What does achievement look like to you?

Sir Peter Medawar was a Brazilian-born English scientist.

In 1960 he was the co-winner of a Nobel Prize with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet for their pioneering work in tissue grafting which is the basis of organ transplants, and their discovery of acquired immunological tolerance

It’s fair to say that he, unlike me, was something of an academic. Grant me a little poetic license as I use the word scientist and academic interchangeably.

Over to you Sir Peter…

“To be a first-rate scientist it is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) to be extremely clever. One of the great social revolutions brought about by scientific research has been the democratization of learning. Anyone who combines strong common sense with an ordinary degree of imaginativeness can become a creative scientist, and a happy one besides, in so far as happiness depends upon being able to develop to the limit of one’s abilities.”

 “A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.”

“I believe in “intelligence,” and I believe also that there are inherited differences in intellectual ability, but I do not believe that intelligence is a simple scalar endowment that can be quantified by attaching a single figure to it—an I.Q. or the like.”

However in schools, academic excellence is reflected by a single figure – the ATAR in Australia, or the GPA in the US, or Grades in the UK. And these figures can be achieved for the most part by collecting and classifying facts; students often pursue this at the expense of exploring the limits of their ability due to the fear of failing.

Are we really pursuing academic excellence or are we just producing kids who succeed in school?

And while we’re on the subject of succeeding at school, what it is the prize of doing so? A university place?

If that’s the case then 70% of our kids are “failing” school, as only 30% of students in any one cohort go onto an undergraduate course.

This is another excerpt from my manifesto Still Trying to Find X

Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

The Virtuous Cycle

(Genuine) Engagement & Wellbeing enhance achievement, yet how many schools pursue achievement at the expense of engagement and wellbeing?

The following is an extract from my manifesto, “Still Trying to Find X”. 

 The Virtuous Cycle

It is essential that we create a Virtuous Cycle for all students in our schools.

The Virtuous Cycle relies on having positive relationships at its heart or hub.

Think of your own experience at school. It’s likely your favourite teacher taught one of your favourite subjects. It’s likely you engaged with the subject matter because of the teacher, rather than vice versa.

As well as interpersonal relationships, the relationships between achievement and purpose, the past, present and future, student goals and the relationship between school and the wider world are all crucially important to establishing the Virtuous Cycle.

Froh et al. (2010) found that adolescents who had a sense of engagement reported higher levels of wellbeing.

Andrew Howell (2009) states:

“Students who are flourishing are less likely to adopt an entity view of ability [ie they had “Growth” mindsets], more likely to endorse mastery approach goals, report higher levels of self-control and higher grades.”

Your own experience will tell you: when students achieve and see the wider relevance of their achievement, they engage on an even deeper level.

I believe schools need to pursue the Virtuous Cycle above and beyond all else. In doing so we’ll have students who:

  • feel good about themselves
  • have a sense of ownership over their education
  • feel valued in the school community
  • pursue learning for the sake of learning – not grades alone
  • are creative thinkers
  • are resilient
  • are physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually healthy
  • are aware of their strengths and how to use them to contribute to society
  • aren’t afraid to fail
  • are flourishing

You don’t need a doctorate to see that these kids are the kind we would benefit from having in our schools, families and communities:

Yes we get it right for some of our students.

But we need to get it right for all of them.

To do that, we need to think critically and creatively in order to Find X in our own individual schools.

Still Trying to Find X is available online please share it with your colleagues!


Still Trying to Find X

I’m pleased to announce that my first Education Manifesto is now available to download or collaborate with online.

Entitled Still Trying to Find X – Change Your Thinking, Change Your School, the manifesto explores some key ideas around the concepts of engagement, wellbeing and achievement.

I invite you to share the PDF or the weblink with those in your professional networks, and of course I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Click Here to download the PDF version of Still Trying to Find X

Check out Still Trying to Find X online and interactive at
In other news this week…
I’m giving the closing keynote at the Technology in K-12 Education Congress on Thursday – 24hrs after Sir Ken Robinson will have closed Day 1 of the congress – so no pressure there then! 🙂

And then on Friday I’m up on the Gold Coast giving the closing talk at the SOLD OUT Generation Next Conference at Bond University.

If you’re at either of these events stop by and say, “Hi!”