Is it Initiative or Compliance?

Is it Initiative or Compliance?

My back to school brain can’t let this one go. It seems somewhat trivial, but I’ve been pondering over it for days and feel the need to write about it here.

One of my usual back to school activities has always been to create a “List of Things to do When You Are Done” with students. The idea is quite simple – when you have completed the assigned task, you are to work on something from the list (or something else of your choosing). On a day to day basis, we would celebrate these moments of “initiative” when students would move from one activity to another. I even recorded examples for students’ Learning Skills. Usually the list would look something like this:

1. Read a Book

2. Complete Other Assigned Tasks

3. Look Ahead in Math

4. Doodle, sketch or Draw

5. Quick Write

So, when little Johnny is finished his assignment, I expect him to move on to something from this list – or something else of his choosing. Initiative…

Or is it?

If little Johnny is following my expectation, he is being compliant, isn’t he?

I’ve written about compliant and curious students before – I want them to be curious. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting one way or the other as if you can only be curious or compliant. It all comes back to student engagement, student passions, student interests and building relationships. I want a classroom culture in which students want to explore, inquire, learn, and take risks.

Check out this post by Justin Tarte:

The engaged student vs. the compliant student


A few years ago Doug Peterson spoke at our annual EdcampSWO. His keynote really struck a chord with me. In fact, I still credit what he said to this day in regards to staff and student learning and PD. I will try my best to paraphrase in one sentence:

Doug was referring to staff PD and workshops in this context. In other words, lets find a better word for “train” when offering PD opportunities.

My dog is trained to be compliant (even though he’s often defiant 🙂 ).unnamed-2

Still not sure why he let the kids bury him. I think he thought it was fun too.unnamed

And there you have the pendulum swing. If students are not being compliant, they are being defiant. Something about these categories makes me uneasy.

I wrote about classroom “control” a few years ago:

Classroom Control Interferes With Innovation


I also encourage you to read this article by Donna Miller Fry:

Classroom Innovation Means Giving Up Control


Finally, check out:

Engagement and Compliance in the Classroom. They Aren’t the Same!


Management is good if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-directed is better.

Back to the “list”. Many students need this list. At least I was offering choice back then. I will continue to create a list with students. It’s a good reminder to remain focused. The difference is, I won’t celebrate this as initiative.


(Visited 1,791 times, 1 visits today)

5 Responses for this post

  1. Leah K Stewart
    Leah K Stewart
    | |

    Hi Brian, this is clever and I love exploring things like this. One big aspect of initiative is the initiative to say to someone else: “I think you’ll like this…” “Check this out…” And of course this happens with students for things not school related, but what if students could do this with teacher’s lessons/courses; “You’re stuck with that? OK, you’ve GOT to do Mr Aspinall’s next course. He runs them every 3 weeks, sign up for the next one!” That’s the initiative to share with others. To have the freedom to get yourself into the best place for you to learn what you need is also initiative. Once in that place student’s will comply to learn, because they’re also free to leave. They’ll talk with others about the content, instead of what they think of the teacher; “Oh, I only needed the first few lessons, but this is what I took from it…”

  2. Aviva
    | |

    Brian, not to throw a wrench in your plan, but could this list be initiative for some students? Are all students ready to determine initiative on their own? Maybe this list acts as scaffolding for if/when students need it. Some may require this support all year, others not at all, and maybe others for just a week or two.

    I see your point about initiative versus compliance, but I wonder if it’s as easy as that. With such varying learners in the classroom, maybe for some students, continuing to work by choosing an item off a list is more initiative than stopping work altogether and/or seeking support for what to do next. And if you have “something of your choosing” on the list, then are you providing this open-ended initiative option for those at that point? What do you think?



Leave a Reply

Email *