Non-compliance in a democratic classroom: Is it prevalent?

Year: 2008

Author: Overton, Lorraine, Sullivan, Anna

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Student non-compliance in classrooms leads to a loss of effective teaching and learning time for teachers and students. Limited research examining reasons for non-compliance indicates factors such as differences in teachers' and students' perceptions of events, task engagement and classroom management styles impact on levels of compliance. Democratic teachers, who share power in the classroom, are likely to have students who comply with classroom expectations and norms because these students have contributed to the generation of the classroom rules. Therefore, it would be expected that these students would be less likely to exhibit non-compliant behaviour. However, little is known about non-compliance in such democratic classrooms.

This paper reports a qualitative case study examining the nature of non-compliance, particularly from the student perspective, in a democratic Australian primary school classroom. The findings show that non-compliant behaviour did occur occasionally in this democratic environment. Student explanations for their non-compliant behaviour included a lack of motivation to participate or lack of engagement with classroom activities, and power struggles and conflict disrupting work.

The discussion reveals that during the occasions on which non-compliant behaviour occurred, the teacher shared less power with students and students lacked a clear meaningful purpose for their activities and learning. Furthermore, levels of non-compliance were not consistent but rather dynamic and influenced by a combination of factors. In conclusion, this paper argues that teachers should consider adopting a democratic approach to managing their classrooms. Furthermore, teachers should seek students' perspectives to reflect on their classroom management beliefs and practices to reduce non-compliance in their classrooms, thereby increasing the available teaching and learning time for all students.