What a Teacher Can Do to Foster Honesty


As a high school teacher, I wanted my students to realize that when we choose to be honest — or dishonest — something happens inside of us.

It affects the kind of person we are becoming.

To help them see why this is true, I asked them to write in response to a series of questions:

  1. A prospective employer or college writes to one of your teachers for a recommendation. The writer says, "We know this student has
    good grades. What about his/her character?" What would you want the teacher to say about your character?

  2. Is "Everybody's doing it" a valid reason to do something dishonest?

  3. Is cheating in any of the following circumstances less wrong than cheating in the others: (a) school, (b) business, (c) income taxes, (d) athletic event, (e) job or college application? Explain.

  4. How do you gain the trust of another person? How do you destroy it?

  5. What are some of the consequences of being dishonest?

  6. What are the rewards of honesty?

Next, students shared their answers in small groups, followed by reporting out and whole-group discussion. Then I had students read an excerpt from my book Life's Greatest Lessons, describing the consequences of dishonesty (turns us into phonies, destroys trust, and undermines self-respect) and the benefits of leading an honest life (builds a good reputation, strengthens relationships, and brings peace of mind).

Once students had read this essay, I asked them to write again on the initial questions about honesty, and compare their two sets of responses.

As a class we discussed how their answers may have changed and why. This activity helped them see that honesty is a choice, one that matters. They had a better grasp of why honesty is essential if they wished to have self-respect and fulfilling relationships – now and throughout their lives.

read the entire excellence & ethics issue on promoting
honesty and discouraging cheating in schools here.




Hal Urban. "What a Teacher Can Do to Foster Honesty." excellence & ethics (Winter, 2011): 6.

Reprinted with permission. excellence & ethics is the Education Letter of the Smart & Good Schools Initiative, a joint project of the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs and the Institute for Excellence & Ethics (IEE). excellence & ethics features essays, research, and K-12 best practices that help school leaders, teachers, students, parents, and community members do their best work (performance character) and do the right thing (moral character).

excellence & ethics is published three times a year and may be subscribed to, without cost, here.


Hal Urban is an award-winning educator and author of the best-selling Life'sGreatest Lessons. He taught high school for 35 years and now speaks internationally on character education to teachers, parents, and students. His other books include: Positive Words, Powerful Results: Simple Ways to Honor, Affirm, and Celebrate Life, Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter, Choices That Change Lives: 15 Ways to Find More Purpose, Meaning, and Joy, and The 10 Commandments of Common Sense. This article is adapted from his latest book, Lessons From the Classroom: 20 Things Good Teachers Do. Visit his web site here.

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