National Boys Education Conference

Mr Mark Wyer – Preparatory School Deputy and Head of Pastoral Care

At the end of the first week of term, I had the opportunity to visit the King’s School in Sydney for the National Boys Education Conference. This provided educators from around Australia and New Zealand the opportunity to listen to national and international experts on boys’ education.

An interesting and common thread that was apparent during the conference was the notion of what is needed for our boys to flourish in the 21st Century. Guy Claxton raised the idea that achievement tests predict only a small fraction of the variance in later-life success. He believes that character strengths such as perseverance, self-control, attentiveness, resilience, openness to experience and empathy to tolerance of diverse opinions is, as he argues, what is needed for our boys to succeed. These character strengths have strong effects on educational attainment but have additional effects on important life outcomes beyond their effects on schooling. He also believes that these character strengths can be enhanced  and there are proven ways to do so. He continued on with the example of the Oxford University entrance interviews. As you can imagine, the caliber of candidate is quite high to gain entry into the university. The university sought to take a different approach to interviewing students and determine who would be a suitable fit for their university and also who would then succeed in the workplace. The university was prepared for the well rehearsed and practiced responses they would get from the students around the traditional interview questions. They then decided, without warning or pretext,  to ask a question that was totally off topic and unexpected. The type of question they asked was something like: Well Felicity, why do you think manhole covers need to be round? What they were seeking was not a correct answer but ultimately to see how the students responded  in a state of ‘learning agility’. The were looking for the ability of that student, to what he called, was able to ‘Flounder Intellectually’ and come up with a response that enabled them to think on their feet, speak with some degree of intelligence on the topic and ‘flounder intellectually’ in a stressful situation. It was those students that handled the ‘learning agility’ test that gained entrance into the university. It was those students who had the knowledge and necessary grades but also coupled with the character strengths required and the ability to ‘flounder intelligently’, found their way into the university. How often do we as teachers and parents prepare our boys for the standard interview question, or prepared responses to questions and assignments when we really need to be teaching them how to think on their feet and pose questions to tricky life questions?

We also had the chance to listen to the story of Mark Donaldson. Mark received the Victoria Cross for his efforts in an Afghanistan conflict zone. His story of troubled youth and family breakdown was inspirational to all in attendance. From the death of his father at a young age, to the disappearance of his mother, not long after and his troubled years as a young man, was the story of choice, bravery, courage and discipline that led him to receive the Victoria Cross. His story is very poignant to him but his message can be easily applied to all of us in life. He believes that discipline is greater than motivation, everything is a choice, every individual is different and has walked a different path, knowledge rarely changes behaviour, his purpose was his family (blood and military) and that we all have VC courage inside each of us. It is a story worth sharing with our boys.

I believe the time was well spent on gaining further insights in to boys and what we need to examine more closely to be able to best cater for our boys. It was also very re-affirming to see the great work we do each day at Prep was supported by latest research and best practice.

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