Mapping Your Year: Tips to Make the Most of Your Journey

Illustration by Kate Moore

Illustration by Kate Moore

When planning out a family road trip, I always start with a map. I love to look at where we’re going and then begin to plot out the places in between. “Ooh, we could stop to have lunch in that park” and “Ohh, we can take a little afternoon hike there!” I also love to think about the moments in the car. When’s the right time to sing a song, pull out the surprise snack or the fun new maze book, or read aloud from a favorite book? By the time we arrive—even though we’ve spent endless hours in the car together!—we’ve been nourished, enriched, and delighted. 

I think of planning out the school year in much the same way.  

  1. First, let’s look at where we’re going.
    What should it look like when we get there? How will we know if we’ve arrived safely at the right destination? This is when I look at my goals. What skills do I need my students to master, and which skills do I want to introduce to them? This is also when I look at my measurements. Throughout the year, I’ll want to look back at my map and make sure we’re passing certain milestones; I want to plan in these checkpoints so that I can correct course if we get sidetracked. Looking at the whole calendar of the year, I start to work backwards and mark spots for check-ins and formative assessment.

  2. Second, how are we going to get there? 
    To arrive at our destination, what roads do we need to take? Which ones are unnecessary diversions? What possible wrong turns or mishaps might we encounter? This is when I block out different units, projects, and field trips. What fascinating content can I use to help my students master the necessary skills?

  3. Third, what extra opportunities are there along the way?
    I don’t want my class to feel like a single-minded march toward mastering standards; I want to engage students’ curiosity, natural passion, and enthusiasm. This is when I look at the “towns” and “scenic routes” along the way. Are there ways I can interweave my content with what the math or science teachers are doing? Can I bring in art or music? What about experts in the community? I plot these opportunities onto the calendar as well.

  4. Fourth, what needs might my passengers have that I can anticipate ahead of time?
    When planning my road trip, I know my family is going to have stop for stretching and bathroom breaks. They will get hungry, and they’ll get tired. I anticipate these things and plan out a “crankiness mitigation strategy” with snacks, etc. I can do the same for my class! I know the year has rhythms, and I can be ready for some of the common needs. I know my students will be more nervous and shy at the beginning of the year—but also more engaged and excited. Come November, I’ll need to plan for lower energy and the tendency of students to check out early before winter break. Maybe I’ll want to plan a creative project for that time, or some engaging group work. Understanding and anticipating my students’ needs at different times of the year helps me build that last layer onto my map, bringing the year into full relief.

As you get ready to head back into the classroom, even if you’ve been teaching for many years, take some time to map out the year. You’ll find that having those touchpoints and milestones mapped out ahead of time takes stress and cognitive load off your plate—right when you’re in the weeds of day-to-day planning. Instead of scrambling to make a plan on the fly, you can just look at your map and say “oh, right, it’s time for a check-in with my students, or a community building moment, or a rest.” You can make your school year about the journey—not just the destination.

This week’s post was written by Pear Deck’s Chief Educator Michal Eynon-Lynch.

Michal Eynon-Lynch