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Teaching with Integrity

After meeting with Deidre Farmbry and David Green and learning about their work with the Center for Evidenced Based Education (CEBE) , where I first heard about the work of Roger Martin and the Center for Integrative Thinking, I have been trying to make connections between those ideas which were developed for business management to education. It is somewhat easy to see the connections to school management on the district and school levels. It is a little trickier to see the connections at a classroom level as it relates to teaching and learning itself.

I do think that the processes and skills described as integrative thinking are very similar to those involved in reflective practice and teacher research. Ideas relating to formative assessment, being able to collect data about what is happening in the classroom at any given time and to then analyze and make sense of that data to inform the choices the teacher makes next seems to be connected to this as well.

Here are a couple of initial thoughts. First of all, these skills and practices of integrative thinking will be necessary for students who will coming out of our schools in the coming years and entering the increasingly complex public sphere. They will need to learn how to take an integrative stance as well as develop the skills and practice to enable them to do so effectively.
However, they will not be able to learn in this manner if they are taught by teachers still expected to teach in a skills-based, atomized way. This is why it is incredibly important to reach the teachers at every level — from pre-service programs to on-going, substantive in-service professional development.

While searching the Internet, trying both to understand the concepts of Integrative Thinking and find connections to education, I came across this short video tape of Lee Shulman speaking about integrity.

Play (video/quicktime Object)

In it, he talks about the relationship between the words integrated and integrity. He suggests that the words are more related than we might initially think. He says that thinking across disciplines is more that just making connections; it’s about aligning one’s knowledge, purpose, design and action.

I have always thought that it is impossible for a teacher to separate her true self, her values, her beliefs, her background, her experiences and her questions from her work as a teacher. I have said that that is teaching with integrity. There have been times in my past where I have been forced to “teach against myself” — that is to present to young people ideas, texts, positions that I did not believe in. I’ve been forced to present material to them in ways that I know do not connect nor engage them. I have been forced to give them assessments that measures skills that are not relevant nor necessary for real learning. When I have done these things, I have not been teaching with integrity. My actions were not aligned with my beliefs.

I have struggled over the years to bring the two more in line. Of course, there has been no easy resolution — only the tension that comes from trying to reconcile disparate ideas, perspectives, approaches. The exploration of these tensions and the attempt at integration fuel the inquiry. The constant investigation into one’s own teaching is the thread that can hold the teacher together – to allow her to teach with integrity.

Marsha Pincus is a post-mid life woman, riding the Age Wave and writing for her life.

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