What I love about Punchbowl Boys High School

Wow. Look what happens in a school community when you accentuate the positive.

I spent yesterday’s SDD with the staff at Punchbowl Boys High. 

I was previously there about 15 months ago (when the school was in rebuild mode) to run a workshop on critical and creative thinking. This time it was how to teach Design Thinking (students producing their own creative solutions to real-world problems). 

Although I was supposed to be the one doing the teaching I learned some great lessons from staff while I was there. 

  1. Don’t forget to encourage your students. It can produce lifelong benefits. Principal Robert Patruno made this simple point to his staff by relaying a recent conversation he had with an ‘old boy’ of the school describing the effects encouragement by his teachers had on him.
  2. When problems arise in your school be innovative not reactive. Punchbowl Boys High is seeing encouraging results after implementing several new initiatives and student programs (and my favourites: creating a specialist CCT teacher role, and building a design thinking space :) !!)
  3. The teachers who make the most difference are committed to, and focused on, their students’ learning. Yesterday there was no talk of targets, scores or data collection. The discussions revolved solely around ‘how do we engage and empower our students?’
  4. The teachers who make the most difference are always open to improving their own practice. While I do understand, and empathise, that a few teachers out there have become cynical towards professional learning   the sense of expectation, openness and interest from the PBHS staff yesterday was obvious. It was a credit the way that teachers grappled with new concepts until they were understood. (I knew it was going to be a good PD day when every teacher arrived with a pen!)

As a teacher of 24 years  I know it is very easy to become cynical about teaching. But, if left unchecked, cynicism spreads like a cancer and no good can possibly come of it. But, as we kick off the new term, PBHS gives us all a timely reminder that when a school community persists with the positive then positive change will surely come. 

Every school, just like Punchbowl Boys High School, is on a challenging journey. Read this article and feel positive about your destination. 

James Phelps


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Punchbowl Boys High School shrugs off insular image and embraces new attitudes

AFTER many challenging years, one of the country’s most controversial public schools is being turned around by a passionate principal and a rock band following in Silverchair’s footsteps.

Punchbowl Boys High School was in a contentious place when former head Chris Griffiths and his deputy, Joumana Dennaoui, were sacked over poor relationships with police and concerns the Muslim majority school had refused to implement a deradicalisation program, despite authorities’ concern about potential radicalisation of students at the school.

Now, 15 months into a new era under principal Robert Patruno, Punchbowl Boys is being led back into the light with a whole new image, a culture of openness and closer links to the community.

Police liaison officers are regularly visiting the 90 per cent Muslim school once again, addressing students and mentoring them as part of a new “open doors” policy.

Muslim prayer meetings and religious education are still being held, and there is also a strong focus on traditional Australian values of respect and tolerance.

Punchbowl Boys High threw open its doors exclusively to The Saturday Telegraph yesterday to reveal the phoenix-like resurgence of the much-maligned school. And its recent successes are shining brightly.

Mr Patruno, who has spent his career working in some of the state’s toughest education environments, said a Punchbowl student had just become one of the youngest recruits ever accepted into the NSW Police Academy at Goulburn.

And another Punchbowl boy has just won entry to a camp for the American space program at Houston.

“Police are coming in to mentor the boys once a fortnight and we have also had top lawyers, accountants and sports stars such as (NRL legend and former Balmain Tiger) Wayne Pearce here to address them. We are setting an expectation for best practice,” Mr Patruno said.

“We are teaching them goal-setting, to become better leaders, to take safe risks, to test limits and to think outside the box.”

And his efforts are producing rewards for his young charges.

“Last year 47 per cent of our Year 12 students received university offers,” Mr Patruno said.

Since he began at the school, Mr Patruno has dug deep into its proud six-decade past in a bid to secure its future.

The principal is harnessing the power of high-achieving old boys who attended the school, including former Australian Test fast bowlers Jeff Thomson and Lennie Pascoe, who graced its cricket first XI in the late 1960s.

The school foyer has been pulled apart and revamped with memorabilia and tributes to the school’s sporting heroes and past glories to serve as an inspiration for the 500 boys enrolled.

Among the visitors has been old boy and AMP board member Trevor Matthews, who has addressed Year 11 and Year 12 students about his long journey to the upper echelons of the business world since leaving school.

Mr Matthews, who emphasised the importance of studying hard, working with the teachers and making the most of any opportunities, is such a proud former Punchbowl student that he wore his old school tie from 50 years ago.

Since his arrival early last year, when the school was at rock bottom in the wake of the departure of its principal and deputy, Mr Patruno has taken Punchbowl Boys High on quite a ride.

He said the school now has 366 separate activities on the go.

Students have been given a strong insight into Australia’s war history, such as Gallipoli and the Western Front, along with involvement in White Ribbon Day and a new emphasis on well-being.

Photo: https://twitter.com/pbhsofficial

Photo: https://twitter.com/pbhsofficial

But much of the Punchbowl recovery is being led by the students themselves, such as the recent success enjoyed by the school’s inspirational rock band, which beat all comers to take out the 2018 YouthRock Band Competition — won by a young Silverchair back in the 1990s.

With their own brand of “sweet and spicy” fusion music, the band, which calls itself 320 after the room number of their teacher, Michael White, epitomises the changes at Punchbowl Boys.

“We had to buy musical instruments for the boys so that they could practise at home,” Mr Patruno said.

“To win the competition they beat selective schools, gifted and talented schools and private schools.

“A Sony Music representative came to listen to them, saw something in the boys and is now mentoring them.”

The band, which won $2000 worth of instruments, a professional photo shoot, legal advice and five days’ recording time, is receiving technical assistance and advice as a platform for the future.

Yoosuf Mohamed, 16, who plays piano and guitars, said the group had been together for four years and was “gaining traction for the school”.

“I would like this school (image) to be more rectified as regards the public,” Yoosuf said.

“We get kids come in here to the music room and ask us how to play.”

Lead singer Micah Papalii-Talani, 16, added: “You don’t normally hear that people with a musical background come from Punchbowl, so we want to show how it is for us.”

Music teacher Michael White, a former drum major at Western Sydney University, said the band had a “very unique sound”, blending different genres and styles.

“They are a pleasure to teach. We’re on the verge of putting them on Spotify and iTunes,” he said.

‘The boys write their own songs about life experiences and influences.

“It’s a collaborative effort and one of them, called My Way, is about growing up in Punchbowl.”

Source: https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/punchbowl-boys-high-school-shrugs-off-insular-image-and-embraces-new-attitudes/news-story/7743a48f569799e58d8d47898cc00702