This TEDx talk by Jihad Dib, the Principal at Punchbowl Boys High, captures the essence of strengths-based practice and highlights the importance of community engagement. In the school of around 450 students, 65% of the students come from the bottom quarter of the Community Socio-Educational Advantage index and 98% of them have a language background other than English.
When he was offered the job as acting principal, people said to him:
You’re wasting your time.
It’s a dead end school for dead beats.
These kids aren’t worth it.
In his words, “Too many had given up on the school.” Jihad Dib didn’t accept this, knew the kids were worth it and decided to make the school the best it could be.
When he started as the relieving Principal in 2007 (he was appointed as the permanent principal two years later) it was a real problem school. In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, he recalls it in the following terms:
It was so different then. Just the damage, the violence, the fights, the complete disrespect … Kids breaking windows and kicking doors. It was senseless. You were forever watching.
In an interview with the ABC he suggests:
Our biggest challenge was to get the kids to believe in the school and to believe in the possibilities.
In the TEDx talk he explains how he wanted to, “Create a sense of belonging, a community, a school family.” He puts the success down to three things:
- Softening the hard edge of the boys by, “Focusing on the good stuff, not just the problems. We tried to catch them doing the right thing and acknowledge them for that.”
- Empowering their staff – the heart and soul of the school.
- Engaging our community (which he suggests was the most critical).
He started with the simple process of him and the deputy principals being at the front gate of the school each morning where he could greet the boys and build relationships with the families. He was “building relationship every single day.”
As he pointed out to the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s quite unfair to rely on NAPLAN (national numeracy and literacy testing) results as there are so many other factors involved. He measures success by things like:
- The attitude of the boys and the decrease in violence and problems.
- School enrolments have doubled and there is now a waiting list of staff wanting to teach at the school
- The community dinner has gone from 50 people to 600
- In 2014, 65% of the boys went on to further education compared to only 30% eight years earlier.
It’s well worth listening to the whole talk.
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