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From Compliance to Engagement

by Nicole Dyson, Founder & CEO, Future Anything

As a beginning teacher, floundering under the expectations of the system and the students, I made the same mistake many make in their formative years as an educator. 

I confused compliance for engagement.

The Compliant Learner 

The compliant student does all the right things. 

From the front of the room, they appear undistracted; eyes tracking the teacher, taking notes as required, hand raising with the required response when the occasion demands. 

They complete tasks as instructed, within the time allocated.

They hand assessment in on time. 

They require minimal prompting, and they make few demands on the teacher for time.

A classroom of compliant learners is easy and predictable. They do what they’re told to, when they’re told to.

The compliant classroom, in the absence of the teacher, will tread water; patiently waiting for the next instruction.

The Engaged Learner

Conversely, an engaged student looks quite different. 

Their eyes might wander towards the window, or they might doodle down the margins of their notebook.

They begin tasks as asked, but sometimes ‘choose their own adventure’, taking an alternative route or viewpoint that means time is an elastic concept.

When the occasion demands- or even if it doesn’t, they’ll contribute to the conversation, but may ask more questions than they answer.

They often choose to take risks on assessment, taking on divergent perspectives or interpretations; leaning into their interests or personal curiosities.

A classroom of engaged learners can sometimes feel like you’re herding cats; you’re laughing (or crying?) and at times, you question your ability to get them where they need to go.

Curiouser and curiouser, in the absence of the teacher, the engaged classroom will happily dive down the rabbit hole.

It must be said that compliance is an alluring siren-song. 

It’s safe. It’s easy (or at least, easier). 

But, do compliant classrooms serve our students, or ourselves?

The compliant classroom is the result of a well structured classroom management plan, and clear expectations.

The engaged classroom is the result of a well structured classroom management plan, clear expectations… and an authentic learning environment.

The tighter the connection between the learning and life, the greater the engagement.

Building Enterprising Classrooms


Earlier this year, we introduced the Future Anything Enterprising Classrooms Framework.

The convergence of design thinking, entrepreneurial pedagogy, and project-based learning, we’re using the Enterprising Classrooms Framework to build a generation of young people who are enterprising thinkers and doers.

The second phase of the Framework centres on Authenticity.

An enterprising classroom connects learning to life through foundations in real-world purpose, production of a real-world product and connection to people and places in the real world.

This, in my opinion, is the not so secret ingredient that will shepherd students from compliance to engagement.

From compliance to engagement: embedding authenticity in the curriculum. 

Authenticity can be embedded within curriculum in three, relatively simple, ways.

Firstly, the assessment ask is transformed by the design of an authentic Driving Question.

The Driving Question is the hinge in a unit and should, above all things, be an invitation; an invitation to explore.

The purpose of the Driving Question is to open up possibility, generate interest, and amplify the real-world connection.

A great Driving Question has three key parts:

  1. It provides the young person with a Googleable role. 
  2. It provides the young person with an action or a challenge that links to the Googleable role.
  3. It provides the young person with an audience or purpose for producing the action or challenge.

For more support around Driving Question creation, check out PBLWorks’ Tubric here.

Secondly, students create and showcase an authentic product.

Traditional learning experiences are very transactional. 

The teacher delivers content. The student regurgitates the content back. The teacher issues a mark. 

If we’re intentional about building authenticity into our teaching and learning, assessment is transformed from a transaction to a celebration. The showcase provides the platform for students to ‘show up’ and share rather than ‘show off’.

As part of our Activate program, our schools run their own showcase events to enable their young people to share their enterprising ideas.

Think  ‘shark tank’ or a buzzing marketplace for teenage changemakers, pitching or displaying their innovative solutions, seeking not just funding or profit, but feedback, advice and connections that can help take their ideas beyond the classroom and into the real world. 

Check out this brilliant example from Queensland’s Redlands College.  

Finally, students connect to authentic people and places.

Schools are a microcosm of modern society. Their diverse stakeholder groups- students, alumni, teachers, caregivers and local community- provide a rich resource bank that is often overlooked in the curriculum design process.

So, with our end (the project) in sight, how can we deepen the sense of discovery and wonder for students by amplifying authentic voices, spaces and experiences?

  1. Who are the authentic voices that would amplify this learning?
  2. Where are the authentic spaces that would amplify this learning?
  3. What are the authentic experiences that would amplify this learning?

When we connect learning in the classroom to life outside the school gates, the shift from compliance to engagement naturally follows. 

Meet the Activators 

Of course, we all know that making such connections for often time-poor teachers can be a struggle.

So, as part of our Activate program for 2022, we’ve welcomed our Activators

Acting as an ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’, Activators are matched with a participating school, supporting teachers and students as a mentor, sounding board, and cheerleader as they work through Future Anything’s Activate program. The Activator’s goal is to help to connect learning in the classroom to life outside the school gates.

Over 50 incredible humans (meet them here) from the worlds of entrepreneurship, innovation, science, government, education and beyond have stepped up, volunteering their time to connect with the next generation of changemakers in Activate schools. 

They’ll become a real world ‘critical friend’, asking the probing questions, providing authentic insight and real-world perspectives that will empower young people to reflect on, pivot and refine their ideas.

The Power of Connection 

If we reflect on inflection moments in our lives, they are often one of two things:

  1. We met someone who both inspired and- somehow- also believed in us.
  2. We endured, overcame or achieved something we didn’t think we could.

The power of these moments lies in the way that they shatter our perceptions of our own potential. In these moments we see ourselves differently, and we suddenly see something new or different for our future that we previously didn’t think possible.

If we have one duty as educators, it’s to shepherd students to the edge of these experiences through challenge and connection to community.

Our world doesn’t need compliant citizens. 

It needs authentic, connected and engaged ones.

Future Anything offers a portfolio of student workshops, teacher professional development and in-curriculum project-based learning experiences that are building enterprising classrooms in Australia and beyond.

Find out more about our programs here.

Subscribe to Future Anything’s regular e-newsletter to have resources delivered right to your inbox. You can sign up here.

About the author: Nicole Dyson

As a teacher in the USA, UK and Australia as well as a Head of Department and Head of Year at some of Queensland’s top-performing public schools, Nicole has repeatedly led the design and implementation of whole-school changes to support future ready learning; building enterprising classrooms that place young people at the forefront of co-designing contextually relevant learning experiences.

Nicole is an engaging and skilled facilitator, panellist and speaker who is a passionate advocate for equity, the future of education, and empowering young people to bend the future; one youth-led idea at a time.

Connect with Nic on LinkedIn here or Twitter here.

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