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Debra Matell Cohen, Ed.D.

John Winthrop Wright Director of Ethical Education


Students lie to their teachers. A student may lie about completing her homework or that a parent has signed off on his band practice log. So how can teachers affirm the importance of being honest and telling the truth?

1. Establish honesty and truth-telling as a classroom expectation.
You can’t teach honesty by hanging a poster on your classroom wall. At the beginning of the school year, discuss with the students in your class why being honest is one of the core values that defines your classroom community.

2. Throughout the school year, reinforce the importance of honesty and telling the truth.
It’s critical for you to reinforce honesty as a classroom expectation as the school year progresses. Don’t take for granted that your students will always be honest without regular reminders. Look for those “teachable moments” during the year when you can highlight examples of honest behavior and reinforce why telling the truth is important. 

3. Model honesty.
Honesty was one of the core values in my classroom community. The expectation that my students and I would not lie to each other was part of the respect and commitment we had for each other. Research shows that when students see and hear the adults around them being honest they are more likely to tell the truth themselves.

4. Never ignore when a student is lying.
With the stress of teaching and so much going on in your classroom, it would be easy to avoid addressing a student who has lied. But don’t look the other way. Education World points out that if a student’s lie is known but ignored, other students may take that as a “free pass” to lie themselves. 

5. Stay calm when you learn a student is lying.
Smart Classroom Management reminds us of the importance of remaining calm and finding the right time to speak with the student.

6. Find out the “why” behind the lie.
Students lie for many reasons. Here’s a list of six reasons why students lie and the appropriate response for each reason.

A student may lie to avoid punishment.
Help the student recognize that lying to avoid being punished is wrong. Discuss with the student how they could have made a better choice than to lie.

A student may lie to achieve a reward.
Help the student recognize that lying to receive a reward is also wrong.

Students may lie to feel better about themselves.
Find ways to build up the student by focusing on her strengths and accomplishments.

A student may lie to protect others.
Discuss with the student that while being loyal to friends and others is important, telling the truth is a core value they should always strive to uphold.

A student may lie in order to hurt others or get even.
Remind the student that gossiping or spreading lies is never OK.

A student may lie in order to be accepted into a group or become popular.
Discuss with the student why lying to gain acceptance is not right. Encourage and support the student as he finds a group of friends that’s right for him.

7. Seek to restore, not to punish.
Research suggests that teachers should use punishment sparingly. Instead, acknowledge the student’s fears and emotions and create “teachable moments” to reinforce the importance of being honest.  

8. Ask for support if the lying persists.
Depending upon the severity of lying and the type of lie, you may want to include others in deciding what steps to take. In some cases you might talk to a colleague at school. In other cases, you might want to reach out to the student’s parents or care providers.

As teachers we should always reinforce the importance of being honest. Whether we teach 1st grade or 11th grade, our goal should be to ensure that each one of our students understand, care about, and practice being honest until the day they are being honest because that’s just who they are and want to become. Honesty has become part of their identity. Inspiring our students to go out into the world as honest and trustworthy individuals is one of the best lessons we can impart.


Interested in learning more?
Watch for the subsequent parts of this series and sign up to receive the “Ethics in Action” blog and webinar series in your Inbox.

Part 1: Why Do Kids Lie? (Overview)
Part 2: What Parents Can Do When Their Children Are Lying
Part 4: Why Do People Lie at Work and What Can Leaders Do About It?
Part 5: Webinar: A Conversation with Dr. Kang Lee on Why People Lie

In the months ahead, our series will also explore Why Do Kids Steal? and Why Do Kids Cheat?

To sign-up for our “Ethics in Action” blog and webinar series, click here.

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