Cultivate a Culture of Integrity in Your Classroom

By Andrew Hawk

Cultivate a Culture of Integrity in Your ClassroomToward the end of my last methods of teaching class for my bachelor’s degree, the professor delivered a lecture on community expectations for teachers. During this lecture, she reinforced what many of us already knew: Teachers are expected to be moral exemplars in their communities. Wherever a teacher goes, he or she is representing his or her school. In addition to being moral exemplars, teachers are expected to instill in their students a sense of integrity. To accomplish this, some schools go so far as to include an ethics program in their curriculum. Here are some ideas that I hope will help you cultivate a culture of integrity in your classroom.

Model, Model, Model
This goes without saying. Modeling expectations is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate them to students. A few years ago, I overslept and arrived in my classroom at the same time as my students. It was obvious to them that I was late. One student asked me if I would get in trouble. A second chimed in that maybe the principal had not realized that I was late, and the event could go undetected. I took a moment to tell the class that, yes, I was late; that sometimes adults, including teachers, make mistakes; and that I would be telling our principal about my tardiness for no reason other than it is the right thing to do. Sometimes, as a teacher, it is not easy to admit to your students that you, too, are human, but when they see you acting with integrity when no one is looking, it will help them internalize the trait.

Do Not Shame Students
Young people of all ages are impulsive. The part of the human brain that controls impulsive behavior is not completely formed until a person is in her or his early twenties. This being so, even the most well-behaved child may at some point indulge in unscrupulous behavior while acting on impulse. If I catch a student lying, cheating, or taking part in some other undesired behavior, I first try to address the cause of the behavior. From there, I explain the current consequences and preview the consequences for future offenses. I finish by telling the student that she or he has an opportunity to learn from the mistake and make better choices in the future.

Statements that shame students often cause resentment toward the teacher. It is hard for students to learn anything from someone they resent. I have heard colleagues say things like, “I know I am doing a good job because my students don’t like me.” This cliché is unnecessary in the world of teaching. Teachers can reprimand students in a way that corrects behavior and still shows respect for the student.

Tread Lightly When Speaking About Behavior
Chances are good that at some point you will have a student who has a family member who has had a run-in with law enforcement. For this reason, you should tread lightly when speaking about these topics. I always tell my students that a good person can make a bad decision. It is okay to call behavior bad, but stating that people are bad can have a negative impact on student learning. These types of statements can cause some students to feel separated from their teacher. Once a student feels this separation, there will likely be a dip in learning as well.

Teach Integrity Directly Using Read-Alouds
There are many excellent picture books that can be used to teach integrity. Additionally, many websites offer free integrity-based lesson plans to go with books. A quick Internet search should produce a decent list of books and websites you can try.

Integrate Wherever Possible
If your weekly story has a prime example of someone displaying integrity, discuss this with your students. When you are studying history and you come upon someone acting with or without integrity, call students’ attention to the act. Regular school curriculum offers many opportunities to discuss integrity and the inner strength it takes to display it.

Role Plays
Role playing is a great way to help young people work through what a situation might feel like and how they should respond. If students have already been walked through the steps for correct behavior, they are more likely to use the desired behavior in real-life situations. Do an Internet search for role-playing scenarios, or write some yourself.

Catch Your Students in the Act
Never pass up an opportunity to applaud a student for acting with integrity. Positive recognition will reinforce the behavioral expectations for the entire group. If you have students who would be embarrassed by public recognition, take them to the side and tell them that you are proud of them.

Make an Integrity Collage
Choose a space in your classroom and dedicate it to displaying examples of integrity. These examples could be pictures of people, quotes, or motivational phrases. This space will serve as a reminder to your students that you expect them to act with integrity, and it could help teach them about the meaning of integrity.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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Suggested Resources
Stand Tall! A book about integrity
I Didn’t Do It! A book about telling the truth
Be Honest and Tell the Truth


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