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Planning should begin at home

I thought there was something vaguely familiar about New Year resolutions: audit, evaluate and realign your priorities. Development planning? Had work finally taken over my home life?

Whatever we choose to call it, most of us indulge in a bit of this. So what New Year resolutions will I set for 2003?

Better time management would be high up my list. Long ago I learned about "one touch paper". Read it, deal with it and don't return to it. Unfortunately, many bits of paper involve tasks which require complex analysis. Nonetheless, I will remember and act on this advice in 2003. Remain focused on one task until it is completed.

What a joke! A typical school day is littered with mini crises, all requiring immediate attention.

At the heart of a school are young children, not bits of paper. Parents, children and even workmen arrive unannounced: someone's son had been bullied on the way home from school; someone's marriage had broken up; inappropriate behaviour; workmen arriving to discuss the heating replacement programme ...

If something is troubling a family, it is essential to listen and, where appropriate, help resolve any problem as soon as possible. It is not the first time that I have listened to several sides of a problem, promised to find out more and then had to contact the family again to discuss the issue. Talking about it once was enough and the follow-up appointment was not kept. Society's problems can be complex and they impact on children in so many ways, both at home and in school.

So where does e-mail fit in my list of priorities? If I read one more urgent e-mail at 4pm on a Friday about football games which have been cancelled, I will scream! Some people seem to sit at their desks, firing out messages and expecting them to be eagerly read by teachers in the course of the working day. Worse still, the technology promotes the expectation of an immediate response.

"Buy a magic wand" was my next New Year resolution. I seem to have to resolve the same problems year on year; only the names of the children change. Little groups of senior girls fall out with one another. They can be awful to one another one day and best friends the next. This is much easier to manage if the families have not become involved. It takes longer for adults to forgive one another than for their children to make up. Meanwhile, the boys are falling out but being much more physical.

In the absence of a magic wand, all support staff join the playground supervisors on playground duty from time to time. Suddenly, adults become interactive with children in their play, instead of simply reacting to problems which arise.

"Try not to wear rose-tinted spectacles all the time" would be another resolution. Ever the optimist, it is good to see the best in people. The harsh reality is that Christmas and New Year can be stressful times for some families. I have taught in communities where parents bought items from catalogues only to face debt in the New Year. Some of our pupils share the stresses which that kind of living brings. Do you ever wonder why some of the disclosures they share with staff come on the last day before a holiday? School can be the safest place for some pupils and a holiday a less safe option.

So back to development planning. I take it for granted you all apply the principles of school development planning to your family life. My home development plan has always suffered from a lack of volunteers to take on responsibilities. My husband has always resisted having a cleaning lady, sorry person. He tells me he has one - me!

If you still have a team of small people at home, draw up a home development plan. It will give you much food for thought and no end of hilarity. List the tasks, set deadlines, identify the deliverers, predict the costs and reflect on what did not get done last year. Delegate and post the list of tasks on the kitchen noticeboard.

If your plan is still intact in February, then you have achieved more than I ever did. I knew the theory, but it was always easier to do the job myself.

Lose some weight for my oldest daughter's spring wedding is a very poignant New Year resolution for me! I have always understood the theory but the practice leaves a lot to be desired. My food intake is fine from 6.30am until about 6pm and then it falls apart. Exercise, I'm told, is the answer and I plan to start tomorrow.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry primary in Edinburgh.If you have any comments, e-mail

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