Thinking about integrity

I have been reading bell hooks’ Teaching Critical Thinking recently and something she struck a chord with me. bell laments how there is no talk about integrity in teaching anymore with it being treated like an “old-fashioned concept that has little meaning in a world where everyone is striving for success” (hooks, 2009: 32).

In an education system increasingly obsessed with exam grades, where getting an education means nothing more than getting a competitive advantaged in the job market, this feels ever more relevant. Within this policy context of shrinking of ambition and the definition of success becoming increasingly narrow, it can feel like there is no room for hope, freedom or social justice. Or even kindness.

One of the things that has struck me about my new job at a university is how grateful my students are after a session. I usually see students only once but they frequently make the effort to thank me at the end of a session and appreciate my kindness and how helpful I have been. When I analyse the feedback we receive from students post-session, the majority of free text answers mention the kindness and helpfulness of the facilitator. It concerns me that they may not be receiving the same kind of care elsewhere in their university education if they keep remarking upon it in our sessions (hooks, 2003).

Throughout her work bell hooks pulls apart the tendency of higher education to enforce a binary opposition between mind and body/soul: forcing the suppression of emotion, physicality and intuition in the classroom. Anyone hinting they may be more than a neutral brain to be filled with the knowledge of the academy, marks their self out as other (hooks, 1994).

This brings me to the root of integrity. In modern usage integrity is about being true to oneself and one’s values. You don’t necessarily have to follow the same moral code as everyone else to have integrity: it is the connection between being whole and adhering to a moral code. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this kind of wholeness. Increasingly I feel my life is lived in compartments.

During a recent Twitter edchat the issue of balancing professional identities in the classroom and being yourself came up as an issue (#edNCUCB, 2015). It can be a struggle to remain whole in the classroom. All those expectant faces staring at you. Brookfield identifies this tension around professional identity and worries of authenticity versus credibility (Brookfield, 2006).

But how does this play out in the classroom? Sometimes it feels as if we need to leave some of ourselves at the door. I wonder if we ask our students to bring only elements of themselves? Do we affirm their right to be minds-bodies-souls with the attendant emotions and experiences? Part of the solution for both teachers and students is accepting and embracing the emotional dimension of learning.

In my practice, I am trying to introduce some of the ideas of Nancy Kline such as thinking rounds and encouraging students to be present as themselves (Kline, 2002). In smaller sessions I take the time to learn names and use them as frequently as possible. I also frequently move into “Siberia” rather than remaining marooned at the front of the room so I can connect with students (Brookfield, 2006: 105). In planning sessions, I always build in time for me to speak to students individual, to ask them questions and answer theirs. I find these moment are opportunities for me to pay each student attention and affirm what they are learning and their progress (Kline, 2002). It is probably these touches that compel my students to thank me at the end of each session, because they feel cared for.

Creating a space where students feel comfortable to be more complete, mutually reinforces my own ability to be whole. In doing this I can draw together the parts of me that make a teacher: my values, my aspirations for my students but also my respect for them as individuals, and the regard I feel towards them. In not being scared to show my warmth and humour, I feel I can teach whole. And hopefully bring a little integrity back into the classroom.


Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: on Techniques, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. Second ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education of the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge.

hooks, b. (2003) Teaching Community: Pedagogy of Hope. London: Routledge

hooks, b. (2009) Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. London: Routledge

Kline, N. (2002). Time to Think. Cassell.

#edNCUCB (2015) What have you been reading and what questions does it raise for you? [Twitter chat Storify]. Retreived from:


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