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Honor Codes Inspire Student Independence
This is the second installment in a set of interviews with heads of school about how honor codes unite and guide educational communities. Boarding schools take on the task of helping students develop both inside and outside the classroom, and many view honor codes as integral to every day life. The interviews below demonstrate how honor codes support students in setting goals and making good choices as they emerge as independent young adults.
Our fall issue featured interviews with John Byers, of Christchurch School in Virginia, and Zachary Lehman, of The Hill School in Pennsylvania. We now bring you valuable insights from Katherine Windsor, of Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and William MacMullen, of The Taft School in Connecticut.
Katherine G. Windsor, Ed.D
Head of School, Miss Porter’s School
Our honor code is part of how we empower girls. The code calls on students to live with trust and integrity and the girls recognize this as a special community because those values are very much alive. They take this code deeply to heart and encourage each other. It serves as a call to action to ensure that the legacy of the school is upheld.
When students act with honesty and in accordance with ethical principles, they become the architects of their own experiences. The honor code provides a foundation for developing personal power and using it wisely. This bears out as the students learn independence and make good decisions. We expect them to be bold and lead others. It is reassuring to them to feel that these risks are rooted in sound principles.
The honor code is a part of our culture that is transferred through traditions. At the beginning of each year, students discuss the honor code and sign a copy of it. It hangs in each classroom and students reiterate the code on major assignments. Any violations are adjudicated by peers through an honor committee. Students understand that the community is joined together in its commitment to these ideals. Thus the girls are guided by the code to look after each other and check in with each other.
William R. MacMullen
Headmaster, The Taft School
An honor code is like a valuable family heirloom that you want to cherish and pass on intact. It is simultaneously sturdy and fragile, and it is up to each student to steward this gift and pass it on to the next generation. The honor code at Taft has been passed down to us by thousands of alumni and teachers. I understood that when I was a Taft student, graduating in 1978, when I began teaching here in 1983, and when I became headmaster in 2001.
Everywhere in the writings of our founder, Horace Taft, are references to working hard, respecting others, serving the greater good, and being honest. The history of these values at Taft is important to students today. We recognize that students may know of schools where cheating is common. Yet when students become part of the Taft community, we expect them to make a profound commitment to these ideals—and they do.
Each year we gather students together to talk about the honor code. Deans and faculty speak. Then students also discuss the code among themselves without faculty present. Our students inspire each other because they feel pride in and ownership of these ideals. We also talk about the honor code less formally throughout the year. Exploring the many opportunities and taking on the challenges offered at Taft inherently requires students to balance competing demands and make disciplined choices. We know that students will be tempted at some point to cut corners, and technology has fundamentally changed the accessibility of information. So we encourage students to be honest from both a moral and a pragmatic perspective. The honor code gives them a way of thinking about their choices.
Students often say they are attracted to Taft because of our strong sense of community. The honor code supports that because we trust each other and trust that we share core values.
Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is highly respected within the educational community for her dedication to helping families accomplish their educational goals. She has more than twenty years of assisting students through both traditional and therapeutic advising at junior, secondary school, and college levels. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org