At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Head of School Bessie Speers spoke of the school’s founders, who she said, “would be so proud that the mission of the school they created nearly a century ago has such integrity. This means that our mission has stayed true.” She announced further that the school’s word for the year would be “integrity.”
I had previously observed that the Admission Overview on the Tower Hill website describes Tower Hill as “a community that values and cultivates character, integrity, service and a passion for learning.” Now it would be my mission as a fourth grade teacher at Tower Hill to show my students how integrity could act as a focal point in our own personal classroom.
I began the search for large wooden letters that when hung on the front wall of the classroom would spell out I-N-T-E-G-R-I-T-Y. I found letters in a variety of styles and colors, which seemed perfect since integrity, itself, is shown in many different forms. This prominent display serves as a constant reminder to my students that integrity is central to all that happens both inside and outside of our classroom.
On the very first day of school we discussed what the word “integrity” represents and described the behaviors that are associated with it: respect, honor, honesty and the courage to stand up for your beliefs. We talked about how integrity means doing the right thing when no one else is looking. As a class, we then pantomimed various scenarios that my students could find themselves in during the school day. We went on to discuss both behaviors that showed and did not show integrity.
I know that students learn various behaviors and values from adult role models as well as their peers. When students are taught about integrity in their own classroom settings, they are better able to apply similar principles to other areas of their lives.
In my classroom, I also incorporated integrity by using the book 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The book is filled with precepts or maxims, with integrity being a central component. Each morning when my students arrived, one of these precepts was written on the board. The children first copied the precept into their journals and then made a simple illustration that they believed related to the theme. Afterward, we discussed how the precept depicted integrity and how we could relate it to our own lives. Although this daily activity took only 5-7 minutes each morning, I believe that the value of it was enormous, and I witnessed the effect of it on a regular basis.
I think our focus on integrity helped my students to believe in themselves and to stand up for their principles. I have particularly noticed that they are more accepting of people who are unlike themselves or who have different educational and behavioral needs. When I see a student showing integrity, I like to applaud them in front of the entire class since positive recognition reinforces behavioral expectations.
The final method that I used to teach integrity directly was through read-alouds. With a literature-based curriculum, there were many opportunities to analyze various characters and their behaviors. We discussed the characters’ levels of integrity and ways the characters could better institute integrity.
Since children are not explicitly born with the qualities of integrity, it needs to be taught to them. The classroom is a perfect setting to mold and develop this skill that will surely prepare the student for the future. When we live with integrity, it means that we let our actions speak for who we are and what we believe. Integrity is a choice that we make, and it is our job as educators to lead our students to make the right choices over and over and over again.