As you may know, I teach at an independent school in Brooklyn. It is a K-12 school, with about 80 kids per grade in the Upper School (grades 9-12). I love that even though there are around 320+ kids in the Upper School, there is a sense of community and belonging. For this to happen, a lot of stuff has to be going right. I have my gripes, believe you me, but when you take a step back and see all the good, well, I am proud.
At the same time, our kids are under a lot of pressure. Pressure they put on themselves, pressure we put on them, and pressure they get from their parents. They tend to overextend themselves — from sports and music and dance to SAT tutors to clubs to horseback riding to writing computer programs. And that’s on top of the regular school work we assign — which can end up being a lot.
And in our school, students cheat. (That’s probably not special to my school.)
I know students cheat. I’ve been on the Student-Faculty Judiciary Committee (read: disciplinary committee) for the past two years. I’ve seen it all. The most common form of cheating? The one that is rampant? Homework copying.
Anyhoo–I’m helping lead a group of 15 teachers to investigate “integrity” in the Upper School. Where and how we teach it formally and informally? Where we fall short? How other schools teach/model integrity? So that we can find concrete and specific ways to improve our own practice.
It’s not a bunch of fluff. One of the most eye-opening things for me was a discussion that I had with my homeroom last year about cheating. We had a frank, honest, open conversation — where I posed some questions and hypothesticals and just listened to them talk. It was a judgment-free zone. What impressed me about the conversation was that students had passionate views about the subject, about the role teachers play (read: busywork versus meaningful assignments), and their ability to voice their views confidently. What surprised me about the conversation was that the word “integrity” (or “morality”) did not enter into the discussion until I mentioned it at the end. Mostly their views were: it’s okay to cheat on small things, like homework, because you’re just hurting yourself.  It doesn’t really matter.
Most the other homeroom teachers I talked to told me their kids said similar things.
We want our kids to behave with integrity. We can’t force them to buy into it. But I see two things that we can do to promote personal integrity.
1. Model personal integrity as a teacher. How? Easy. “If you say you’re going to do something, do it.” 
2. Talk explicitly about integrity, and not just once. If it isn’t just you as a teacher doing this, but a whole slew of teachers, well, at the very least, the words and the ideas will be floating around in the school zeitgeist. As our learning specialist said: Naming things has power. Don’t just be implicit. Be explicit.
I try to do (1) all the time. Hello, my motto: clear, consistent, and fair. This year, however, I’m talking about (2) explicitly.
Specifically, one of the things kids have trouble with at my school is with collaboration. Different teachers have different expectations regarding collaboration. And what’s okay in one class is not okay in another. It can be confusing. And you know what? It’s hard to decide where the line is — between acceptable and unacceptable collaboration. There are grey areas. And saying “you can work together but you have to write up your work separately” is a cop out. The ambiguity present in that phrase is ridic.
So what I did was write three skits to be performed with another teacher, and had kids think about the following four questions:
- Where in the collaboration does the learning taking place?
- What are the positive pieces to the collaboration?
- What are the negative pieces to the collaboration?
- If you were in this collaboration, what are ways you could make the collaboration more productive?
The skits are below. 
I had kids take notes during the skits, after seeing these four questions, and then we had an informal conversation. It was one of the best things I’ve done in the classroom. Everyone had something to say. They responded to each other. They were thoughtful and mature. And most importantly for me, in each skit, they really thought about who was learning and who wasn’t in each collaboration. What I’m hoping is that this translates — even for one or two of them — into thinking about the way they collaborate with others on their assignments, and if there is a better way to collaborate.
I am going to have my kids engage in groupwork this year, and I hope I remember to ask them at the end of a class with a lot of group work: what was positive about their groupwork, what was negative, who was learning and how do you know, and how they could have made their groupwork better?
The big conclusion that I shared with them — and it’s something I only stumbled upon this year when thinking about academic integrity and collaboration:
I’m also going to start putting honor statements on all my assessments.
Again, not because I think it will “force” kids to act with integrity. You can’t force that. But it puts the idea of integrity out there in the zeitgeist. And who knows, if they see and hear and talk about it enough, it might reframe what students think about when they think about cheating: cheating is bad because I can get in trouble vs. cheating is bad because it diminishes the trust that others can put in me.
 I had this idea a while ago, but it was echoed by a teacher at my school at a recent meeting.
 In case you were wondering, Skit 1 borders on being unacceptable collaboration. Skit 2 is unacceptable collaboration. I made a blanket rule, after talking about this with my kids, that no student is ever allowed to give their homework to someone else, under any circumstances. Skit 3 is ideal.