Integrity is ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.’ When I think about integrity it is bound very closely to honesty. When I think about my life and teaching career in particular, the people who I hold as role models are those that have the most integrity.
I like to think I am a very honest person, I am honest about my faults and my mistakes and I own up to them even when it would be easier to lie about them. I really don’t like dishonesty and I find dishonest people lack integrity. I also find it very hard to get along with people who I perceive as being fake, who for example, will say things just to look good and boast about their accomplishments when they are speaking half truths and have only looked out for themselves.
I used to work for someone like that, (they are retired now), and he was a good boss in many ways but he lacked integrity. He was a bit of an alpha male and was very happy to go on about his accomplishments but he spoke like a politician, e.g. in half truths and exaggeration. When he spoke to visitors about our school it was hard to recognise what he was talking about because he would describe things in a way that would leave me thinking ‘do we do that?’.
So the problem was, that I stopped trusting my boss, I couldn’t always believe what he had to say. I didn’t stay at that school for very long, the staff were great and I learnt a lot from working with them, I just didn’t want to work for someone I couldn’t trust.
The teachers and leaders who have inspired me have been the opposite, they have been honest and trustworthy. They have been true to themselves and their values have shone through clearly for all to see.
I have also been lucky enough to work for someone like this, and she was the best boss I have ever had (she has also retired now). I felt she valued and trusted her staff; if she didn’t know something she admitted to it, and listened to those who might know more than her; if she made a mistake she owned up to it; if she said she was going to do something she did it. She was honest about the schools strengths and weaknesses (whilst still selling it’s best bits to visitors like Ofsted of course!).
Staff felt cared for and valued working for her, well-being was a priority and it resulted in it being a really good school. I didn’t always agree with everything she said or did, but that didn’t matter because I respected her; I also didn’t feel scared to have a different opinion, I felt that would still be respected, whereas with the other boss, I felt that I had to be careful how i share my opinions if they didn’t align with his.
When I was a head teacher myself I tried to follow her example-and at first I think I managed it. I kept true to my principles and was honest about what I did and didn’t know and I put trust in the team around me. As the pressures of the job grew and I came under increasing pressure from the local authority to achieve results quickly above everything else, I feel I lost touch with my core beliefs-I lost track of what was important to me and I started to become a person that I didn’t recognise. I felt I was starting to lose integrity and I was honest enough with myself to say that the job wasn’t right for me at that moment in time and it would be best for the school if I walked away-so that is what I did.
Being a head is an incredibly hard job, especially at the moment, and I have enormous admiration for the job our school leaders are doing right now. Many have showed great honesty and integrity and they will need the courage of their convictions and the support of the whole school community if they are to ensure that however/whenever we open schools up more than they already are, that we do it safely with everyone’s best interests at heart. Our school’s leaders are showing their integrity in bucket-loads right now; it is a shame our country’s leaders aren’t doing the same thing.