FOCUS (Part 4): Self-Awareness and Integrity

FOCUS (Part 4): Self-Awareness and Integrity by Dr. Toby A. Travis

At least two general observations are true in practically any profession, but especially of educators who demonstrate a focus on Character: (1) that they possess a healthy and honest understanding of themselves, and (2) that they possess a strong measure of personal integrity.[1]

Successfully serving in the field of education is both a skill and a passion.

Foundational skills can be identified, taught, and even mastered by new teachers and school leaders. However, many behaviors of trusted educators, who demonstrate integrity, come from a healthy and honest focus on self-awareness.

For Christian educators that self-understanding is founded in their personal recognition of their need for Christ and their daily dependence on Him, as well as the deep knowledge of their value and worth in the eyes of God. Personal integrity in this context refers to moral stamina and general work ethic.

In every school setting (i.e. secular or faith-based), trusted and successful education professionals maintain a focus on the following five characteristics of self-awareness and integrity:

  1. Self-motivated (with very little need for external incentives or direct supervision)
  2. Independently explore solutions
  3. Continually pursue professional and personal development
  4. Experiment with new techniques and methods for engaging students
  5. Genuinely engage in professional learning communities[2]

All of those five elements come from within – as part of a continual focus on personal integrity and Character.

As an educator who has served in international settings, I resonate with the following quote from Sherry Mueller, which encapsulates what I have seen and identified as a general quality, marking the Character of other educators who serve outside of their home cultures.

Most individuals aspiring to work in international [education] are motivated more by a desire for psychological satisfaction than financial gain. They are genuinely idealistic, wanting to make a difference in the world and a contribution to a specific positive result… to have a positive impact. They envision their careers making a tangible difference in our turbulent world. “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution” is an often-quoted but relevant adage. People drawn to these fields want to be part of the solution.[3]

This again is especially true in what I have witnessed among teachers and school leaders in international Christian school settings. They are not necessarily motivated by a paycheck, or the amount of financial support they can raise as missionaries serving on a foreign field. They are truly motivated by the altruistic opportunity to influence students’ lives – and subsequently and literally, the world.

As a closing example, the Alliance Academy International (where I served for 8 years) is populated by the children of political leaders, business leaders, military leaders, missionaries, and even celebrities; all children of parents seeking a US-style of education in English, grounded in a commitment to high moral values. Faculty and staff of the school are truly discipling the leaders of the next generation. The students represent over thirty nations; and many will return to their country of origin and influence those nations in the years to come. Therefore, the motivation of nearly all the faculty and staff is grounded in their rather amazing opportunity to impact the world through their daily interactions with international students and families.  Without question, those educators maintain a self-awareness that their ability to successfully participate in that opportunity, is founded largely on maintaining a focus on self-awareness and personal integrity.

©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

[1] A. G. Tekleab, H.  P. Sims, S. Yun, P.E. Tesluk, and J. Cox, “Are We On the Same Page? Effects of Self-Awareness of Empowering and Transformational Leadership,” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 14, no. 3 (2007): 185-201; Michael E. Palanski and Francis J. Yammarino, “Integrity and Leadership,” European Management Journal 25, no. 3 (2007): 171-184.

[2] Amy Tsui, “Distinctive qualities of expert teachers,” Teachers and Teaching 15, no. 4 (2009): 421-439.

[3] Sherry L. Mueller, Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2008), 97-113, Kindle.

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