An Invitation to KIPP Teachers

By Jen Keyte, Instructional Sharing Senior Manager, KIPP Foundation

KIPP teachers and leaders are often heard referencing the James Baldwin quote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  Since we believe deeply that preparing our students for college and life requires not only rigorous academics, but also development of essential character strengths, that quote has important meaning for us. It means that teaching students about character is not just about giving lectures or designing dual-purpose lessons that incorporate both character and academics. We also have to “walk the walk” and model strengths such as such as grit, self-control, curiosity, zest, optimism, social intelligence, and gratitude.

Often, we model these strengths for our students in subtle ways. A history teacher beams with zest and enthusiasm as she introduces a new unit about government, or a teacher shares a personal challenge with students and how, with grit, he’ll overcome it.  A student asks a question the teacher can’t answer, and the teacher models her curiosity when she invites the class to investigate with her. Then there is the unwavering optimism we communicate to our students daily about their futures. Even our littlest KIPPsters get this message. Ask any kindergartener what year he or she will be going to college, and without hesitation, you’ll hear a zestful 2024!

As we approach Thanksgiving, we are doing our best to model the importance of taking time out to purposefully and deliberately show gratitude to the colleagues who have influenced our teaching and ability to serve our students. One of the most amazing things about teaching at KIPP is that we teach as part of a team and family, so there is always a colleague around who is willing to share resources, help problem solve, and collaborate – whether it’s from across the hall or from across the country. We realize how lucky we are to work with like-minded, passionate colleagues who are always willing to help, and we wanted to find a way to show our appreciation and gratitude for each other.

From now through November 15th, KIPP teachers have the opportunity to “walk the walk” and show gratitude by publicly thanking a colleague who has inspired their teaching. After a teacher is thanked on, they receive a Starbucks gift-card as a small token of appreciation for sharing their ideas and resources with other teachers. Not only will it make a teacher’s day to receive some well-deserved recognition and thanks, but we are also modeling for our students that when you show gratitude, you feel good, too.

Gratitude is one of the twenty-four virtues that psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson identified in their book, “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification” as a path to a meaningful and fulfilling life. After Melissa Scheinfeld, High School History Teacher at KIPP Austin Collegiate, took the time to recognize and thank several of her colleagues, she reported, “This is the most fun thing I’ve done in a long time! I have been thinking about all of the resources and ideas I could thank people for and it has been such a lovely way to reflect. I’ve been running around all day telling everyone how much fun it is to show gratitude.” Another teacher reported that when he expressed his thanks to a colleague, she was so touched that she came to his room in tears of appreciation.

It’s not always easy to say thank you or to find the time, but this month, we are practicing because we have a responsibility to live what we expect from our students. Take five minutes right now and think about a person you need to thank, and do it. You will both feel amazing.