Integrity Is a Behavior That Can and Should Be Taught


Think of someone you admire. Then think of an institution you respect. Why do you feel that way about them? Probably because you appreciate the consonance between what they believe and what they do. It’s the quality of integrity that you recognize, the tangible alignment of a person or organization’s stated values and observable behaviors.

Why Integrity is a Core Value at Catlin Gabel

In considering a refreshed articulation of our core values last year, we sought the opinions of all constituent groups, seeking to affirm what lies at the heart of our aspirations for students. The school’s values are not static concepts; they are fundamental beliefs that guide our actions and decisions, and by which others define and know us. They are what we hope to inculcate in every student and model as an institution. Kindness, inclusion, and integrity were identified by our community as those core values.

Of these, integrity is perhaps the overarching value. We all have an inner sense of our idealized self, the way we like to perceive our motives and intentions, based on values we hope to honor. That inner self, however, often manifests in imperfect, flawed ways in our behaviors, influenced by circumstances, relationships, and self-interest. Integrity is the enviable quality of aligning those internal and external selves as closely as possible.

We believe that integrity is less a trait than a disposition that can be taught and learned. The process includes teaching students the foundational importance of knowing their personal values. For most students, this naturally starts as a reflection of their family’s values and develops into a more mature and personalized set of values based on experience. Across the grades in developmentally appropriate ways, students engage with the curriculum and real-world examples that illustrate the many ways that values and behavior intersect. This equips them to make conscious decisions about how they act in the world.

How Our Students Are Putting Integrity into Action

Beyond intentional instruction, students learn integrity through opportunities to practice what they believe. In recent months, students, and all of us, have been challenged to assess our values relative to what we see in political discourse, pandemic behaviors, and social equity and justice issues. As a school, we have strived to be inclusive and kind and model integrity, knowing that students are holding us to high standards. And in turn, our students have inspired us by taking responsible action to address social, political, and environmental problems based on their emerging values. Their actions give us hope for the future:

  • A 4th grade student planned an Adoption Awareness Community Meeting to educate and inform Beginning and Lower School students about this family structure topic.
  • A 5th grade student made “Your Vote. My Future.” t-shirts to raise awareness about climate change. He sold the t-shirts, donated the proceeds to Ecotrust, and presented his project at a Community Meeting.
  • Students in the 5th and 11th grades organized a coat drive for Portlanders without housing.
  • A Middle School student is pursuing a partnership with Mother and Child PDX, an organization that removes barriers to education and supports parents during their pregnancy and children’s early infancy years.
  • A group of 9th graders is working with our facilities director to sustain #6 plastic recycling efforts and deliver those materials to Agylix, a local recycling facility.
  • The Upper School environmental action team has worked with students in the Beginning and Lower School Climate Justice Club to challenge the school community to reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Upper School students are working to create a mentorship program for Lower School students of color.
  • Upper School students formed the Antiracism Collective to engage fellow students to learn about race-based inequity and to invite school leaders to collaborate more closely with students as we make changes.
  • Two Upper School students wrote code for a new app that allows us to manage employee movement on campus and aid contact tracing.
4th graders placing sunchokes in bags to share with the CG community

Behaviors We Can All Model To Create Change

Whether it is a student, a group of students, or the school, taking responsible action based on one’s values demonstrates integrity. For both students and the school, however, it’s important to acknowledge that while integrity requires courage and conviction, it is not grounded in certainty. Integrity is strengthened through genuine curiosity for understanding why others believe or act as they do, which helps us to assess the value and validity of our beliefs.

To realize the full potential of authentic integrity, we can follow the advice of Jon Inazu, who wrote in his book, Confident Pluralism, about three behaviors that he believes foster integrity in ourselves and others.

  • The first is humility, recognizing that we do not have the truth or perfect information and that we all are limited in our ability to understand and persuade.
  • The second is patience, to stay with dialogue, ask questions, and be open to learning.
  • And finally, tolerance, the ability to separate people and ideas and look for the common good.

At Catlin Gabel, we teach students to know their values, act on them, and be generous in spirit. We challenge them to be honest, stand by their principles, and to believe in others. We expect them to be responsible in word and deed, and to be inclusive and kind. Taken together, this is what we mean by integrity, and how we hope our graduates will act in the world.

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