8 Goal-Setting Tips for Teachers to Prepare for an Uncertain School Year

by Andy Minshew


Last week, we provided you with an overview on the importance of setting goals for the school year and how to set SMART goals as a part of your professional development. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult make a plan for growth when you may not be sure what your classroom or job requirements will look like.

Teachers, we’ve put together a list of eight professional goal examples that can help you plan for whatever the upcoming school year brings. These goal suggestions can guide you as you prepare for a new school year that may remain uncertain even through back to school season.

1. Keep an eye on community guidelines.

Restrictions vary depending on the school district and will likely change based on local health department guidelines. One useful and timely teacher goal can be to stay informed about community guidelines as the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop. That way, you can have the most up-to-date information available as you prepare for the upcoming months in school.

Additionally, it can be helpful to watch for updates to the CDC’s considerations for schools in response to the pandemic—while keeping in mind that specific restrictions may differ for your area.

2. Make alternative plans in case classes are still held online.

With several months left until most schools are back in session, many districts may not yet know whether—or to what extent—classes will be held in person. While following local news, try to prepare for the most likely outcome while planning for alternatives just in case.

“This summer, I will put together all my usual materials… but I am also planning to prepare a list of alternatives in case I have to move my courses online,” said educator Michelle D. Miller in a guest post with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Additionally, it may be worth looking into and preparing for “blended learning,” a classroom model which may lend itself more easily to a situation in which classes are held partially in-person and partially online. This strategy—which many voices in education, including Hechinger Report contributor Tara García Mathewson, believe will become more popular in response to COVID-19—can help you prepare for next year whether you’re able to teach students in the classroom or from a distance.

3. Prepare for potential challenges of in-person classes.

Even if students can return to the classroom next year, teachers are likely to face issues that they’ve never encountered before. For example, Forbes contributor Peter Greene warns teachers that an in-person classroom may involve consoling unhappy students who are required to socially distance themselves at recess, finding ways to purchase pandemic-related essentials on a limited budget, and other new challenges.

A helpful goal you can set now is to meet with your school or district administrators to discuss challenges they anticipate once educators are allowed to resume in-person instruction. That way, you can remain aware of and find ways to lessen the impact of these issues once your students are back in class.

4. Plan for student break times in online lessons.

In an interview with EdSurge, Common Sense Media editor Christine Elgersma suggested that teachers plan breaks during online classes to provide students with necessary rest times as part of their social-emotional curriculum goals.

“If you’re doing remote learning,” she says, “you may have to build those in very deliberately and make sure that kids are getting outside if they can, moving around.”

If your district is planning to continue with distance learning, make a teacher goal for the year to add break times that mimic the length of school recess. Suggest that during this time, students go outdoors or do an activity that helps them relax. That way, they’ll be more refreshed during online lessons and less likely to get overwhelmed.

5. Make the most of professional development over the summer.

Because teachers have more flexibility over the break, summer is often a good time to work on professional development. But this school year, making a goal to study educational trends and best practices can help you return to to school informed, regardless of whether you end up working with students in-person or not.

As a pandemic-related example, The Illinois Principals Association summer recommendations for school districts include professional development training for teachers related to student mental health, like anxiety, depression, trauma, and fear—all of which students may be experiencing to some degree with COVID-19. If you’re interested in setting a professional development goal for yourself, it may be worthwhile to discuss which topics might be most useful to study with a school or district administrator.

6. Prioritize self-care for yourself and your students.

Taking care of yourself and teaching students self-care are always important. But according to Understood.org, self-care will be even more essential for your well-being due to uncertainty and other overwhelming emotions related to the pandemic.

As you look forward to the next year, think about ways you can take care of your emotional, physical, mental, and social well-being. Even small steps, like logging out of your teacher email at the end of the school day or making time to call a friend, can help you stay grounded. Additionally, make it a classroom goal to teach your students ways to manage their stress and take care of themselves.

7. Find ways to support families, even from a distance.

Regardless of what the next school year looks like, families will continue to need school support—perhaps even more so due to the challenges that come with parenting during a pandemic. Since in-person support might not be possible, it may be helpful to start thinking of ways you can engage with students and parents from a distance.

For example, fifth-grade teacher Emma Salandra suggests in an interview with Fordham University that, when educators can’t meet with families in-person, support can look like “sending positive messages, [and] allowing them the time to interact with us, whether that’s on the phone or text messages or a Google Classroom.”

And to connect with your students, Edutopia contributor John S. Thomas recommends holding “Morning Meetings”—video calls where you can engage with your students and they can learn about each other. This can be a useful way to strengthen classroom dynamics and get to know your students if they’re unable to return to school.

While determining the most effective ways to support families from a distance, consider sending out a survey to the parents from your class last year. Ask for their feedback on what they and their students appreciated from you when classes were moved online, as well as what they would suggest if some form of distance learning continues through the next school year.

8. Familiarize yourself with school resources available to you.

Last school year, the sudden switch to distance teaching was overwhelming for many educators—especially those who had never taught online before. If your district believes it is likely classes will remain online in some capacity next year, one useful goal may be to familiarize yourself in advance with teaching resources—like curriculum and technology—available to you.

Additionally, look into free learning resources offered during the pandemic that might be useful for your students. For example, Audible is providing free audiobooks to PreK–12 students —a helpful way to keep kids learning if they’re unable to visit the school library.


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