The squiggly line of exceptional

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Mrs Emma Lowry, Assistant to the Dean of Students

Are our schools ‘fit for purpose’ to enable our girls to lead the world of the future?

Are schools in support of the linear line of progression or the squiggly line of exceptional?

To lead the world of the future, our girls need to be big, brave and bold. They need to become comfortable with discomfort, cultivate the difficult and embrace failure. The challenge of becoming exceptional is to traverse the squiggly line.

This is the idea Claudia Batten, New Zealand entrepreneur and keynote speaker, presented to delegates at the Creative Girls, Creative Women Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia Conference, earlier this year. In contrast to the squiggly line is the innocuous, and more commonly-recognised linear line. The linear line helps us to learn, fit in and to grow; it teaches us that if we do the work, we get the reward, and we move on. So we study hard. We sit the exam. We pass the test. Results are measured, planned and linear. However, take heed of Batten’s warning — she valiantly declares that the linear line fools us into being average (Batten, 2014).


And who wants to be average? Batten boldly argues that the linear approach is safe and comfortable and it teaches people that there is a positive outcome and positive movement forward for every action (Batten, 2014). In order to be creative and revolutionary, to be brave and to be curious — to be exceptional — more is required than measured and planned steps forward. Being exceptional requires movement sideways and backwards with twists and turns in a very non-linear fashion. It requires courage, embracing the difficult, and the determination to take risks and learn from mistakes.


‘An exceptional life is found not on the linear line, but found on the squiggly line’ (Batten, 2013).

The squiggly line pushes beyond comfort zones, which are, undeniably comfortable, safe and predictable. Risk is generally contained, performance has the capacity to plateau and it can be the breeding ground of complacency. However, the place where the most learning occurs and where the real magic happens, is in the zone of discomfort. Those who are willing to be courageous and to take risks will experience the most personal growth and reap the biggest rewards (Batten, 2014).


Undoubtedly, most of us like to operate within our abilities. Stepping beyond that puts us at risk of failure — it can be uncomfortable and difficult. At Brisbane Girls Grammar School, learning opportunities within the four walls of the classroom and beyond, are designed to provide our girls with a range of difficult situations — so they are challenged, they persevere and persist, with tenacity and grit. We reassure them that sometimes they may fail and that they can learn from mistakes, if overall, they have a growth mindset.  =

How comfortable are our girls with being uncomfortable and how well can they stand back and think how to get past problems?

As a representative of the School at the Lord Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, I have participated in many community-based events. Some of these experiences have taken me out of my comfort zone, but I have learnt so much about myself and others — things that I could never have learned just in a classroom. These experiences have helped me gain perspective and recognise that life is not without challenges, and it is how we face them that determines who we become. I feel better prepared for the challenges ahead, such as the upcoming International Young Leaders Forum, where I will again face uncertainty in the form of language and culture, unknown tasks and experiences and travelling away from home. (Phoebe, Year 10)

The Japan trip was one of the most amazing yet challenging experiences of my life! Being immersed in a foreign country, language, and culture I soon found that I needed to be flexible, to embrace my surroundings and to get involved as much as possible. In the beginning, I did not understand a lot about the culture and language, and communication was difficult. Unlike travelling with my family, this trip gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the culture, and perhaps one of the most valuable things I learned was that I can step out of my comfort zone. My Japanese has improved dramatically, and I have made many new friends and unforgettable memories. It’s an opportunity for which I am truly grateful. (Madeleine Year 11)

One way to describe Year 8 so far is that it’s like a roller-coaster. Sometimes there are ups and downs, but it’s great to share those times with supportive family, teachers, and friends. This ride however is always thrilling because there is a lot to learn each term. At Marrapatta some of us pushed our comfort zones and learnt that it’s alright to not always feel super secure. I definitely pushed my limits, being the first time I ever went to camp, and I learnt a lot from it. We were all willing to take risks, to challenge ourselves, to make mistakes, and then do it all over again. (Maria, Year 8)

Don’t let failure define us; let it refine us!

The reality of the squiggly line is that stumbling blocks will come up. The secret to success is to anticipate the brick walls and develop strategies to not let them impede the upward trajectory. In the words of clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller, it is about the concept of being resilient and having the ‘happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life — to rise above adversity and obstacles’ (2014). In the academic setting, educational psychologist, Andrew Martin (2002) refers to the ability to effectively deal with setback, stress or academic pressure as having ‘academic resilience’. And Angela Duckworth speaks of demonstrated resilience and persistence in overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a larger goal as ‘grit’ (as cited in Schott, 2014). Gritty students will experience failure, yet have the necessary mindset, thought processes and habits, to enable them to persevere and continue moving forward … along the squiggly line.

In the 21st century workforce where lineal expectations are not the norm and grit is certainly favoured, the life-wide learning journey will be a permanent requirement for personal and professional growth. Research by Duckworth and Sedlacek (cited in Dabber, 2014) signifies that factors such as motivation, ability to handle failure and goal orientation promotes success at university, as well as later in life.

Batten concurs, “When interviewing, I assume you are smart. I don’t really care how well educated you are. I care about your flexibility of thinking, your attitude and your attention to detail.” She goes on to say that for ‘generation flux’ and the millennials who follow, change is the new normal (Batten, 2014). Business leaders value creativity; and whilst renowned futurist, Morris Miselowski predicts that in the next 35 years, 60 per cent of us will be doing jobs that do not currently exist (cited in Craw, 2014), the key to survival is being able to adapt. It is not what you know today that is important — ‘it’s how you acquire, refine and apply new knowledge for tomorrow’ (D’Souza, 2013).

No one denies that knowledge development is an important cornerstone of education. For our current generation to be adaptable to the ever changing global future, collaborative problem solving, digital literacy, intercultural understanding, and critical and creative thinking are principal, and so are the squiggly line variables of discomfort, risk, failure and grit. Students at Brisbane Girls Grammar School are willing to give up the familiarity of the known and embrace their discomfort in order to take risks in their learning, to stretch and grow — regardless of whether it be in the language classroom, the science lab, the drama rooms, at Fig Tree Pocket or on an international study tour.

The Creative Girls, Creative Women Alliance challenged schools to be ‘fit for purpose’ to enable girls to lead the world of the future. At Brisbane Girls Grammar School we are devoted to exceptional scholarship. Our Intent, underpinned by our Organising Principles, articulates the School’s dedication to developing women who value diversity, who are creative, who are curious and confident, and women who have the dynamic thinking skills and the ability to continuously adapt to change. We are confident that we are creating the climate for the current generation to walk the squiggly line and to be big, brave and bold as they stride into the ever-changing world of tomorrow.


Batten, C. (2013, Feb 21). Ignite Boulder 20.

Batten, C. (2014). Why creativity? In Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia (Ed.), Creative Girls Creative Women Conference. Wellington: New Zealand.

Craw, N. (2014, April 24). Futurist Morris Miselowski predicts the jobs we’ll be doing in 2050. [Technology].

D’Souza, F. (2013). LinkedIn: Cognizant CEO Says Discomfort is the New Comfort Zone. Cognizant.

Dabber S. (2014). Grit: redefining a quotient for college admissions. AdmisssionSmarts.

Fuller A. (2014). Andrew Fuller. Learning to Learn: South Australian Teaching for Effective Learning.

Martin A. (2002). Motivation and academic resilience: developing a model for student enhancement. Australian Journal of Education. (June 1).…-a091563893

Schott S. (2014). “How children succeed “book club” part 1: Grit. Yes Prep Public Schools.

Published 31 July 2014