Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I read a great post today by Aviva Dunsiger on compliance and self-regulation entitled Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I really suggest you read it. Aviva is writing about something we don’t talk enough about – the pressure for adults to conform. Again, this is something we do in education, we are expected to do everything in our power to respect the student’s need to self-regulate and possibly opt out of difficult situations, but on the other hand, we expect nearly blind compliance from the adults in the system. She ends her post with this question:
Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.
At the end of Aviva’s post I added this response:
Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal.
To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.
Aviva is making an excellent point here. To opt out, to question, to take a different path is just as important for the social-emotional health of adults as it is for children. It is dangerous however because it will put you at odds with the vast majority of people who are comfortable with or unwilling to question the status quo.
When we discourage noncompliance and independent thought, what does an organization lose?
To call for strict compliance means that decision making is left in the hands of the few in the highest positions of authority. To question their ultimate authority will lead to sanction. This means that alternative positions are not encouraged by teachers, consultants and especially school administrators.
Consequently, adults in school boards are reduced to ‘cheerleading’ tweets. While there are many educators that go beyond cheerleading, it is seldom that they seriously question the status quo – something that is established by a small group of people whose authority is never questioned.
I have seen this demand for compliance with other large organizations. The Catholic Church and its agencies and large education corporations are two I have had some experience working in. It seems the larger you get the less room there is for thinking outside the box. It makes me wonder how innovative thought and action ever takes place!
When it comes to opting out there are not a lot of options. You simply cannot dissent if you work for a large school board or other big organization. This means that your social-emotional well-being is secondary to the well-being of the organization.
Adults always have the right to opt out, but that comes down to leaving the organization. In my case, speaking critically about my school board meant that I would be suspended without pay. So, I complied.
This was not a good situation, but I did have the option to opt out and I did. I left the organization and I started to write. From a social-emotional perspective, this is a good thing.
It might have been better if independent thought and initiative had been encouraged while I was a school administrator. You really lose something when you demand blind compliance. Opting out is good for adults, it would be even better if we could do this more while remaining members of the organization.

6 thoughts on “Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

  1. This is a very thought-provoking post, Paul, and I think that my experience has been different than yours, so while I continue to push and question some changes, never quite to the degree that you felt you wanted or needed to. I wonder if there’s a middle ground here. What does professional discourse look like in bigger organizations such as a school board? How do we support questioning and embrace change, while also being respectful of board decisions and directions? I’m not sure that there are any easy answers, and with lots of different stakeholders and points of view, I wonder if it’s possible to do it all. I keep thinking of Ann Marie Luce’s comment on my post. She discusses “agency,” and the importance of developing this in our kids. Is the same true for adults?

    Thanks for giving me so much to think about!


    1. Good points. I think Ann Marie has something there when she writes ‘Maybe by involving students more in the planning of learning and giving them a voice in the organization and function of the classroom they would become more engaged not less?’

      One way to look at all this is to affect change where you can have an impact – in your own classroom or school. Where it becomes a real challenge is when others intrude in this sphere. Many times the intrusions are not well thought out or necessary. We all do best when we facilitate the learning of others and allow those we work with as much creative control as possible.

      Thanks for the reply!


      1. Thanks for the reply, Paul! I think Ann Marie makes a wonderful point here, and it’s something worth considering for adults as well as children.

        For a while now, I haven’t been one for just blindly following the norm, but I also try to always have kids at heart, and a good understanding of how my thinking aligns with expectations and student needs. Often I’ve had very powerful, wonderful conversations with administrators and parents around the choices that I’m making (or my teaching partner and I are making) in the classroom and why. I find that by having these open dialogues, and being willing to ask and answer some difficult questions, I usually get support. I think that we need to continue to have these conversations, and maybe explore some of our approaches through the lens of “educator as researcher.” When I present my approaches to parents and admin in this way, and then discuss results, it seems to make a difference.


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Aviva

        Yes, this makes sense. The best decisions occur at the local or school level and involve individual students. What you are describing is education at its best. When supported by an innovative school administrator the situation gets even better. The problem occurs higher up where the bureaucracy of the education system gets muddied. We always do best at the local or school level and the best that we can hope for is that the system does not intrude to impede the great work of school educators.



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