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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Compliance is NOT the Same as Engagement

"First I got their ear and then I had their heart." 
Jay Z

Have you ever heard someone go on and on about how engaging a lesson was?  Invariably, they will talk about how everyone was on task and completed the assignment.  I would argue that often times people are confusing compliance with engagement.

Students for the most part sit where they are supposed to sit and do the work they are assigned to do.  I don't worry as much about a student who acts out in class.  I worry far more about the student who sits passively and complies even though the work lacks any type of relevance.

There is a fairly easy way to not use the terms compliance and engagement interchangeably. You simply ban both words from your vocabulary when providing feedback on a lesson or in reflecting on your own lesson.  Feedback should be both descriptive and nonjudgmental.  Simply saying that everyone is engaged falls short of that criteria for effective feedback.

Your challenge...if you choose to accept it... is to remove the word engagement from your vocabulary when describing what you are seeing in a classroom.  Focus on being descriptive and asking questions that foster growth.


  1. I know that it is merely semantics but I dislike the word engagement as well. Engagement suggests a form of compliance doesn't it. It says I have created something and you are engaged in it. I want to see students creating their own learning experiences with guidance. Then perhaps we can replace engaged with motivated.

    1. Good point. We always say that we want students to be creators of content instead of consumers of worksheets. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. COMPLETELY AGREE! Many teachers put too much of the focus of their class on the students that disrupt the class. So many teachers forget that they have to DISRUPT THEIR STUDENTS :). You cannot be content with them in "compliance" ... because compliance does not necessarily mean comprehension.

    1. Compliance doesn't mean comprehension.... I think I like that better than the original title of this post. In the end it is the creative disruption that will be most beneficial to students and adults. Passive compliance rarely gets you anywhere!

  3. Hi Brian,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It was very interesting. I feel those two words are commonly confused also. When I think of engagement I think of being on one accord. When I think of compliance the other word that comes to my thought is obedience. In conclusion I think your blog post was a great observation.

    Samuel Anderson EDM 310 University of South Alabama