Character Counts: Integrity

March 1, 2022 | Betsi Ashby

Here’s one for all you engineers out there: what happens when a structure lacks integrity? Structural integrity ensures that the structure has the capacity to carry its intended load—and then some. When a structure lacks integrity, or if there is a structural failure, then catastrophe can occur. Think about how much we rely on the structural integrity of a bridge as we drive over it—how many thousands of cars over years and years must that bridge be able to handle without failing?

Now think about an ill-designed bridge—how do you feel? Would you drive over it? Structurally soundness provides is huge is preventing all kinds of accidents. When my preschooler is building something or climbing up on something, we often prompt her, “Do you feel safe?” In other words, “Does that structure have integrity?”

Okay, why all the STEAM talk, you’re wondering? Well, how do you feel around people of integrity? Do you feel safe? Can they be trusted to handle something important, over and over and over again? Our definition for integrity, this month’s character trait, is having the inner strength to be truthful and trustworthy, acting justly and honorably, and being consistent in words and actions. Moral integrity is important for many of the same reasons structural integrity is important—it keeps people safe, gives us load-carrying capacity, and helps us avoid getting into trouble. In short, it makes us strong from the inside out!

One way that integrity breaks down is when we are inconsistent with our words and actions. Our catch phrase works as an easy integrity mantra, or slogan: Tell the Truth, Keep Your Word. We all need daily reminders of this, especially in the small seemingly insignificant moments when fibbing gives us an easy way out. But is it worth chipping away at your character, at your own structural integrity?

Samuel Johnson adds another layer onto our way of thinking about integrity, “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” I find this quote challenging—it prompts me to ponder about the relationship between integrity and knowledge—two terms I’ve not considered together before! As we cultivate lifelong learning in ourselves and our children, integrity balances the knowledge we absorb. When these two are present, they create a strong, useful, and trustworthy human being. People who have lasting influence because of their deep character. Something I want for my family, myself included!

How do we foster integrity around the house? Below you will find some discussion questions and activities to help you on your quest:

  • Ask your students if they are able to define integrity. Discuss our definition and catch phrase—how do these compare to their definition?
  • Build Together. Use blocks, legos, playing cards, etc. to discuss structural integrity. Why is it important for a building to be well built? Would you walk across a bridge that did not look structurally sound? How does this relate to trusting people?
  • Why must you earn trust? How do you earn trust?
  • Why does it take strength to be truthful and trustworthy? When is it the most difficult for you to be truthful?
  • What happens when you are not consistent in your words and actions?
  • Do you know anyone that always keeps their word? 
  • Discuss one or two recent historical figures you have studied. Would you say that they have integrity—why or why not?
  • Pick a literature character to discuss integrity, Tom Sawyer is an especially good one (for more suggestions, refer to our Integrity Book List). Ask questions like, Do you think Tom Sawyer has integrity? What are some of the consequences of his lies? Tom Sawyer does not always get caught in his lies, but does that make his lying okay?
  • Consider sharing with your students a time that you were not trustworthy and/or lacking in integrity. What was the outcome? Looking back, would you have approached this situation differently? 
  • Brainstorm ways that you can practice integrity this month. Example: If you say you are going to do something, make sure you follow through and do it!

Another way to keep this character trait of the month top of mind is to print and hang our Integrity poster! Click here to download.








Want more resources? Read Teaching Character Through Literature: Integrity.

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