Moving beyond compliance in education

By Herman M. Lagon

IN OUR rapidly evolving world, mere conformity to existing norms and standards no longer suffices. Individuals and organizations alike are challenged to move beyond mere compliance and embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and genuine engagement. At the heart of this shift is the Ignatian principle of “magis,” the relentless desire to do more for the greater good.

In echoing the sentiments of Understanding by Design (UbD) expert Allison Zmuda, Mindsteps CEO Robyn Jackson poignantly remarked that “compliance is polite disengagement.” This assertion provides food for thought. Many of us may recall students or colleagues who seem engaged, following every rule and ticking every box, but only sometimes truly committed to the essence of the task. However, the realities of the 21st-century workforce require more than mere compliance. The need for self-direction, intrinsic motivation, and critical thinking has never been more paramount. The workforce of today and tomorrow seeks individuals who are proactive, not reactive, who challenge the status quo, and who can innovate beyond established boundaries.

The term ‘compliance’ often evokes visions of rigid adherence, devoid of critical thought or innovation. However, seeing it as a starting point rather than an end goal is imperative in a world striving for continuous growth. Indeed, the best educators have always sought to empower their students, equipping them with the tools and mindset to navigate the world independently fostering a love for lifelong learning.

Educational settings present an ideal opportunity for molding this mindset. Intrinsic motivators, such as autonomy, purpose, and competence, drive genuine engagement far more than extrinsic rewards. A shift from traditional incentive systems towards nurturing intrinsic motivation and fostering a genuine love for learning is key to this transition. The challenge for educators lies in balancing structured learning with student autonomy, making learning relevant, and fostering an environment where students actively seek out academic challenges and thrive in them.

However, it is not just about the students. Many experts now recognize that compliance, at its core, touches every facet of the educational experience. Every element contributes to the holistic educational journey, from curriculum design and instructional effectiveness to student support and financial stability. A shift from mere ‘box-checking’ to a genuine pursuit of educational excellence is the need of the hour.

Yet, it is essential to acknowledge the power of conformity in shaping behavior. The anecdote of the mountain biking adventure shows how difficult it is to break away from the pack, even when personal well-being is at stake. This human tendency also sheds light on situations like the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where individuals may have felt trapped in a web of collective conformity. The challenge is to build a culture where individuals feel empowered to voice concerns, challenge norms, and uphold core values, even under pressure to conform.

Indeed, the journey from compliance to genuine engagement is challenging yet rewarding. The Ignatian principle of “magis” is a guiding light, inspiring us to strive for greater things consistently. The onus is on us, whether as educators, leaders, or learners, to cultivate an environment that celebrates innovation, upholds integrity, and fosters a genuine love for learning. As Steve Jobs aptly put it, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” May we all aspire to be among them.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.