Compliance is not engagement

When you look back to your days as a student, were you well behaved? Did you sit still and listen? Did teachers like to have you in their class? If you answered yes to these questions, my next question is of utmost importance: Were you truly an engaged student or were you simply compliant?

Compliance sounds like a dirty word yet, for many years that is what we have truly valued in our classrooms. And why not…it made our job as educators much easier! Students sat in rows, listened (not necessarily intensely) but quietly and did what they were told to do! Furthermore, if there was any misbehaviour, a quick call home to mom or dad and that was eliminated fairly quickly. Whether you want to believe that those were the good old days is irrelevant because that’s not how our classrooms are or should be today!

Our world can ill afford to “produce” another generation of compliant students. The very definition of compliance should strike fear into our hearts and minds. The students we want and truly need in our classrooms are committed. But the committed learner will never be allowed to develop in classrooms that still recognize and reward compliance. Silent classrooms with a five rows of five desks matrix cannot instill the engagement required to move from compliant student to committed learner.

Before we blame the system, let’s be reminded that WE ARE the system! We have control of what happens in the classroom. We may not have sole choice of what we teach, but we control how we teach and as professionals that is our unique body of knowledge. Great pedagogy should always trump mediocre curriculum or any other issue we face!

Great pedagogy in today’s classroom must mimic the real experiences in our students’ lives. Given the digital world our students live in, engagement must include appropriate technology. There is no way to minimize the requirement to engage students with technology as a tool! Even the most engaging traditional teacher cannot compete against the feedback our students are experiencing in their gaming world. It is impossible!


Our students deserve to be engaged in their classrooms and our society needs committed learners. We can no longer settle for compliance in our classrooms. Students should not be satisfied with “stock” answers they can get from Google but instead want to be able to question more. Compliance equals a knowledge receiver while commitment is more equivalent to a knowledge creator. Compliance maintains the status quo while commitment searches for a better way!

As professionals, we too desire to be committed and engaged. There is no better time than the present to be the role models of commitment and engagement to our students in our classrooms. Our students are the future but we can assist them to create it through engaging not compliant classrooms!


    • Karen on August 27, 2013 at 10:33 PM
    • Reply

    Very timely and powerful message! Engagement should be our goal as professionals and the goal also for our students! It is very difficult for students to go from their highly engaging technology at home to the sometimes very traditional classroom setting. We need to be aware of this and strive to change it.

    • Kendra Grant on November 30, 2017 at 4:29 PM
    • Reply

    This is an important post. Thank you for writing it.
    We reward those who comply and we punish those (who for a variety of reasons) don’t. You comments around compliance aligns with Universal Design for Learning with its goal of learner expertise. Engagement is the first principles focused not just on recruiting interest but helping learner persevere, put in effort and develop self-regulation. They can’t do this with canned curriculum and content focused instruction. Another great post I read similar to this called was called the game of school. How many of us (teachers) played it? How many of our students continue to play in order to succeed?

    1. Thanks Kendra for your comments! Most of us educators were compliant students and that is our comfort zone. I was a high end athlete and very dedicated and so doing what I was told and believing it would make me better, I too was a compliant student. When I first began my teaching career, I demanded compliance but then my wife and I had our son who was far different from me in school. It took me a long time but he taught me that every student has gifts that we need to nurture and grow not crush out because they don’t fit into our compliant world. Now, when I speak, I often bring up my lesson learned from him…by the way, he is now a very successful realtor even though none of his gifts were recognized in school.

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