Character education has always been at the heart of KIPP. We know when KIPPsters develop skills like grit, curiosity, and self-control, they become happier students, better teammates, and are more likely to persist through college. This fall, KIPP NYC hosted Character Day, an all-day professional development session aimed at increasing our teachers’ character development toolkits. To be clear, teaching, learning, and living character at KIPP isn’t just a one-day-a-year thing; it’s part of who we are every day. We also know our teachers need support to build their capacity to infuse life skills into every lesson and interaction they have with our KIPPsters.

Character Day began with a powerful conversation between Dave Levin (co-founder of KIPP) and Dr. Angela Diaz (Director of Mount Sinai’s Adolescent Health Center). Their conversation focused on making sure that our teachers see their students as people first. Dr. Diaz spoke about children’s basic need to feel safe and empowered, and urged our teachers to be more aware of the many traumas students carry with them every day. Levin followed by noting that to truly show students we love them, our teachers must match high levels of empathy with high expectations.

Teachers then broke off into workshops that covered topics such as creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students, developing a culture of independence, and the importance of building resilience in our students. At a session on social and emotional learning, Stacy Lodge, a 1st grade teacher at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn, noted: “The session allowed me to see the importance of social and emotional learning from a different lens. Rather than just telling our kids what to do, we must model the norms and behaviors we want to see in our classrooms.”

In a session on creating dual purpose lessons, teachers learned strategies for bringing a student’s personal experiences into the classroom. For example, teachers can relate challenges in American history to a time when a student showed grit in their own life. Many of our elementary teachers attended a session about working with challenging student behavior. In that session, teachers engaged in a role-playing game that reinforced the need for teachers to develop more trust and clearer ways of communicating with students during challenging situations.

At KIPP we also know that learning must be accompanied with joy! Throughout the day, staff enjoyed time to be both mindful and playful with a photo booth, a yoga studio, a meditation room, and recess games.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without the voices of our KIPPstes. A panel of KIPP alumni shared their experiences and imparted valuable lessons to our staff about what character strengths and obstacles they experienced as they worked through college. Paola Muñoz, who recently graduated from Cornell, perfectly defined grit when she said: “KIPP and all of my experience in college taught me that it was ok to fail, but that it’s not ok to give up.”

We can’t wait to see our teachers use the many character tools they learned and directly impact the KIPPsters we support each and every day!