Educators Offer Best Practices for Teaching and Learning on Climate Change and Sustainability in Schools

February 17, 2021

K12 Climate Action Hosts Fourth Listening Session 

Nell Callahan

Washington, DC, February 17, 2021 – Today, educators from across the country joined K12 Climate Action, an initiative of the Aspen Institute, to discuss how teachers can support learning about climate change in schools. The speakers included:

  • Frank Niepold, Senior Climate Education Program Manager and Coordinator, NOAA
  • Jennifer LeBret, Director, Native Youth Community Project, Spokane Tribe
  • Carrie Tzou, Professor of Science Education, University of Washington Bothell
  • Melissa Lau, 6th Grade Science Teacher, Piedmont Intermediate School, Piedmont, OK

The panelists discussed the importance of teaching climate change not just in science class, but educating and empowering students across the curriculum to understand the impact of climate change and have the tools to combat it. 

“Our schools must embrace a comprehensive approach to educating youth about climate change,” said Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator. “That begins by providing young children with opportunities to be inquisitive about nature and supporting educators with the tools they need to engage children and youth in experiential learning.”

The impacts of climate change are seeping into all aspects of our lives. Whether it’s flooding, draughts, fires or snow storms, Americans and people across the world are experiencing the full effects of our planet’s temperature changes. 

“In order to help society plan and respond to climate change, we must invest in our schools to educate the next generation of leaders on the opportunities and challenge at hand,” said Niepold. “When people are equipped with a scientific understanding of climate change and the potential solutions they are better prepared to build a just, low-carbon economy and resilience in their communities.”

Education is one of the four key issue areas that K12 Climate Action has identified as a main factor in building a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable society, and educators are key to supporting students in building this knowledge. 

“We have created a Spokane Tribe-specific curriculum that is experiential and immersive in nature to better connect our students to the environment and our community,” said LeBret. “Using land-based learning and our tribal members as co-educators, we seek to inspire  students to go further and support them to become the environmental stewards we need in the future.”

“Culture, agency, and identity are all connected to science learning,” said Tzou. “We have an opportunity to energize students by teaching them to live in a changing climate through a lens of connection and ethical decision-making rather than fear.”

“Interacting with students every day, I see first-hand how teaching can have a positive impact,” said Lau. “Every lesson plan, every school project makes a difference and incorporating climate change into classrooms helps us have productive conversations to ensure our students become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Co-chaired by John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust and 10th U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, and Christine Todd Whitman, president of the Whitman Strategy Group and former Governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, K12 Climate Action consists of 22 commissioners and over 35 coalition partners. It will release an action plan in 2021 that will harness schools’ unique position to educate and prepare a new generation of students to advance a more sustainable world. 

K12 Climate Action has four key areas of focus: 

  • Mitigate: transitioning to more sustainable operations including energy, transportation, and food use; 
  • Adapt: building resilience in preparation for disruptions and negative impacts related to climate change; 
  • Educate: supporting teaching and learning to equip children and youth with the knowledge and skills to build a more sustainable world; and 
  • Advance Equity: centering the voices and needs of Black, Latinx, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Indigenous and other communities of color as well as low-income students and families. 

In the United States, 50 million children and young people attend public schools. With 98,000 schools, 480,000 diesel school buses, and 7 billion meals served annually, the education sector has a considerable environmental impact and offers one of the greatest opportunities to build long-lasting change to advance sustainability.

For more information, visit and join the conversation by following K12 Climate Action on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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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