Compliance vs Engagement


Teachers endlessly debate compliance vs engagement. Twitter is full of quick takes on the topic focusing on how students need to be engaged not compliant. Arguments are made that make it seem like compliance is a bad thing in education. Yes, most teachers goal is engagement or a level of empowering students, but without compliance it can never be achieved.

The compliance naysayers often focus on strict classroom management techniques for their examples of compliance. Sit in assigned seats, arranged in rows, be quiet, do everything I say. Does this style of teacher work for today’s learners? Some but probably not too many. Military style compliance classrooms aren’t the norm now (sure seemed to be when I was a child). Many classrooms are moving to flexible seating with a culture of learning as a community. Classrooms do need students to comply with school rules and expectations. Students need to learn the procedures for choosing a seat and when the teachers voice has to be heard. Without simple levels of compliance students will be engaged only in their desires, not the class’s learning targets.

Might the lack of compliance be one of the issues hindering education today? Students are so engaged with social media, sports, Fortnite and their personal agendas that they fail to comply with the educational goals of their school. Lack of compliance is modeled all over in our society. Just turn on the news, everyday their is a story about non-compliance, where someone is engaged in their own agenda.

Successful teachers know the balance that is needed between compliance and engagement. Focusing on classroom procedures and expectations first and then moving to more engagement style tasks once students show they can comply with expectations. Many activities start of as compliance and move towards engagement after students show they can follow the expectations. Many teachers use choral response activities to help model for students how they can learn concepts. Like this one


Students can learn from compliance. Compliance is a skill that every employer desires. Compliance is needed in our society.  Education should focus on the balance between compliance and engagement. Without compliance the engagement can be misguided and unfocused!

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