Planning for the 2020-2021 School Year | COVID-19 Edition

by Valentina Gonzalez

The 2020-2021 school year will be, by far, the most difficult one to plan for yet. There are simply too many unknowns. As a nation and as a world, we just lived through and are currently continuing to experience the unprecedented reality of COVID-19. For some, family members have passed away, illness has struck, jobs have been lost, food has been scarce, tensions have been high in households, and anxiety has risen. And worse, it isn’t over yet. The physical and emotional side effects are overwhelming. It’s challenging to think about how academics fit into this equation. 

Our current situation with COVID-19 plants us in an uncomfortable place as educators for many reasons. One being that planning ahead is not as seamless as it has been in the past. We took it for granted that teaching and learning took place in the same physical space. 

Yet no matter what this fall brings us, there is still much within our scope of control. We have to begin by recognizing that plans will not look the same as they did in the past. 

There are a number of scenarios for the start of the 2020-2021 school year that districts are considering. 

  • Traditional fall open 
  • Remote fall open
  • Hybrid fall open (some face-to-face days of learning and some remote days)

The following three key ideas will support success for your students, families, and staff no matter what your district decides to do this fall.

1. Start with the HEART

The emotional wellbeing of students has always been important, but now this is more true than ever. Families have been faced with fears of illness, unemployment, loneliness, hunger, and some even with physical or emotional abuse. It has been difficult to know exactly what our students and their families are going through or have experienced. Last spring brought us remote teaching and learning. Families were stuck in homes, and stress may have run higher for some than for others. 

Keeping Maslow’s Hierarchy in mind will be critical in the coming school year. Safety. Food. Belonging. Basic needs will need to be satisfied before academics can be addressed. Investing first in these matters and cultivating them over time will be critical during the 2020-2021 school year. 

Students will need to know that we care about them, we care about their families, and we are here for them before we can begin to increase academic expectations. If your campus opens traditionally, investing time in building a strong foundation first will ensure that, even if later in the year you have to move back into remote learning, students will feel connected. The methods below are great ways to build relationships remotely or in traditional settings. Through these, we can teach students how to cope with stress and keep their social and emotional well being at the forefront: 

  • Morning meetings or a regularly scheduled circle time
  • Social contracts rather than predetermined classroom rules
  • One-on-one teacher-student conferences
  • Daily or weekly check-ins
  • Interactive journals

2. Weave in technology. 

Flexibility may play a starring role in the 2020-2021 school year. Educators may find themselves beginning the year in the classroom with students, then moving to remote learning, and then back to face-to-face instruction. 

Embedding technology into daily routines will help prepare students, families, and ourselves if we are called to teach and learn from afar again. Take it slow and in small steps. Introduce one platform at a time. Use the Gradual Release of Responsibility to model explicitly for students how each platform is used. Even if you’re reintroducing a platform that you used last semester during remote learning and you feel that students are comfortable with it, spend some time going over the expectations with the whole class to level the playing field. For instance, if you’re going to use Flipgrid, introduce it to the whole group on a large screen. Demonstrate for them exactly how to use it as if you were a student. Then give them an assignment to try with a partner or group as you walk around and provide on-the-spot support. Finally, assign an independent task for each student to complete.  

3. Let textbooks take a backseat.

We don’t have to create learning opportunities for our students today. The world is handing us a curriculum. All we have to do is provide students with structures for time and space to explore, to negotiate for meaning, and to express their ideas. Today’s students are incredibly different from the students we had a decade ago or even a year ago. These students have quicker and easier access to information. They don’t need us to give them information. Rather, they benefit from opportunities to delve into problems related to what’s affecting them, their communities, and their future. 

These students benefit from platforms to discuss with peers, share ideas, and negotiate for meaning. This is the perfect time to try offering more choice in instruction. Rather than sticking to “the way it’s always been taught,” we can try stepping out of our comfort zones and letting kids take the lead. For example, you may let students pick a research topic to read about, create a product about (such as a presentation, a video, a commercial, a letter, etc.), and then share with an audience. If you are a content teacher of science, social studies, math, or other, you might consider giving students limited choices on a specific topic to research. Either way, students feel they have some autonomy and take greater ownership in the learning. 

Student motivation to learn and participate rises when choice and relevance are ingredients. In addition, this type of instruction allows for more flexibility if your campus must move from traditional to remote or vice versa. 

English Learners

The three ideas above will certainly support English learners, but it’s also important that we take a special look at how ELs are affected by the remote learning and instruction that happens during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The U.S. Department of Education published guidance for providing remote learning to English learners. One big takeaway from the guidance is that if remote learning is provided to students, then English learners should receive support in this area. Keep in mind that remote support will not look the same as traditional face-to-face classroom support. 

Remote learning is not for everyone. It’s not for every child, and it’s not for every educator. And there’s no reason to pretend that it is. In addition to the stresses that COVID-19 has placed on families, having to be in charge of the academic load while also learning English has been a challenge for many students and families. This has been especially difficult for newcomers, students who struggle academically, and students living in poverty. 

I learned from one family that their child didn’t understand that they could choose to do assignments either online or on paper, so they did both, and it was overwhelming. Students were stressed out by the amount of work. Another family explained that their child became depressed by the isolation and lack of structure. The student had a difficult time navigating the online platform and keeping up with all of the online assignments from six different classes. The parents felt they could do little to help.

Be Ready for Anything

We can spend every day of every hour of every week planning. We can try to make guesses about what the year will be like, but no one has a crystal ball that will actually tell us what the future holds. So let’s plan to keep planning with students and families first. Take one day at a time. And always remember that we are in this together. 


Belsha, K. (2020, May 19). Schools must keep serving English learners during pandemic, federal ed officials say. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from 

Burns, M. (2020, May 26). Getting Ready to Teach Next Year. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from 

Fleming, N. (2020, June 03). In California, Some Schools Reopen for Vulnerable Students. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from 

Prothero, A. (2020, April 08). How to Teach Social-Emotional Learning When Students Aren’t in School. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from

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