Engaged or Compliant?

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 1.44.24 PM  I’ve taken a brief vacation from my blog, but not from writing.  A two week vacation allowed me plenty of time for personal and professional projects as well as some much needed family time.

My mind was overflowing with ideas for blogging this week, but this tweet that crossed my home page has really stuck with me. I’ve always tried to share the “why” of what I am doing in classrooms and with teachers, but I’m contemplating how I can take it to an even deeper level.

In an Ed Leadership article   Daniel Pink talked about the difference between compliance and engagement.  When students are doing something because we ask or expect them to, it is compliance.  When they do something because they see why, they are engaged.

There’s a huge difference between compliant behavior and engaged behavior. With compliant behavior, you’re doing what someone told you to do the way they told you to do it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s different from engagement. With engagement, you’re doing something because you truly want to do it, because you see the virtues of doing it….So if we really want engagement rather than compliance, we have to increase the degree of autonomy that people have over what they do; over how, when, and where they do it; and over whom they do it with.”         -Daniel Pink

He’s not advocating a “free-for-all” in which students can decide whether or not they do the work asked of them.  He considers the possibilities in allowing more choice in what students read or write; how they do their work, or projects that would demonstrate understanding.  Not everything needs this degree of discretion, but with more opportunity, comes more autonomy.  If we want motivated, life-long learners they need this valuable skill.

This level of differentiation is not always easy to manage in a classroom.  Larger class sizes, standardized grading policies, fixed homework rules, pacing guides, fidelity to programs all encourage or reward compliant behavior.  It can be messy if students begin directing their own learning and our standards of measurement are challenged. So how do we help teachers to encourage engagement and a sense of agency in their students while recognizing that they are often being asked to be compliant?

Maybe we start by going back to the question of “Why?”  Why did I want to be a teacher?  Why do I come in here everyday and work with students? Daniel Pink says we focus too much on the how rather than the why and I can see that.  Teachers and I often collaborate on how they will teach a lesson and spend very little time discussing why we would teach the lesson. When we teach something because the curriculum says to, or because it is one of the standards we need to cover, we are being compliant.  We are thinking more about how to teach it.  Maybe we need to have a few more conversations about why we will teach it.  Not to be defiant, but to be more purposeful.

So in this new year, I will resolve to think more about the why before I worry about the how.  I will encourage my colleagues to have those conversations.  I will share purpose more with students and encourage them to wonder why.  In answering that question for ourselves, we can probably find the most powerful answer to how.

You can listen to more from this interview:



What’s on My Book Radar?

I just finished a gripping YA novel by Selene Castrovilla…MELT.  The phrase “There’s no place like home.” takes on a whole new meaning in this story of domestic violence and teens coming of age. Joey is a kid from the “wrong side of the tracks”, but Dorothy can see the boy inside that shell better than anyone.  He is traumatized by witnessing his father’s daily abuse of his mother and turns to alcohol and aggression  to escape.  When Dorothy lands in his Oz of a life we begin to see the power of hope and love.  Told from the viewpoints of both characters, we can see how our lens of experience shapes what we perceive.  Beautiful and brutal.  Not for younger readers, but teens and adults will truly care for the characters in this edgy, poetic novel that will MELT your heart.IMG_3649




Ed Leadership  September 2014 | Volume 72 | Number 1    Motivation Matters Pages 12-17

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