a great sense of belonging, but it’s not an automatic thing. It takes time to develop.

Make an effort in the early days to be social and get to know the people you’re working with. Don’t hide in your office or skip off early at the end of the day. Schools are busy places. Look for ways you can contribute to the smooth running of the place.

Get hooked into professional supervision early too. This is a great place to nut out difficulties you’re having trying to balance different expectations. You can also sort through the feelings of being on your own when they crop up. If you don’t have a supervisor yet, check out my page on professional supervision.

2. It’s not all fun with the kids

There are administrative tasks that need doing. Fundraising, paperwork, professional development. Lots of people who become school chaplains do it because they want to work with kids. They’re people people. But don’t let that passion hide the less glamorous tasks from your mind altogether.

Timetable periods of administration into your schedule and get a bit done every week. Don’t put it off until the end of term thinking it will be easier to do it in one hit. That’s just setting yourself up to feel overwhelmed!

3. Your training has only just begun

Chaplains need not just formal training but informal. There’s a lot to learn in the first year of being a school chaplain. Here’s the basic’s I’d aim for:

  • A first aid course
  • Some group work training
  • Youth Mental Health First Aidor a similar course
  • And if you haven’t done specific training in how to support young people going through a tough time, find a workshop on counselling skills

There can be a lot of commitments for school chaplains that fall in your own time. If you have a family or other responsibilities, negotiate what you’ll on your days off early.

Try and make it to everything you can in the first few terms to learn more about the culture and community of your school. Then pull back if you need to.

4. It’s a long-term role, not a short one

You can’t rush in and start doing your own thing. Patience is an essential quality for all school chaplains.

In your first few weeks, observe; find out what people want. Relationships is the heart of school chaplaincy. If you’re just starting out as a chaplain, have a look at the 6 connections you should focus on in your first term or two.

When it comes to what things you do, pick up what others have done and see how things play out. It can take a while to put your own stamp on your chaplaincy. But if you do it with respect, most schools will give you space once you’ve earned their trust and proven yourself to be professional and reliable.

5. There’s a lot of grown ups to care for too

The role of a chaplain isn’t just limited to the kids. There are parents, teachers, other staff and the broader community to care for too. Your role is to be a linker. To help people access support in difficult times; to feel part of a community.

Don’t box yourself in as just there for the kids. Be professional.

Being a school chaplain can be so rewarding. It’s a job that can bring you into contact with the most vulnerable children in our country. And you can make a real difference in their ability to not only stay in school, but thrive in it.

If you’re heading to school for the first time in the next few weeks, check out my article on what your first days as a school chaplain should look like. And don’t forget my a 10 week program to walk you through your first term. It’s completely free and starts with a workbook to help you get yourself ready.

Rachel Doherty