Boys have this thing…about learning: My NBEC2015 experience


NBEC tweets, diary, progam and pen

National Boys’ Education Conference (NBEC) at The Kings School in Parramatta, NSW.

Monday 5th October 2015

This afternoon I was fortunate enough to attend the pre-conference session at The King’s School. There were two sessions; the first facilitated by Dr Ed Dixon on Cognitive-Kinesthetics. Ed is a Canadian boys’ learning expert. His workshop was very much a hands on participatory and ‘fun’ way to spend a couple of hours. Boys need to WIN in our classes, using movement, game, humour, challenge, mastery and meaning can improve boys’ motivation. According to Dixon, these are the 6 secrets of boys’ learning.


Janus -past & future

The second session explored the idea of Character Education. Dr Steve Middleton (The Kings School staff member) presented the double faced Janus figure from ancient roman tradition who looks to the past and also to the future. He spoke of the need for a personal development and awareness of self that helps develop the character of boys.

I want to see you game boys,
I want to see you brave and manly,
and I also want to see you gentle and tender.
Be practical as well as generous in your ideals.
Keep your eyes on the stars
and keep your feet on the ground.
Courage, hard work, self mastery, and intelligent effort
are all essential to a successful life.
Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual
and of nations alike

– Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday 6th October

Dear Diary,

Today was the first official day of the conference.

Tim Hawkes (Headmaster of The Kings School) opened proceedings and officially welcomed delegates this morning: “Boys bring an energy and purpose to [schools]”

Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) then mesmerised the crowd with his story; I couldn’t bring myself to take my eyes and heart from him, he was so magnetic. He had beautiful movements, wonderful expressions and his whole being in those shiny black shoes seemed to float around the stage arms raised and then clasped beautifully at his waist. He spoke of his childhood in impoverished China, being selected to learn ballet, his journey to America, through to his current responsibility as a husband, father and Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet. Li’s honesty, integrity and dignity never faltered throughout.


Li Cunxin


My take home message; Our lives are not based on how long we live but on how we live our lives.

He encouraged us to raise our boys’ potentials to allow for the journey, to enjoy every step of the way and to keep aiming higher and higher. To work hard to realise what we are capable of and then some.

Professor Donna Cross had a hard act to follow but she delivered a powerful session looking at new social behaviours online, particularly the positive and negative impact on boys’ mental health. There were a couple of comments she made that really stuck with me:

  • teacher well being reflects student well being
  • we assess what we value and value what we assess (a plan for NAPSEL National Assessment Program for Social and Emotional Learning)s
  • on and off line for the young is seamless
  • boys on line gambling increasing at a quick pace
  • Adultelecence
  • “alcohol does to your brain what rain does to newspaper”
  • losing /watching weight more prevalent in boys 60%:55%
  • males less likely to seek formal help but will go to parents and friends -they are less likely to tell teachers!!

We then broke out into Lightning sessions where I chose to follow through with Relational Learning – 4 fast paced presentations about learning boys, relationships, enjoying school and Drama.

Dr. Simon Breakspear who presented a lively keynote on designing deeper learning in this digital age led the ‘siesta’ session. We cannot learn from someone else, says Breakspear, our learning must come from within. We must be more human, stop asking questions that can be answered using Google and Siri and start learning by doing.

Then into workshops again, did I tell you my head was pounding? This session was a little disappointing not because of what I chose but simply because the time was cut so short the presenter didn’t have a chance to get into the nuts and bolts and then it was time to leave.

I will remember this though:

P: “Oh you’re a secondary school teacher? What do you teach?”

T: “Children.”

And it still continued this first full day with Maile Carnegie and Joel Solomons holding the fort talking Google and educating the future. 




The highlight was the presentation of the new program Expeditions built on inspiration of Google cardboard. They encouraged us to launch the boys into the magical ‘learning’ years to come.

Wednesday 7th October

Dear Diary,

I’ve literally just returned from the National Boys’ Education Conference (NBEC) at The Kings School in Parramatta, NSW. I mean literally -I am sitting in my hotel room at the desk my husband has been hogging for the last three days. He’s not back yet from work in North Sydney!

I’m feeling rather calm at the moment though yesterday my head was pounding. Many of the delegates seemed tired on the way out today but for me, I was feeling okay. Not sure why, maybe it’s because I’ve been before, and knew what a great learning experience it is or maybe I don’t have that anxiety of many of the delegates who have already flown out, left the hotel, rushed to the airport or driving home in time for school tomorrow. I feel peaceful. I feel I have lots to talk about and lots more to follow up.

Thursday 8th October

Dear Diary,

Sorry, never got to finish the blog, dinner and drinks were waiting! Now on my way out to the airport so…



Friday 9th October

Dear Diary,

Back home now and just catching up on my adventures this week. The second and final day of the NBEC conference was just as good as the rest.

6 secrets

6 secrets of boys learning


First up this morning was an Ed Dixon comeback who revealed the 6 secrets of boys learning one at a time. This was followed by some more Lightning sessions, this time I attended the one on Mental Wellbeing – 4 power sessions including one facilitated by Glen Poole who attended and maintained a live blog during the conference. You can catch that one here.

The highlight of my day was the visit to the Prep School to watch the boys learning differentiated literacy.


Puppets for literacy learning


The two classes of boys were in ability groups working with three teachers and one teacher aide in an open plan learning space. There was activity going on wherever you looked. They were all learning and teaching fairy tales; in particular the story of the Three Little Pigs. There was a myriad of tasks through which the boys would eventually rotate from puppets telling stories, boys describing characters on Popplet then writing sentences, others completing writing tasks, building houses using Lego and colouring in pictures before ordering them to re-tell the story.

Wednesday’s ‘siesta’ session was the Workshops. I chose to attend Jill Sweatman‘s workshop “Fry my chips -not my brain!” She discussed the latest research in brain and education that looks at creating the right kind of environment to enhance learning.

And finally as at the beginning we come full circle; Tim Hawkes took to the stage for his last plenary keynote as Headmaster for the NBEC (he retires end of 2016). As always he gave a wonderful, dramatic and engaging session centred on ‘Who we are and what we say.’

Who are we? He asks.

We are Patrons, Professors, Prophets, Parents and Priests. We must be all these things to our boys. Teachers live forever, a little of us remains forever with our students, our children, our boys.

And so ended NBEC2015.


Thanks for reading 🙂

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One thought on “Boys have this thing…about learning: My NBEC2015 experience

  1. NBEC2015 was a great professional learning experience for me also Jo. The highlight was Li Cunxin and his amazing narrative. He gave a story with such hope – inspiring. I also enjoy meeting fellow educators and learning from them- all on the same journey.

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