He begins by sharing his own experience with deficit as a young boy.
The internationally renowned education expert grew up in a small farming village in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.
“My village’s NAPLAN was 'how well can you ride a water buffalo?',” he jokes.
Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), Zhao fell into the bottom band of water buffalo riding, and other key farming skills, so his parents sent him to school.
Once there, he quickly discovered that mathematics was not his strong suit.
He was so bad at maths “yes, Asians can be bad at maths,” he jokes, that his teacher suggested he specialise in English.
That was the beginning of a decorated career in education, across which he has published more than 100 articles and written more than 30 books.
Zhao explains his nature and nurture philosophy behind education.
He believes all children are born with particular talents bestowed on them by nature, but those talents need to be met with a nurturing environment if they are to flourish.
According to Zhao, the very nature of schooling means that we operate within a deficit model from the get-go - because we only value certain characteristics in students, we try to create an environment in which everybody learns the same thing at the same time.
“Education has always been about turning diversity into homogeneity,” he says.
This, Zhao attributes to a school system which was designed to produce factory workers in the industrial era.
But in today’s dynamic work environment, we need schools which value diversity.
“Mediocrity doesn’t cut it anymore,” Zhao says.
Instead, students need to be unique and rise to greatness.
Delegates chuckle as Zhao gives the example of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, who was initially shunned for being different, until Santa needed a ‘GPS’ and suddenly Rudolph’s unique talent was recognised and put to good use.
He follows up by displaying an image of Kim Kardashian on the big screen, and delegates react with bemused laughter.
“Even Kim Kardashian has found a way to be useful,” Zhao says.
“If Kim Kardashian is useful anyone can be useful,” he exclaims.
He leaves educators with the notion that every child has a talent that’s worth developing.
No doubt many will gaze on the faces in front of them on Monday morning and look not for how each of them will fare on the next NAPLAN or ATAR assessment, but how to nurture each of them to make their mark on the world in their own unique way.
* Keep an eye out for the August edition of Australian Teacher Magazine to read our exclusive interview with Dr Yong Zhao.