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

As I travel and work with teachers to improve practice and increase student achievement, classroom management is often a topic we focus on in professional development. Whether managing a 1:1 classroom or understanding how a teacher manages a PBL project, teachers are always looking for best practices in how to make sure the classroom is managed effectively.

This topic is also coupled with the idea of engagement. We know that if we are engaging our students, then management issues are alleviated or disappear all together. Whenever I work with teachers I also make this statement:

"What is the best tool for management? Engaging curriculum and instruction!"

However, I've come to understand that the term "engagement" needs to be unpacked before addressing issues of management in the classroom. If you ask an educator, "What does engagement look like?" responses will surely vary. I remember when I first started teaching, and preparing for a classroom visit by my principal or supervising administrator. I always wanted to make sure the room was quiet in general, there were no outbursts and that students were silently working on their assignments at their tables. Now I realize these are not quality indicators of engagement. They are quality indicators of compliance, which is different.

Daniel Pink makes an significant quite in his video (and book) Drive, although his context is focus on the workplace. "Management is good if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-directed is better." Here Pink reframes the whole conversation on what it means to be productive, contribute to a goal and do work.

I don't want just compliance for my students. I want engagement. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are three ideas (borrowed from Pink) that can move our classrooms to focus on engagement, rather than on compliance. When we do, classroom management becomes a conversation about strategies to support learners, rather than a way to make them "follow the rules" in a one-size-fits-all model. Let's reframe the conversation on classroom management, and instead focus on engagement first!