The power of honesty
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
On April 29th 2014, I sat down in front of 24 Year 4 children who stared at me with ambiguity. I was their third teacher during this academic year. The tone was set and I’m not sure they trusted me. I thought about doing a usual ‘getting to know you’ style activity but instead, I opted to sit down and chat with them. My opening line was “My name is Mr Nixon and I’m 28 years old and have a wife and 2 kids.” Their ambiguous expressions softened… I continued. I spoke for about 5 minutes and when I finished, one of the boys at the back of the class thanked me for telling them about my life. Once he had said this publicly, there was a chorus of “Yeah thanks sir.” At this point, I knew that the rest of the first period of the day would be spent on activities to promote honesty and trust.
I got some large sheets of paper and put up some questions around the room which I encouraged the children for the remainder of the day to add to. They used post-it notes and the questions were prompting what their areas for development where, what they were good at and things about their personal lives.
At the end of the day,we had a look together and the piece of paper about their personal lives was rammed full and there were post-its covering post-its. It was a joy to read and I remember spending time when the children had gone reading through it. There was one concern though as we looked together at the pages… one of them was blank. It was the piece of paper asking What do you need to get better at? I asked the children why this was empty and the one about personal lives was full and they basically told me it was because I had been honest with them about my personal life so they felt compelled to do the same.
I spent the next night reflecting on this.
When the children came into our classroom the next morning, I had a list of things on the board – 1. Not very good at doing housework 2. Poor timekeeping 3. Not very motivated on a Saturday. I explained to the children that at this moment in time, I felt these were some of the things that caused me issues and they were definitely areas to improve. I took their suggestions (like going to bed earlier on a Friday night and getting up at 5 a.m. for a run on a Saturday) and put them all on the board. They could see the benefit and how this was going to help me. I turned the paper over and the word WRITING was on the board. The children pondered for a moment as I sat silent before one of them asked what I was doing. I explained to the children that an important part of our classroom ethos would be honesty. I talked briefly about honesty and that sometimes when people hear the truth, they may be offended initially but it is the responsibility of the person being honest to do so in a respectful and helpful way.
I told the children that there writing was not as good as it could be… just like that. I explained that I had been in a lot of schools and in comparison, theirs was not on par. I then sat back for a moment and watched some of my higher ability children scrunch their face and whisper to each other and the rest of the class looked puzzled… but slightly offended. I explained to the children that even though this was the current state, it need not be. I told them that I could and would help them but I didn’t know where to start. I pulled out the near empty piece of paper from the day before, the one which said What do you need to get better at? and I took a pen, split the page and wrote How? I placed it up by the door with the pieces of paper and carried on teaching the normal day. At the end of the day, we sat down and looked together and 20/24 children had put something on the sheet. They all highlighted that they needed to get better at writing but under the How? part, there were loads of suggestions – I need to use more connectives, I need to use my imagination to end stories better, I need to remember full stops. Amazing, this was our plan.
I kept this up for about a week and took it down. At the end of the July term, I pulled it out from the cupboard again and the children were happy to see the document which once offended them. They looked back and couldn’t believe that the things they had written were not issues anymore and the progress was visible. The children were happy. I was happy. In fact, yes the children made progress in their writing but I was even more happy that they made progress in their ability to self-reflect and their ability to be honest and accept people being honest with them.