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Just One Thing

Recently I had the pleasure of working with the remarkable staff at Mary MacKillop College, an all-girls high school located in Brisbane’s northside. We kicked off their Real Schools partnership with two twilight sessions over the course of consecutive Tuesday evenings. Between the two sessions, Carly, one of the amazing Deputy Principals, laid down a challenge to all staff – to contact a parent with a good news story of their daughter.


It got me thinking… 


A few years ago, back in my Principal days, we were faced with a common issue – the distinct lack of parent volunteers! In a primary school of over 500 students, (which my basic maths skills tells me that’s around 1,000 parents), the same four parents did everything for events. Planning, promoting, organising, setting up, ordering, preparing, cooking, cleaning, packing up – you name it, these four amazing humans did it and did it well. But it wasn’t sustainable and despite lots of call outs for parent volunteers, we struggled and unfortunately these parents became frustrated and burnt out. And this was before Covid! So… the following year, we came up with a slogan – ‘Just One Thing’ – where the focus for all parents was just to do one thing for the year where they contributed in some small way to school events. It was a raging success, with many parents not only doing one thing but ending up going above and beyond in many cases. It completely changed our culture.  


I took this idea of ‘Just One Thing’ to our group of Expert Facilitators and the stories quickly flowed. An impossible school improvement agenda with over 30 key recommendations; a school in chaos at the start of the school day; mobile phone use out of control; well established school rules being completely ignored; staff overwhelmed by this crazy notion of circles; educators feeling so stressed it all seems impossible… On and on we went, relating all the stories that we’ve either lived as leaders in our own communities or that we’ve experienced as EF’s with our partner schools.


The success stories all had a common thread – schools didn’t leave things to chance and tilted the odds in their favour by intentionally naming just one thing and taking it to scale across the whole school community. One step at a time. Teacher’s meeting their class at the start of the school day with a preparation circle. Classrooms avoiding the use of the word ‘don’t’. Having a crack at priming language. Smile and greet a colleague by name when you pass them. Playing a game of Affective Tennis. Taking one recommendation and implementing it well. All simple solutions, but when taken to scale across whole communities, reaping huge rewards with a resultant shift in culture.


One of my colleagues even shared this pearl of wisdom that was too good not to share (and let’s be honest, there’s a million different sayings which capture the same intent) that when you’re feeling under the pump – avoid focusing on the whole beach, just focus on the grain of sand.


So… the takeaway for me when applying this to a school that’s made the brave call to shift  towards a restorative culture is – what’s one step you can take and take it to scale – as a whole school community – to get the restorative ball rolling?


What’s your ‘just one thing’?



PS – the ‘Just One Thing’ blog has taken on a life of its own! There’s so much excitement around it, there’s even talk of a Real Schools eBook to capture all the amazing stories. So if you have a success story from your school community that you’d like to share, please email me at and I’ll do my best to include it.