Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.
Integrity is one of the hardest values to say, to define, to spell and to explain. This reflects the complexity of our relationship with it.
As one of our 12 school values, we had a symbol and an action for each value. My drama club wanted to learn our school homily (a reflection I wrote which wove all 12 values together into a statement of intent, a code of conduct, which we shared at the end of each assembly) off by heart and present it an assembly with actions.
To have or to show integrity is a state of being. It is abstract. It was the hardest line to write but we settled with this:
“We act with integrity: our actions are our values”.
Integrity was the hardest value to symbolise (Love, Respect, Courage, Resilience had automatic ideas) and we went around in circles exploring it and unpacking it.
My Year 8s eventually decided that the best action to symbolise this was pointing at our hearts and then pointing North to represent our integrity being our moral compass, our North Star, that guides us.
The problem is that:
- Everyone claims integrity as one of the core values that guides them.
- Everyone claims to be honest and truthful.
- Everyone claims to be moral, ethical and principled.
Everyone has a moral compass but how strong are those principles?
I hear positive stories of educators, leaders, schools and MATs who are founded on values and where integrity is at the core of the culture and ethos, where this value is lived.
I hear negative stories of educators, leaders, schools and MATs who claim to be founded on values and where integrity is alleged to be at the core of the culture and ethos, where this value is laminated.
On a personal level, I have witnessed lying, cheating, bullying, sabotaging. I have whistle blown on unethical conduct. I have been told to “put my morals away” by a former boss.
My friends and family who are non-school based are always shocked and horrified that the custodians of society, the moral guardians of the next generation, can behave in this way. Moreover, that they can get away with it.
Alas, my testimonials are not alone. There is a litany of anecdotes of individuals and organisations who to do not act with integrity.
As educators we have an ethical code that we are held account by: the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life name Integrity as the 2nd quality following Selflessness:
Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
When in our teacher training, in our leadership development, in our school CPD have we reviewed and discussed the responsibility of our moral code? When as Headteachers and as Governors or Trustees have they been reviewed? Is it just me this has bypassed in my 18 year career? I doubt not.
Unfortunately, as we all know, you can also agree to this definition and still behave immorally and unethically in other ways…
This intent is also reflected in the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education which has been signed by a coalition of educational bodies including ASCL, NAHT, NGA, Chartered College and the TSC.
On the NGA website it states that the “NGA views ethical leadership as a cornerstone of good governance, and therefore good school leadership” and asks the following questions:
How well do we fulfil our roles as trusted educators?
What kind of role models are we to the children in our care?
We are trusted. We are role models. We care for children.
How do we capture and celebrity those educators, those leaders who walk the walk and talk the talk?
“Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain”.
Can you have integrity and be a hero leader? Can you have integrity if you are a competitor rather than a collaborator?
“Integrity is telling myself the truth. Honesty is telling the truth to other people”.
Can you have integrity if you are not transparent? Can you have integrity if you withhold the truth?
“Integrity is not something you show others. It is how you behave behind their backs”.
Can you have integrity if you do not respect others? Can you have integrity if you sabotage and ‘assassinate’ people?
I think not. So the ‘everyone’ becomes a few very quickly.
The definition refers to ‘the practice’ of integrity, suggesting it is something that can be nurtured, developed and refined. A growth mindset that we can practise being better, we can train ourselves, we can exercise our values and make the muscle memory stronger. But should being consistent, being relentless and being unwavering in our values, be a conscious act and an intentional choice, or should it be innate?
On my blog about wisdom I reflected that we say others are wise, but we do not refer to ourselves as wise, it is mainly used in the third person. I think the same goes for integrity. We shouldn’t say we have integrity, it should be a gift bestowed to us by others.
I am becoming more and more disillusioned by the politicians leading our country. I see leaders from other countries leading with the integrity we need and deserve.
If we are moral and values-led… If we are ethical and humane… If our actions speak louder than our words… If we do the right thing when no-one is watching then we know we have integrity. It is acknowledged, articulated and celebrated when others recognise it in us, but that is not why we do it. We show integrity because we know it is the right thing to do, it makes the right decisions easy to make, and the right actions easy to take.