New Aspen Institute Toolkit Designed to Help Principals Build Better Climates for Their Students

August 10, 2020

School climate, crucial for equitable outcomes, especially vital during COVID-19 and renewed attention to institutionalized racism

Contact: Ben Berliner
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, August 10, 2020 – The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program (Aspen Education) today released a new toolkit to guide principals on how to use school climate data to create safe and nurturing environments for students. Many students are now to returning to school under highly disruptive and stressful circumstances, facing the daunting challenges of COVID-19 and a heightened awareness of racism. School climate assessment, using the appropriate data points, will be crucial to creating equitable learning environments.

The toolkit, Coming Back to Climate, is available for download here:

“High performing students learn and thrive in environments that integrate care, responsiveness, and challenge,” said Gene Pinkard, Director of Practice and Leadership at Aspen Education and the toolkit’s author. “The stressors of physical distancing due to COVID-19 and striving against institutionalized racism means principals’ priorities will be giving students and families connections that mitigate stress and creating the conditions for academic achievement.”

Coming Back to Climate is primarily aimed at principals and is centered around the strategic themes of driving equitable outcomes, creating leadership routines, and choosing the right starting points. It was created followed extensive consultation with principals, districts, and research partners including Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and Tulsa Public Schools (TPS).

The toolkit underscores a number of key findings:

  • Climate data should be integral to school planning and improvement. Principals are encouraged to prioritize data points that indicate care, connection, and support.
  • Climate data also can be used to advance equity. Equity in this instance can be defined as incorporating access to inclusive content, diverse membership, rigorous standards, and the opportunity for students to be an agent of their own experience.
  • Principals must lead this improvement at the school level. The principal acts as the lynchpin for collecting climate data and acting upon its findings, taking district strategies from “scale” to context, creating an inclusive community, and setting the priorities that staff and students experience.


The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program (Aspen Education) improves public education by inspiring, informing, and influencing education leaders across policy and practice, with an emphasis on achieving equity for students of color and children from low-income backgrounds. Aspen Education supports leaders at all levels, from networks of urban superintendents and their teams, to state chiefs and their cabinets, to elected officials and their staffers. By providing off-the-record venues for authentic learning and honest dialogue, and producing a range of resources and tools, Aspen Education assists education leaders in designing, implementing, and continuously improving policy and practice.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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