Education Opinion

Integrity Lessons From News Anchor Brian Williams’ Fall From Grace

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 12, 2015 3 min read
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There is an expectation of integrity in all of us, by all of us, for all of us. And when people make the decision to take a position of authority, whether teacher, building or district leader, or network news anchor, that expectation is heightened. Questions about Brian Williams’ veracity arise. “Why did he lie?” and “How can we trust what he has said and what he will say moving forward?”

Does Accountability Keep Integrity in Check?
Conscience is one of our most valued attributes. All this attention to what appears to be Mr. Williams’ hyperbole calls our thinking to the business of accountability in education. There are cases of educators who have fudged test results, behaved inappropriately with colleagues or students, changed grades, or violated laws and codes. These are in the minority. When they do happen, they make the news. Public trust can only be built on integrity. There are no gray lines in that regard...only slippery slopes.

The Brian Williams’ issue raises a question about human behavior. Why is accountability a necessary check on behavior? Lord Acton who lived from 1845 until 1902 said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Human behavior transcends time. We wonder if an external check on conscience is something needed. Does it rest in the value of human relationships or in a faith filled relationship with a higher power? We know too many stories of politicians who lost his or her moral compass. We are always disappointed in those who have taken a wrong step. As humans we hold our expectations high and hope each other person is doing the same. But people do misstep. Brain Williams was (and is still for many) a well-respected evening anchor. Why was there a need to embellish the personal story? For whom was that done...for Williams himself or for his audience? Speaking only for ourselves, we didn’t need the anchor to be in the helicopter shot down. We didn’t want him to be the news, but rather, to report it.

We think newly about accountability. We hold each other accountable. On a professional level though, how can we hold our educational community accountable? Have we slipped there? Is it our role to model integrity and to hold others to the same bar? Test scores are such a small part of the equation...yet we’ve allowed ourselves to be reduced to them. Accountability as a check on conscience is not a bad thing. As educators, we have each made a commitment to the children we serve. We will deliver the best education we can, by being the best teachers and leaders we can be, no matter the obstacles. How are we being held accountable? Using standardized tests as the measure of accountability for teachers and their students’ achievement is a flawed idea. That teachers should be held accountable for their students’ achievement, on the other hand, is a sound one.The question is how can we achieve a balance between the grades student earn and all the actions, behaviors, expectations, and responsibilities required of teachers that contribute to the achievement of their students?

If we accept the premise that most human beings benefit from accountability in order to stay the course with integrity and that educators should be accountable for their work, what is the answer, if not the current one? Integrity is nurtured through relationship...we become accountable to each other and to the families of our children. If Williams had thought about what we really wanted from him, perhaps he wouldn’t have forgotten who he was to us. We didn’t value him because he was a thrill seeker or because he took risks to bring us the news. No, we valued his insight, his level handedness, his demeanor of stability in all kinds of events. We are hopeful he is learning about himself and will be returning in a few months. In the meantime, let’s be sure we have our own integrity compass securely in place.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.