How Can Schools Build a Roadmap for the Future?

Steven WeberBlog, Lead Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • As school teams begin to build a roadmap for the future, they should identify priority standards and learning targets. It is also important that they establish common formative assessments.
  • The strongest instructional plan is based on the needs of the learners and the experience of professional educators. 

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

As we approach the one-year anniversary when schools across the United States were closed for on-site learning, teachers and administrators are navigating pandemic teaching and decisions related to the second semester.  During such disruption and uncertainty, it can become difficult to focus on the future.  Remote learning, Zoom meetings, virtual team planning, HyperDocs, and the ability to pivot have become the norm for educators. 

When we look in the rearview mirror, we are able to see how much we have accomplished and lessons learned over the past year.  However, when we search for the end in mind, a clear path to the future or a final destination, the road ahead seems foggy and the journey is like a GPS that continues to tell the driver, “rerouting…”

In these uncertain times, educators can draw strength and certainty from eliminating the complexity of the future and focusing on the strengths and experiences of each staff member.  While it is true that most educators have not taught students in a post-pandemic world, all educators know the key skills and foundational knowledge that support learners in a specific grade level or course.  This article provides recommendations for school teams as they begin to build a roadmap for the future.

A Roadmap For Teaching and Learning: Priority Standards

In the absence of priorities, every side street and bright light may seem like a good route.  Educators are crystal clear on their “why” and that is to prepare each learner for the next level while supporting the needs of the whole child.  The “how” is more unclear. Returning to schools after a global pandemic is not in the unit plans or school improvement plan. 

Educators understand that some students will require more rest stops, stretch breaks, and retakes than others. A learning target does not move. But the pace of learning can be adjusted based on the needs of each learner. Click To Tweet

Priority standards are “a carefully selected subset of the total list of the grade-specific and course-specific standards within each content area that students must know and be able to do by the end of each school year in order to be prepared for the standards at the next grade level or course.  Priority standards represent the assured student competencies that each teacher needs to help every student learn and demonstrate proficiency in by the end of the current grade or course” (Ainsworth, 2014, p. xv).

Some teachers are stressed about ‘covering’ all of the grade-level standards.

Other teacher teams are worried that there may not be enough time to address 1.5 years of standards in one year.  A final group of teachers is concerned whether the district’s pacing guide will support the social, emotional, and academic needs of learners in a post-pandemic world or create more stress for students.  If school teams are struggling to identify the priorities, begin by watching this classic video from Stephen Covey, titled “Big Rocks.” 

As your team reflects on the message of the video, pause and ask each grade level team or department to identify the “Big Rocks” in the curriculum.  What should every student know and be able to do as a result of this year’s instruction?  When you narrow down the big rocks, your team will have increased clarity and a starting point for building future units of study.  In the absence of priorities, teams cannot see the end from the beginning.  

A Roadmap For Teaching and Learning: Learning Targets

Learning targets provide teachers and students with something to aim for.  The readiness levels of next year’s students are unpredictable. Many are still in remote or virtual learning environments. However, the skills that students need are easier to predict.  “The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding” (Moss and Brookhart, 2012, p. 2).

When you take a trip with children in the car, a familiar question most children ask is, “Are we there yet?”  In a post-pandemic school, it may be difficult to determine where to start the school year. And it may take some students longer than others to reach the target.  The benefit of having clearly defined learning targets is that the learner and the teacher team will know when each student arrives or is within the city limits. 

Educators understand that some students will require more rest stops, stretch breaks, and retakes than others.  A learning target does not move. But the pace of learning can be adjusted based on the needs of each learner.  Several teachers have admitted that they are worried about the upcoming school year and how to plan for the wide range of readiness levels.  Learning targets provide teachers with confidence, but more importantly, they put each learner in the driver’s seat ready to accelerate.  In a post-pandemic school, teachers and learners should focus on acceleration towards the learning targets.

A Roadmap For Teaching and Learning: Common Formative Assessments

Preparing each learner for the next level requires an assessment of the learning targets and priority standards.  When school teams work together to design common formative assessments, it will ensure consistency throughout the building and within grade levels or departments. 

“The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching.  The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn’t, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 55).  Wiggins and McTighe described how educators can alter the direction of the course based on student needs.  This adapting or pivoting will be important as we identify each learner’s strengths and misconceptions.

A common formative assessment may be in the form of a quiz, observation, project, essay, speech, or a choice board.  If school teams have a crystal clear understanding of the learning targets and priority standards, then evidence of learning will be easier to detect.  If school teams are able to begin developing common formative assessments or identifying existing quality assessments, then it will be easier to plan for the upcoming school year.

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A Roadmap For Teaching and Learning: Where Are We Going?

For several teachers, the goal is to make it through this week.  The timing may not be right for all school teams to begin discussing the upcoming school year.  One strategy may be for school districts to have Zoom meetings or face-to-face meetings, with social distancing, and invite a few teachers from each school to participate in professional conversations.  The strongest instructional plan is based on the needs of the learners and the experience of professional educators. 

There are additional things to address in schools that are not outlined in this article.  However, some school teams are searching for a starting point.  Once draft plans are in place, excellent teacher teams will be able to modify, adapt, and navigate from week to week.  Traveling without a destination may be fun if you are on vacation, but teaching and learning in a post-pandemic world will require a roadmap.

References and Resources

Identifying Big Rocks

Creating Learning Targets

  • Moss, C.M., & Brookhart, S.M. (2012). Learning targets: helping students aim for understanding in today’s lesson. ASCD.

Determining Priority Standards

  • Ainsworth, L. (2014) Power standards: Identifying the standards that matter most. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Writing Common Formative Assessment

  • Ainsworth, L., & Viegut, D.J. (2015). Common formative assessments 2.0: How teacher teams intentionally align standards, instruction, and assessment. Corwin.

Understanding by Design

  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). ASCD.
  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. ASCD.

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.