5 unacceptable reasons for breaking our promises

Dennis Sparks
When people don’t keep their promises, relationships suffer. In addition, when promises are not kept in professional settings, the work that was promised is not getting done.
Promises made and kept are the engine of continuous improvement in teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.
Promise keeping is a fundamental attribute of integrity, which in turn is linked to trust, a core element of effective teamwork. It determines if and when important work gets done.
Promises are the concrete, actionable ways in which we state our intentions. Promise keeping enables us to achieve important individual (promises made to ourselves) and collective (promises made to colleagues, family members, friends) goals.
There are always “good reasons” for not keeping promises. But only one is acceptable.
Here are five unacceptable reasons for breaking our promises:
• I forgot.
• I didn’t  use the word “promise” when I said I would do it.
• I am far too busy to be expected to do everything that I say I will do.
• Some things are so trivial that it doesn’t really count if I don’t do them.
• No one seems to notice if I keep my promises so it doesn’t really matter.

The acceptable reason: Unforeseen events may occasionally require that we renegotiate our promises with those effected in a timely way.

No last minutes surprises. No waiting for others to reach out to ask us for whatever it was we promised to do.

No promise is too insignificant to be honored, no matter what its content or to whom it is made.
Educators’ integrity and the goodwill of others is far too important  a resource to be squandered in that  way.

4 Responses to “5 unacceptable reasons for breaking our promises”


  1. 1 Jamie September 10, 2013 at 8:46 am

    What a great list, Dennis. It’s especially damaging when school leaders break promises. I would also add being on time as a form of a promise. When someone sweeps into a meeting twenty minutes late it also sends a similar message to breaking a promise.

  2. 3 Vicki Duff September 11, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Thanks, Dennis. Promises affect every part of our lives – it is a wonderful reminder for our daily interaction whether personal or professional.

    • 4 Dennis Sparks September 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Thanks for reminding us, Vicki, that our integrity affects all aspects of our life, which underscores the importance of keeping our promises to everyone.


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