Integrity is, in my opinion, the most important life skill to teach. It is a theme that I weave into the classroom each and every day. What exactly is it, and how do you teach it? Read on!
Picture of the coveted Integrity 2i2 wristbands.
One day in college I was asked by a professor to define integrity. As with many words, I knew what the word meant inside my head, but I was not able to articulate it very well. The best definition I could muster was “strength.” As in, "The integrity of the bridge was compromised after the earthquake." The definition that was then bestowed upon me was “doing the right thing when nobody is watching.” What a great kid-friendly definition!
Integrity is a powerful word that needs respect. I have since started capitalizing the word, much as we capitalize the p in President. Integrity is the most important life skill because it is composed of many other powerful life skills — patience, honesty, responsibility, dependability, accountability, and caring, to name a few. Because of the all encompassing nature of the word, it has the ability to creep into many conversations in class.
HOW TO TEACH IT
First Week of School: First I teach the definition in much the same way I learned it. I ask students to define it. I give them the official definition. Then, I provide examples and non-examples. When your mom is outside and you take a moment to jump on all the beds in the house because you know she won’t catch you – that is not living with Integrity. When you pick up litter that blew out of your backpack onto the playground — that's Integrity.
First Month of School: Writing — In preparation for our October standardized testing, I have the students write an essay or story to illustrate that they understand the definition of Integrity.
I like to use this powerful short commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life to inspire some good writing about Integrity. (We also make our own FBL-like commercials which I will blog about in February. Here is a 2 minute sample of our videos.)
Second Month of School: Reading — in every book we read, we will pick characters and rate their Integrity throughout the story. Also, we look for examples of Integrity when we discuss current events in our weekly classroom magazine.
Third Month of School: Random tests — I stage some tests to see how well my students are absorbing these lessons.
- Integrity Class I will leave the room and stand outside the door to listen to what goes on. Do they truly act as if I were in the room when I am not there?
- Integrity Trash I will plant some paper scraps in the hallway and reward any student that takes the initiative to pick them up as we walk to lunch.
- Integrity Walk Before they go to specials, I leave 30 seconds in advance and hide somewhere in the halls. While they begin their unescorted travels, I watch from afar.
- Integrity Treasure I put the treasure chest in the front of the room with some random props in it. The students know that nobody touches the chest except for Mr. V. I tell a student (preferably a good actor) to take a look in the box when I leave the room. I then see which students will (a) approach that student to tell him it was wrong, (b) which students will tell me, and (c) which students just ignore it altogether.
After each activity we hold a class discussion. Prompts I use:
- How did it feel to live with Integrity? How did that increase the level of trust?
- How did it feel to not live with Integrity? What effects might that have on you or your team?
- What is the hardest part of our motto, “Say it. Mean it. Do it.”?
- Do you agree or disagree with the statement "It is easy to stand up for what is right"? What makes standing up for your beliefs easier? What makes it more difficult? See this TED Talks video for an interesting study on when people tend to flirt with that line of Integrity.
- What are some strategies you could use to help a friend who is not living with Integrity?
- Explore other questions that go a bit deeper for middle schoolers.
When students are living with Integrity, I am sure to label those moments. I have had silicon bands (100 for about $50) and woven bands (100 for about $150) customized with the word Integrity. When I see great acts of Integrity, I make a big deal about it. I tell the story of the situation and then award an Integrity band to the student in the story. Each student earns his or her Integrity band for a different reason. The Integrity band becomes a valuable possession in our classroom. Some students even cry when they earn them because they are so proud.
EXAMPLES OF LASTING EFFECTS
Jacob T., one of my most integrified students, wrote an Integrity story about “The Golden I” as an end of the year present to his class. He incorporated every student into his story with examples of how they each live with Integrity. It is not coincidence that the I in the 2i2 logo is golden. Thanks, Jacob.
Some of my alumni have formed Integrity groups (The Integrity Boys, The Integrity Girls, The Integrity Brothers) that meet once a month. During these meetings we take the time to play some games, eat some pizza, and discuss Integrity issues going on in the middle school. See my future January post entitled "Sustained Rapport and Mentoring" to learn more about these amazing Integrity kids.
2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek’s classroom. It symbolizes pushing yourself to your potential while living with Integrity. Special thanks to the original integrity gang, Michael, Brendan, Brandon, Tyler, Tristen, Jacob, Anthony, Cameron, and Alex.