How an educator realised he had a lot to learn

New school year, new job, new city, new season – it’s an adventure that came with equal parts excitement and obstacles for many thousands of Australians this week.

One such is Peter Gibson, who took on the new role of Dean of Operations at Barker College, where he will be assisting the Deputy Principal (Student Experience) as well as the Heads of Senior and Middle Schools – one of 60 new staff at the growing independent school on Sydney’s leafy north shore.

Peter, the former Head of Senior School and Deputy Principal at Shellharbour Anglican College, never imagined he would leave the small Christian school in a semi-rural area south of Wollongong, where he worked for nine years.

“I’m really missing the College and the community. I miss knowing everybody,” says Peter, with some emotion.

“I was very invested there. I knew every child, knew all the staff and parents. I loved being on bus duty, being in the playground with the students, working with teams of teachers, interactions with parents as much as walking down the street, getting a coffee at Bean Roasted Café in Kiama, or on the sideline at the Rugby Club and bumping into somebody from the SAC Community, you know, ‘Hello, Mr Gibson, how are you?’ I loved all that. My family were invested in the College community and we miss it deeply.”

“I can’t do my job on my own. I need God to sustain me, I need Jesus to walk with me.”

So why did Peter, with his wife Annette and three children – Micah, Year 12, Naomi, Year 10 and Annabelle, Year 8 – decide to come back to Sydney? What motivated him to leave a small Christian school of 80 staff and 720 students to become one of a thousand staff members at the huge and growing Barker College, which has 2871 students on 3 Indigenous Campuses and the Hornsby Campus? It’s all a result of how God has changed and humbled him.

“I went from being Head of Boarding at Trinity Grammar School [in Summer Hill, Sydney], to a small growing school on the south coast. I thought, ‘Yeah, I can make a difference, lead in growing a learning culture and be part of growing a community, a Christian community.’ With a motto of ‘In Christ alone.’ I thought, ‘yes, I can really work with that.’ I went there with a lot of confidence and I soon realised I had a lot to learn.

“In coming to Barker, I am very much on my knees. Whilst I’ve had a breadth of many wonderful experiences at Shellharbour, I’ve had some tough years as well. These have humbled me where I’ve realised that I can’t do my job on my own. I need God to sustain me, I need Jesus to walk with me particularly during the difficult times. I also must rely on God because he is in control of all things for his good purpose. And so, I come here on my knees, fully.”

As someone who was inspired to go into education by godly Christian men who saw education as a conduit to a ministry to proclaim the “great news”, Peter got to the point where he questioned whether he should continue in this path. This arose as a result of failed applications for principalships over the past few years and difficulties in the work environment. This led Peter to pray that God would change him for God’s good purpose. “In some respects, it’s a prayer you’ve got to be very careful of praying because God will do this and things can be turned upside down with obstacles placed in your way. He has tested me out.

“I also prayed that God would open my eyes to all opportunities to serve him,” he says.

“I never thought that we would be moving back to Sydney, though. Annette and I thought the Illawarra was where we were going to be. We had bought a couple of acres at Jamberoo, we were living a wonderful lifestyle, fishing, surfing, we knocked down our house and built a new one. I’d come home to a great view looking over the Jamberoo valley at the end of every day. We were part of a fantastic church at Jamberoo Anglican Church under the leadership of Rev Jodie McNeill. We were comfortable, very comfortable.”

“What’s most important is to live a life by faith and to serve others.”

But Peter also came to realise that a comfortable lifestyle was not what life is really about. “Those things are nice but not important. What’s most important is to live a life by faith and to serve others. Annette was supportive of that and my children were supportive too.” So Peter began asking God where he wanted him to serve.

“I was looking at all sorts of options and asking all sorts of questions. But when I let everything go and left it with God, things started to open up and the opportunity became available to work at Barker under the leadership of Phillip Heath” [the Principal of Barker College]. Phillip Heath was one of several godly educators who had a profound impact on Peter when he attended Trinity Grammar as a student.

“Phillip Heath was my boarding housemaster at Trinity as a new Year 7 and 8 boy,” he says.

“Phillip is a motivating and inspiring school leader and so it’s an exciting opportunity to work under such a wonderful Christian educator and leader as Phillip Heath. I’m looking forward to learning from him and working with him and others here at Barker.”

With his two daughters both at Barker and his son at the Kings School, the family are now looking forward to their new adventure in Sydney and Peter feels comfortable about not knowing what his new job will bring because God has taught him to ‘leave it to him”.