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The Right Road

Honor Codes Offer Insight Into School Values

I have previously written about the importance of looking at a school holistically to find the best educational fit for a child. In addition to rigorous academics, Bertram families seek schools where students develop their values of ethics and integrity. A school’s honor code is one of the key instruments through which values are infused throughout student communities. These canons articulate a moral compass for students to live by in all arenas of school life.

Each school has its own strategies for nurturing these values and for addressing the honor code violations that inevitably arise from time to time—even when honesty is cherished by students as well as faculty. To explore this topic, I've invited heads of school from four prestigious institutions to share their thoughts on what gives the honor code strength in their communities. These interviews will be presented in two parts. In this issue, we present words of wisdom from John Byers, of Christchurch School in Virginia, and Zachary Lehman, of The Hill School in Pennsylvania. In our next issue we will share insights from William MacMullen, of The Taft School in Connecticut, and Katherine Windsor, of Miss Porter's School in Connecticut.

John E. Byers
Headmaster, Christchurch School 

Christchurch, VA
250 students

Interpretations of values may change over time, but the core questions of mankind remain "Who are we?" "What do we stand for?" "What is our purpose in the world?" We answer these questions by defining and living our core values, which at Christchurch are: curiosity, acceptance, integrity, respect, kindness, and self-confidence. Our Honor Code is a natural extension of these values.

Boarding school communities can be powerful places in shaping character. A few years ago we reviewed our Honor Code in the context of both our academic curriculum and our social life curriculum because we wanted it to resonate throughout all the strands that occur in the 24-hour nature of a boarding school. As a result, our Honor Code is about becoming a good person, in all the ways that means.

Our Honor Council is comprised of ten students who are peer models for living with integrity. These students organize activities throughout the year to promote pride in the honor code. They review honor code violations, are identified with a special color that is worn on uniform days, and serve as peer mentors.

Our students take genuine pride in our school community. They recognize that an honor code is part of who a person is and that living by an honor code is its own reward in life.

Zachary G. Lehman 
Headmaster, The Hill School

Pottstown, PA
500 students

The Hill School, which was founded in 1851, has long had an honor code embodied by its school motto: “Whatsoever things are true.” In recent years, students identified the specific tenets to articulate what this motto means in the context of everyday life. Thus the Honor Code that is omnipresent at Hill was conceived by students, for students. It is also primarily enforced by students.

We have an Honor Council, made up of nine students who are elected by their classmates. In addition to reviewing Honor Code violations, the Council is proactive in promoting integrity throughout the student body. They organize an Honor Code Awareness Week and events like ice cream socials during exam period, when students might be feeling extra pressure.

The strength of the Honor Code among our students is one reason that Hill School recently became one of five schools nationwide that the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education recognized for Excellence in Ethical Education.

The Honor Code is pervasive at Hill, and we embrace it. Our students want to live in a community that prioritizes values. They take pride in knowing that Hill students are recognized as being people of their word, who make ethical decisions. This is the heart of sound character and leadership.

Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is sought after as a speaker at national and regional forums on education and educational directions. She can be reached at
cammie@thebertramgroup.com