Honestly Teaching Honesty

by Tamara Fyke

In an ABC News Poll in April 2018, seven out of 10 high schoolers say that students at their school cheat, even though most of them know that cheating is wrong.  Brandon Gaille points out that “60 percent of adults cannot have a 10-minute conversation without lying once.”  According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, there are approximately 27 million shoplifters in America today, and 25 percent of those are kids.  We – both adults and kids – have a problem being honest.

Honesty is speaking and acting truthfully.  

Here are five ideas for how we can help our students embrace Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom, Honesty is the best policy:

  1. Model It  – We need to speak and act truthfully ourselves.  The National Geographic article, Why We Lie:  The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways,” notes that most people lie to save face or not hurt others’ feelings.  Instead of hiding, let’s own our mistakes, be responsible, and seek forgiveness.  When there are tough things that need to be said to a colleague, student or loved one, let’s say them…with kindness.
  2. Build Relationships  – The students who responded to the ABC News poll suggested that they would be less likely to cheat if they knew their teacher cared about them and their work.  Let’s take time to get to know our students and colleagues, creating a culture of honor.
  3. Provide Direct Instruction – Even if kids know that cheating, lying, and stealing are wrong, we must clearly define the appropriate behavior, such as “Being honest is keeping your eyes on your own paper and doing your own work.”  
  4. Assign Meaningful Work  – In order for students to take pride in what they do, they need to know it matters.  By helping them connect knowledge and information to real-world application, they begin to comprehend the value of the concept or task.  We must take the time to provide these explanations as well as to design purposeful projects.
  5. Give Opportunities to Make Amends – When kids mess up, we need to offer opportunities for them to make it right, whether that means redoing the assignment, retaking the quiz, returning the item, or whatever action will make it right. Instead of having a “gotcha” motive that instills fear, we need to communicate value, belonging, and purpose.  A restorative approach does not negate natural consequences; it actually helps build understanding and connection.

In one of my favorite children’s books, The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack, Libby learns some tough lessons about honesty from the caring adults in her community.  Likewise, it is up to us to teach our children the importance of honesty. As I tell the kids I work with; when we learn how to be honest in the small things, we are building our honesty muscles as well as building trust with parents, teachers, and friends.

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