KIPP’s longstanding motto — “Work hard. Be nice.” — isn’t just a tagline. Since KIPP’s beginning in 1994, the development of character has been as important to us as the teaching of rigorous academic skills. We believe both are essential to the success of our students in college and life, and a wide body of research proves it.


KIPP’s innovative approach is grounded in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman and the late Dr. Chris Peterson (the “fathers“ of Positive Psychology). Building off a partnership with KIPP NYC, Dr. Angela Duckworth and the Riverdale Country School, KIPP’s character work focuses on seven highly predictive character strengths that are correlated to leading engaged, happy and successful lives: zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.

〈 Zest, sometimes referred to as vitality, is an approach to life filled with excitement and energy.
  • Actively participated;
  • Showed enthusiasm;
  • Approached new situations with excitement and energy.
〈 Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
  • Finished whatever s/he began;
  • Stuck with a project or activity for more than a few weeks;
  • Tried very hard even after experiencing failure;
  • Stayed committed to goals;
  • Kept working hard even when s/he felt like quitting.
〈 Optimism is the expectation that the future holds positive possibilities and the confidence that, with effort, these possibilities become likelihoods.
  • Believed that effort would improve his/her future;
  • When bad things happened, s/he thought about things they could do to make it better next time;
  • Stayed motivated, even when things didn’t go well;
  • Believed that s/he could improve on things they weren’t good at.
〈 Self-control is the capacity to regulate thoughts, feelings, or behaviors when they conflict with valued goals.
    School Work
    • Came to class prepared;
    • Remembered and followed directions;
    • Got to work right away instead of waiting until the last minute;
    • Paid attention and resisted distractions.

    • Remained calm even when criticized or otherwise provoked;
    • Allowed others to speak without interrupting;
    • Was polite to adults and peers;
    • Kept temper in check.
〈 Gratitude refers to appreciation for the benefits we receive from others and the desire to reciprocate with our own positive actions.
  • Recognized what other people did for them;
  • Showed appreciation for opportunities;
  • Expressed appreciation by saying thank you;
  • Did something nice for someone else as a way of saying thank you.
〈 Social intelligence refers to awareness of other people’s motives and feelings as well as using this understanding to navigate social situations appropriately.
  • Was able to find solutions during conflicts with others;
  • Showed that s/he cared about the feelings of others;
  • Adapted to different social situations.
〈 Curiosity is the search for information for its own sake. Active open-mindedness means exploring a wide range of relevant information when trying to draw a conclusion, including information that challenges our own initial assumptions.
  • Was eager to explore new things;
  • Asked questions to help s/he learn better;
  • Took an active interest in learning.
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We’ve integrated our own experience as educators with this research, and developed a road map to help teachers, students, and parents foster behaviors that strengthen character.


We have suggestions for ways to begin talking to children and students about character – inside and outside the classroom.

1. Believe It and Model It: James Baldwin wrote: “The children are ours. Every single one of them... children have never been very good at listening to their elders but have never failed to imitate them.” If you believe in what you are doing and model it, your kids will too.

2. Name It: Give the intangible and often-unnamed a name. Only by labelling and talking about the character strengths that Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson identified can we embark on the journey to strengthen them.

3. Find It: Introduce kids to real-world and fictional examples that display the various character strengths.


4. Feel It: Help kids and adults feel the positive effects of focusing on, and developing, their own character strengths.

5. Integrate It: Create dual-purpose experiences and lessons that involve the character strengths. Learn more about how character is integrated into the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching.

6. Encourage It: Provide your children and students with praise when they exhibit a growth mindset around character.

7. Track It: Record and discuss progress toward character goals regularly.

Check out the resources below to learn more about how to incorporate character in your classroom and click here for examples of simple phrases and projects you can use to infuse character into your everyday routines.


KIPP’s character work is rooted in the research of some of the most eminent psychologists of our time. We invite you to learn more about how we’re helping advance the field through Dave Levin’s work with Character Lab, a nonprofit on a mission to develop, disseminate, and support research-based approaches to character that enable kids to learn and flourish.

Suggested Readings:

KIPP is committed to equal treatment for all individuals. KIPP does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin.
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