Reality Check: Work Hard, Be Nice, Keep Commitments

Work Hard; Be Nice; Keep Commitments. Is that bossy? How about: Do you want a life filled with choice and opportunity?

The Knowledge IS Power Program (KIPP) schools in the US serve students in educationally underserved communities. The goal: “college and a choice-filled life.” The key motto: “Work Hard; Be Nice.”

Work hard; be nice isn’t just about creating a pleasant school environment. It’s also committing to choices of behaviour.

The choices start before a student is enrolled. KIPP requires signed commitments—from teachers, parents, and of course, the students themselves.

For example, students commit to arriving on time, staying the full day, attending summer school and appropriate Saturdays. They commit to doing homework and to asking the teacher if they don’t understand. They tell teachers the truth; follow directions; treat everyone with respect. They take responsibility for their actions. They follow the dress code.

Teachers commit to doing whatever it takes for their students to learn. They make themselves available, including by cell phone after hours in case a student is having trouble with homework. They commit to addressing concerns. And, of course, they commit to being at school on time, including summer and Saturdays.

Parents/guardians aren’t off the hook, either. You don’t just send your child off to school and say, “Handle it.” Parents are encouraged to be involved and committed.

Parents commit to making it possible for their child to keep their commitments to get to school on time, do their homework, and allowing them to call the teacher if need be. They commit to checking the homework (note this isn’t “doing the child’s homework.”) They commit to making themselves available to their children and to the school to address concerns.

Commitments come with consequences. A teacher who doesn’t keep their commitments can be removed; a student can be sent back to a non-KIPP school.

Why would a teacher ever agree to commit to teaching in the summer and answering student phone calls in the evenings? Because…along with those commitments, they have the freedom to innovate, to never give up on a student, to experience the satisfaction of knowing that their work is, literally, changing lives.

Why would a student, of their own free will and choice, agree to those commitments? Who wants to do homework? Come to school on Saturday? Attend during the summer?

Because learning is so much fun when you understand what you’re doing! When you know you can get help if you need it. When you know that your teachers really want you to succeed.

Finally, why would parents agree to be so involved?

Results. The KIPP schools are free-tuition, open-enrollment, and do reach underserved communities. Of their 80,000 students, over 95% are African American or Latino. Many are poor—over 80% are eligible for federal lunch programs.

Thus far, 81% of their students have started college; 44% have completed a four-year degree. For context, the low-income completion average is only 9%.

This isn’t a promo for KIPP, but I am promoting some fundamentals that make KIPP work. If you’re interested in learning more, see

A significant characteristic of “Work hard; be nice, keep your commitments” is that it’s under our control. We can choose to follow this in our own lives, or not.

I believe that working hard, being nice and keeping commitments does help to create choice-filled lives. What do you think?

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