The Compliance Curriculum

As often happens, one of Seth Godin’s daily posts this week left me with things to think about days after as well as to connect to other little pieces.

His title is “It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative” and, unlike most of his entries, he’s not talking about business.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.

Looking around the schools I visit – look around your school – I have to admit he’s not far from wrong.

That concept of compliance vs. initiative also ties into in a new book I’m currently reading, Daniel Pink’s Drive in which he investigates the research behind what motivates people.

In it he presents plenty of evidence that the reward/penalty philosophy at the core of compliance is not nearly as effective at motivating people to perform better as we assume it is.

That people, including many of those in our classrooms, are far more inspired to succeed when they are interested and involved in the outcome, when they have a personal stake in what they are doing.

The kind of approach you might use when teaching initiative.

Initiative, however, isn’t on the test and compliance is.

And, as Godin notes, we’re good at teaching that, even if our kids are less and less motivated to learn it.

A Motivating Talk

Love TED Talks! This new one from TED Global in England last month features Daniel Pink discussing the science of motivation.

Pink is addressing the business world in his presentation but I think parts of what he has to say could apply to those of us in the non-business world as well.*

Especially when he notes that “too many organizations are making their decisions based, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.”

Pink suggests that businesses and organizations need a whole new approach, one “built much more around intrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they’re part of something important”.

Towards the end he discusses one motivator being used by a few companies, a variation on Google’s policy allowing employees to spend 20% of their time working on personal projects.

How cool would it be if we could incorporate the Google 20% policy into schools? Not just for teachers, but for students as well.

Anyway, as with many TED talks, this less than 20 minute presentation (it’s pretty clear when Pink gets the two minute light :-) is worth your time.

* I know there are some educators who can’t stand Pink’s ideas (not me for the most part) as well as the attempt to apply business practices to education (me most of the time).

Change in Leadership

The two keynote speakers at our district’s leadership conference were both remarkable, both for what they had to say and the fact that they were saying in to an auditorium full of principals and other people running our system.

The overwhelming theme of the day was change, which is exactly what Jennifer James and Daniel Pink were preaching.

But not just small rearrangements in the status quo. They were laying out for the crowd some of the major shifts in the cultural tectonic plates.

James identified herself as an urban cultural anthropologist and managed to put a lot of humor into her message.

She also went through a lot of ideas very quickly so I’m not sure I was able to capture every point she made. But here’s the attempt.

James’ major theme was that our society is undergoing a period of rapid change, driven by both technology and an ever increasing number of data sources, all of which is overwhelming those used to a relatively steady pace.

She identified four corners to the puzzle that forms the new tapestry of society: technology, economics, demographics and culture. Adapting to new technology is actually the easiest of the four, although many people lay the blame only on that most visible element.

We also learn to manage the economic and demographic changes. It’s the changes to culture, which she defined our belief structure about the “way things ought to be”, that cause the most heartburn.

Large segments of society often respond to these major cultural changes by falling back on their traditional “tribal” approaches to dealing with the unknown.

The new cultural tapestry also requires new leaders. But James was quick to point out that leadership is not the mastery of information.

Instead it’s the ability to influence, the ability to tell the story of the future. We need to create a new set of myths to accompany the new realities.

Daniel Pink’s presentation didn’t have the same impact for me, but that’s because the material was drawn from his book A Whole New Mind, which I’ve now read twice (highly recommended!).

In both the book and his talk, Pink describes three forces that are challenging the US, abundance, asia, and automation.

The effect is that businesses will require employees with more left brain, creative abilities rather than the right brain, analytical skills that have been the foundation of our economy (and our educational system) for the last half of the previous century.

In the talk, Pink outlined six skills essential for the future: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. In the book he goes into much more detail.

Both excellent speakers, both slapping this audience of mostly traditional educators across the head with a view of how the world outside the classroom is changing.

However, now comes the hard part. Can we take that information to make the massive changes to teaching and learning that will be necessary to prepare students for that new world?


Today I’m stuck at the annual ritual in our overly-large school district known as the Leadership Conference.

This is where all of our school-based administrators and a large chunk of those of us who work in central office assemble at a local high school to spend the day being motivated for the start of the school year.

Fortunately, we don’t just have to listen to the superintendent and school board members. One of the “outside” speakers is Daniel Pink whole writing I’m very familiar with, both from Wired Magazine and in his book A Whole New Mind.

I’m certainly looking forward to hearing what he has to say, but also to seeing the response to his talk from this very traditional group.

The other is Jennifer James, who I’ve never heard of. The program describes her as “a specialist in the areas of cultural change, diversity, and marketing”. Not sure what to make of that combination.

Now, let’s find out if the filter at this school will let me send this post.