Aspen Institute Issues Recommendations for States to Support Social, Emotional, and Academic Development in the Pandemic Era

May 7, 2020

Ten State Actions to Foster Connectedness Proposed by the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, May 7, 2020 – In the context of some 50 million students now distance learning, the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program has proposed 10 State Actions to develop, maintain, and strengthen the crucial connections and relationships that are necessary for learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendations were unveiled during an online event hosted by the Aspen Institute which explored the importance of safe and nurturing relationships in school and the long-term implications of this crisis for social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD).

The publication can be read in full here. These specific recommendations build on a set of guiding principles for education recovery and renewal that are available here.

In the period of immediate crisis response, education leaders acted quickly to provide meals, digital devices, and help foster internet connectivity to meet urgent needs. While decision makers are only just beginning to understand the impact of the last few months and what the months ahead will mean for students, families, and educators, it is well established that the depth of students’ connectedness to school and the quality of their relationships with adults and peers in school are critical to learning and thriving in life. This principle informs the following recommendations:

10 State Actions

  1. Establish a student advisory council for statewide education and COVID-related policy issues that impact youth and families.
  2. Identify and address the stress and trauma that students have experienced during school closings, and that will be ongoing when school buildings reopen.
  3. Identify and address the stress and trauma that school personnel have experienced during school closings, and that will be ongoing when school buildings reopen.
  4. Establish a clear definition of “student engagement” and healthy conditions for learning, or refine existing definitions and provide measurement tools, resources, and guidance to LEAs and schools.
  5. Act to remove anxiety about academic performance and to allow for and prioritize healing and belonging that will foster academic learning.
  6. Act to remove anxiety about assessment and accountability by establishing and communicating a clear plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
  7. Collaborate to shift some responsibilities from the education sector to other state and local agencies and service providers.
  8. Pilot removing barriers to innovation and to enable flexibility during the 2020-21 school year to allow more responsive district and local action while maintaining focus on equity for under-served students.
  9. More clearly define and differentiate adult roles toward areas in need of greatest attention when students return: safety, healing and feeling connected to the school community, and maintaining and strengthening communication.
  10.  Dedicate state education agency and other state administrative staff to focus on recovery.

These recommendations were developed by the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program, informed by a diverse group of education leaders that included students, families, advocates, district leaders, state chiefs, researchers, think tanks, funders, and policymakers convened on April 29, 2020.

“Millions of student rely on schools for safety, stability, and relationships, all of which are crucial to learning and healthy development – and all of which are under immense strain right now,” said Aspen Institute’s Ross Wiener, “How state leaders respond to this crisis will determine whether students bounce back quickly, or fall further behind.”

These proposed actions were unveiled during a May 5 online event hosted by the Aspen Institute, alongside a wider conversation about SEAD and distance learning. Education & Society Executive Director Ross Weiner facilitated discussions with Elizabeth Casillas, Community Organizer, RISE Colorado, and Linda Darling-Hammond, President of the California State Board of Education and President of the Learning Policy Institute. Participants explored lessons from this crisis that can be carried into reopened classrooms, guidance and support teachers will need to reengage students in learning, and how state leaders can set policy and designate resources to prioritize SEAD & relationships.


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

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Aspen Institute is adapting to address the challenges of the pandemic. Learn more about some of the solutions we’re proposing, the actions we’re taking, and the changemakers we’re supporting.

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