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A few days into our first year at Rocky Mountain Prep, I was walking through our office when one of our founding parents Sarah, pulled me aside. “You’ll never guess what my kindergartener told me over dinner last night,” Sarah shared. “We were halfway through dinner when she declared, ‘Mom, spinach isn’t my favorite, but I’m going to persevere.’ ”

Since that moment almost seven years ago, I am reminded daily of the power of our PEAK values - Perseverance, Excellence, Adventure, and Kindness - and the importance of supporting the character development of our students. Rocky Mountain Prep (RMP) is often recognized for our strong academic results: Our founding campus, RMP Creekside, was recently nominated as one of the three best elementary schools in the state as a Colorado Succeeds Prize finalist. For many of our parents, though, what they value the most about our program is our commitment to these PEAK values and how we encourage students to align their actions at school to both our community’s values and to their family's and their personal values. This is one of the reasons our RMP: Southwest campus had the strongest parent satisfaction of any public school in Denver.

I’ve learned that two things help our PEAK values come to life for our scholars: leading with love and daily reflection.

Every great teacher I know builds a loving classroom culture to create what social science seems to rediscover all the time. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates the basic importance of both safety and belonging. Recently, Google discovered that the highest performing teams have strong psychological safety amongst the team members.

At RMP, in order to meet these needs, our teachers lead with love. We honor each student by learning what makes them unique, what they love, their backgrounds and stories. We ensure that every adult in our building knows our scholars’ names, and gives a big smile, high-five, hug or handshake when they meet in the classroom or hallways. Leading with love also means we challenge our scholars. When you love somebody, you hold them to high expectations.

Within the loving, safe environment at our schools, we create frequent opportunities for our students to reflect on how their behaviors align to our PEAK values. For example, to begin and end each day, our scholars have a community circle in their classrooms where they reflect on how they lived out our values, and where they could have done better. Last week, I heard a scholar demonstrate this with one of his teammates, sharing, “McKiya showed a lot of stamina and perseverance during our math mystery work by not getting frustrated when we got stuck and trying a bunch of new strategies."

In addition to its effect on our scholar’s lives, this culture of love and reflection has impacted me as school leader directly. Three years ago at one of our campuses, five minutes into breakfast, a second-grader went over to his teacher and whispered, “Phil [name changed] isn’t showing kindness or excellence this morning. He told me he brought a weapon to school in his lunchbox.” The teacher immediately searched his backpack, found a knife, and was able to diffuse a potential nightmare scenario for our community.

While I can’t ever know if that student intended to cause harm, I do know that our culture of love and reflection is integral to our students' achievement and growth as good, moral people.

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