Back to School Planning: Setting Priorities

June 3, 2020
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Districts and schools are wrapping up the longest remote learning period in modern history. The quick pivot from the traditional school day structure to at-home learning models exemplifies the agility and resourcefulness of educators across the country. These efforts are commendable. Now, while closing out the current school year, educators are reimagining schooling once again for the 2020-21 school year.

While each school year brings with it a set of plans and goals, this upcoming year will require intense preparation. The present situation demands new paradigms for instruction and school operations. At ClassLink, we developed a rubric for back to school planning, in partnership with CoSN and SETDA. It includes core elements to consider as you plan for students to return to school for the 2020-21 school year. Unsurprisingly, we start the rubric with the core element: goals.

First things, first

In the return to school planning process, you will start with the end in mind. Lesson plans flow from learning objectives. School plans require goals. Goals help focus resources and teams. For many districts, goals will include addressing first order needs. Other goals may focus on engagement,opportunities to learn, student or teacher retention, remote learning, and/or learning losses. Many of you will desire goals on preventing and containing virus spread. There is no hard and fast rule on the right number of goals, but I highly recommend limiting yourself to three. Much more than that and you are unlikely to achieve anything at all.

There are over 13,000 districts across the U.S. and likely just as many approaches to back to school planning. And while the plans, needs, and priorities may vary, the planning process shouldn’t have to. Here are some areas to consider as you formulate your goals.

1. Consult data

Can you recall sitting in a meeting without data surfacing in some shape or form? Probably not. Educators rarely plan for anything without data in hand. Setting goals for the 2020-21 school year should be no different. Using data sources will allow you to create or reprioritize goals that align with the greatest needs your district faces. Data to consider include health, economic, and student assessment data, where it exists. A valuable source of data is feedback collected from students, teachers, parents, and/or the community on their experiences during the pandemic and remote learning. 

2. Check for alignment

Your priorities may have changed, but that doesn’t mean your vision or core values have. Whatever goals you chose for the school year, check that they align with the direction you set for your district. Do your goals capture values of equity and excellence?   

3. Keep it real

Serving in education is incredibly rewarding but also incredibly hard. For many educators, these past few months and the coming year will mark the most challenging time in their careers. Goals need to be attainable. They should still be ambitious but keep in mind the obstacles at hand when setting next year’s goals. You want to set up your students and staff for success.


Once your goals are set, you got to lean in. Everything you do next to prepare for the school year is dependent on these goals. Limited resources, staff, and dollars must be committed accordingly. Strategies and task delegation need to flow from the goals you set. You need to monitor how you are progressing towards each goal and make adjustments as appropriate. You must hold yourself and your team accountable for focusing on and achieving these goals – goals you believe are necessary for student success.

The commitment piece is likely self-evident but that does not make it easy. New challenges often invoke fear even for the bravest among us... fear of wasting time and energy, fear of failing when trying new things, fear of losing control, etc. Choosing to commit to your goals, especially dedicating scarce financial resources to them, may mean working scared. And that’s okay – in fact, it only amplifies the importance of goals and planning.

Need help getting started? Check out the rubric.


Education Leaders
Remote Learning

About the Author

About the Authors

Mary Batiwalla

Sr. Director of Data & Analytics



For over a decade Mary has dedicated her career to education, serving as a practitioner, researcher, and executive leader. In her most recent role as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, she led assessments, accountability, and data governance.