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When Being Compliant Isn’t Enough

by | May 1, 2022 | RE@L StudentCorner | 0 comments

If there’s anything that our hectic, heated and harried school environments are demonstrating to us, it’s that compliance is our driver. Educator be wary! It’s a trap! Tread with caution. The unfortunate result of this unprecedented, frequently insane era is that we take no time to peel back the onion and re-examine why we do what we do and what data or research supports it. Take, for instance, how ambivalently it occurs in this excerpt from a new, realistic made-for-the-stage school drama:

For a curriculum conversation about something so important, the discussion is wholly inadequate in length and substance. Unfortunately, it may not be far from common in the current environment. Principals are busy people. Ultimately, their responsibility extends to everything — I mean EVERYTHING — that happens in a school.

And so one cannot criticize a conversation like this, because it happens. It is indicative of the kinds of superficial conversations that HAVE to happen in schools because the system has every professional stretched to the max. And so it is a discussion of compliance. Implementation is boiled down to simply: ‘Are we doing it?’ Or ‘Are we compliant?’

When it comes to vaping, the discussion must go beyond the compliance level. The data should lead to more questions. To do so, one would ask, what are we doing? and how do we know it’s working?

What are we doing? Many times, when it comes to meeting the intent of a mandate, we think only of compliance. But the health and safety of our students (our future adults) should not be left to a compliance conversation. Too many times in curricular-based mandate circles, ‘covering’ means ‘compliance’. Covering topics is not our job. Uncovering them is. Covering means that we mention the topic or we include it. Uncovering means that we dwell on it and we assess how our students are doing with the content.

And this leads to the ‘how’s that working for you?’ question. Deeper analysis of relevant data will go past the superficial, focus on the data that we have, and then adjust appropriately. 

The savvy principal understands that one cannot punish our way out of a vaping problem. Finding a proactive means of addressing the problem before it starts can be an easily agreed upon solution. We’ve done this before when it comes to smoking. Over three decades of ant-smoking/anti-nicotine instruction will show that educators have very successfully addressed smoking in the curriculum. In a many cases, that instruction has taken place in grade 8. Why? Because it has always been done that way, and it is what precipitates the ‘I’ve got it covered’ response to the question from the principal. ‘I just added to our 8th grade unit on drugs, alcohol and tobacco.’

The problem here is simple: grade 8 is too late. Recent data from the CDC suggests that students are first being introduced to vaping as early as age 12, which is more like grade 6.

It’s a very common mis-match that can happen when compliance to mandates is deemed more important than the effectiveness of the compliance.

At RE@L, we believe that — especially when it comes to vaping — effectiveness should be the driver of the discussion and that begins with a solid analysis of local data. If we are to make a difference in the outcomes, we need to step back and have the difficult conversations about what we have always done in the past. Only then, can we move the needle on vaping.

RE@L’s outstanding curriculum, 1Up On Vaping™ is available to schools now. It’s a web-based solution to ‘Take Down Teen Nicotine’. It can be used as a stand-alone curriculum or as reinforcement to classroom instruction. Designed by the same creative mind that brought us the legacy simulation game, The Oregon Trail, 1Up On Vaping™ places the students as the main character of a graphic arts story. To find out more about 1Up On Vaping™, click here or click on the 1Up banner to the left.

When it comes to the health and safety of our children, and when we consider the dangers of e-cigarette and vaping, we cannot short change our students by addressing these dangers as a matter of compliance. Being compliant is not enough. Dare to dig in to the weeds! What does our school discipline data tell us? What does research tell us? Is our current approach about compliance? Is it about covering? How do we get to the next level? What formative data tell us that we are making progress at school and in our classrooms? What summative data are we following to know if we are making a difference?


*Some images on this page were provided courtesy of


Randy Nelson


Randy Nelson is a retired educator of 38 years. He served students as a high school speech, theater, and English teacher. He served colleagues as a director of curriculum and instruction; and, most recently he served the La Crosse, WI school district as its superintendent of schools. He has a strong leadership track record promoting choice and innovation via unique community partnerships. He currently serves RE@L, inc as its Director of Education.