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Character at KIPP

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. Together, they are the yin-yang that make our schools come alive. We believe both are critical to the success of our students in college and life.


Character strengths

Learn more about character strengths & corresponding behaviors >

About KIPP's Character Work

KIPP offers teachers, kids, and parents a structured, meaningful way to talk about and develop character. Our approach is rooted in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman (Universityof Pennsylvania) and
Dr. Chris Peterson (University of Michigan) that identifies 24 character strengths as leading to engaged, meaningful, and purposeful lives. At KIPP, explicitly creating opportunities to develop character is infused throughout the school day.

Building off of a research partnership between KIPP NYC and Dr. Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania), KIPP is now especially focused on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. We’ve integrated our own experiences as teachers with the research of Seligman, Peterson, and Duckworth to create a road map for the development of each strength. For example, to help teachers, kids, and parents develop grit we ask them to reflect on whether they try very hard after experiencing failure.

KIPP schools around the country are now focused on how we can integrate a more structured and measurable approach to character development.

Seven Keys for Implementing Character in Your School

1. Believe It and Model It: Breathe life into the James Baldwin quote: “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.”

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 develop 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 people with growth mindset praise (i.e. precise, descriptive praise) around character.

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


Incorporating Character Into Your Classroom

Watch the in-depth video below to hear more from parents, teachers, and students about each character strength, and learn more about how to incorporate the character strengths into your classroom.


Infusing Lessons with Character:

Examples of how we talk about character in our classrooms:

  • "We've recently been building our stamina during independent reading. Good stamina requires lots of self-control, because you have to ignore distractions, and have lots of grit, because it isn't easy to read without stopping for 20 minutes. So today, we're actually going to be practicing both grit and self-control as we develop our reading skills."
  • "We've been discussing some of the attitudes and choices made by leaders during the Vietnam War. Why would hope and optimism be important qualities a leader? What would the risks of too much optimism be for these leaders?"
  • "Today we're going to learn about the scientific method. Scientists are fueled by curiosity. They design experiments in order to explore new things and investigate questions about the way the world works. Today, your curiosity will be key to designing a successful experiment."

Examples of how we incorporate character in classroom activities:

  • Each kindergarten student brings in five artifacts for their 'Me Museum.' Their classmates are asked to show their eagerness to learn new things (curiosity) by asking questions about the curator.
  • During the presidential election, 7th and 8th graders are asked to collect examples of how the various candidates have remained calm (or not calm) even when criticized or otherwise provoked (self-control).
  • Co-curriculars provide a great opportunity to develop creative dual-purpose lessons because activities like music, art, and sports require a lot of zest, grit, and self-control. Across all of our grade levels, we explicitly connect zest, grit, and self-control to learning an instrument. Another fun example is when a kindergarten teacher explains how you need enthusiasm and energy (zest) and to try hard even after experiencing failure (grit) when learning how to hula-hoop.


Additional Resources



KIPP’s character work is made possible by the support of the Raikes Foundation. The Foundation is committed to helping adolescents develop the mindsets and learning strategies that will help them succeed in school and become healthy, contributing adults. We would like to express our gratitude to the Raikes Foundation for their continued commitment to the character development of our KIPPsters. 

Videos by ListenIn Pictures.