Bold Declarations of Intent

Making “Bold Declarations of Intent” has been shown to raise achievement in children, so why aren’t we making these for our schools and Children’s Services?

The idea of asking the Just One Thing question came to me when I was reading policy documents about behaviour and I couldn’t get a real sense of the underlying philosophy driving the recommendations. I asked my colleague who had jointly drafted the paper what he really believed would improve behaviour in schools. He said that he thought that if teachers stopped trying to control the students and instead understood more about where the behaviour was coming from then discipline would improve in all schools. We then skimmed through the draft paper together to discover that there was no mention of this idea therein. Rather, we found plenty of advice, procedures and recommendations about behaviour policies and staff roles and responsibilities.

That was a number of years ago. Not long after, I attended an event at our son’s, high achieving, boys’ grammar school where the Head Teacher referred to a single school goal: that the boys should feel at ease with themselves.


The Single Question

That set me off asking the Just One Thing question more frequently. I asked the Head Teacher of a secondary school for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties if she could only give the students one thing, what would that be? She answered that it would be to feel as thought they were valuable and worthwhile human beings.

The staff in this particular school do a great job and are very encouraging to all students. However, this Single Goal is rarely discussed in any meeting I have attended and did not appear in any of the school’s written policies at that time.


A short while later, I was taking part in a Warm-Up activity that asked us to say what one thing we would like to achieve for the community. I thought for a bit and came up with the following: for young people and the elderly to be able to have fun together. Although this was not a prepared response, I still stand by this as a goal I would be proud to work towards.

This month marks the end of my time as manager of one team as I take on responsibility for a newly formed team, some of whom I know and some I have never met before. I am having to make some decisions on Team priorities and so am engaging in conversations with colleagues from both old and new teams.

I asked Jan, experienced Counsellor and Family Support Worker to reflect on her experience with families of children who were at risk of school exclusion. I asked her what one thing would make the most difference to these families. Jan replied that the single thing that would make the greatest impact would be if parents didn’t argue back.

Another colleague, overhearing this conversation said that this could be re-phrased as if teachers didn’t argue back, reaping similar benefits for teacher-student relationships.

I asked two Attendance Support Officers a similar question: In your experience, what single thing would make the biggest difference to school attendance? Kim answered that it would definitely be if parents had a sense of purpose in their own lives. Debbie agreed but added, if all parents felt at home and welcomed in their children’s schools.

What stops us asking the question?

I have a theory about why we fail to ask the Single Question. It makes us face up to the current reality and the really difficult issues that require people to change not only what they do, but how they think.

It is far easier to fill files with policies and procedures that can be delivered as instructions without challenging the existing paradigm, or frame of reference.

Outcome-Based Acountability

I came across OBA (Friedman, 2005) a couple of years ago and my ideas have been influenced by this approach: agree upon the impact you want to achieve for a given population, agree on measures, partnerships and inputs needed but always keep an eye on the main target, which is to improve the lives of a named group in your community.

The Goal

This week I have been housebound with a broken bone in my foot, so I decided to read a book that my husband has been given by his manager and has yet to read. The book is called The Goal and is a business book written in the style of a novel, to deliver the ideas around Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Defining Goals


Both OBA and TOC refer to the importance of defining single goals.

In 2001 I was inspired to receive the Presidential Address given by Tommy McKay, who at the time was President of the British Psychological Society, at the Centenary Conference in Glasgow. In his address entitled, The Future Belongs to Psychology Tommy reminded the delegates of his research into the impact of encouraging children to make “bold declarations” about their future achievements and exhorted all psychologists present to do the same:

It is time for psychology itself to start making some bold declarations about the future. Psychology has settled for too little too often. I believe that at this stage in the history of our discipline we face a crucial choice. We can either, in the words of Kurt Lewin (1952), become a ‘superhighway  leading nowhere’, or we can claim a future that belongs to psychology. It is time for psychology to rise up and assert itself in its central role in all human affairs and progress. I believe psychology has a key part to play in getting crime out of our cities, litter off our streets, illiteracy out of our schools and inequity out of our society. It is time to stand up and, as a great discipline, make a bold declaration: The future belongs to psychology.




Friedman, M. (2005) Trying Hard is Not Good Enough Canada: Trafford.

Goldratt, E. M. (1984) The Goal London: Gower Publishing Ltd.

Lewin, K. (1952) Field theory in social science. London:Tavistock.



Image Credits: Andi Sidwell


2 comments to Bold Declarations of Intent

  • Geraldine
    I am so glad to be back on your mailing list. Your articles are always insightful and most thought provoking. In the future I would also like to reprint some, with your permission, in the Choice in Action – the New Zealand William Glasser Institute Newsletter.

    I like this one as it reminds me of some work I have done with young teachers in coaching using the Appreciative Inquiry and its provocative proposition. These certainly made a ‘Bold Declaration of Intention’. I just love your work and will put the links on the Choice Theory FaceBook

    • geraldine

      Hi Bette,
      Happy New Year!
      Lovely to hear from you. Of course you may reproduce any posts as you wish. I started a Doctorate in September and hope to bring CT/RT into my thesis. My best wishes to you and all in the NZ WGI. Geraldine x

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