After years of running workshops, I’m now asking two questions before accepting an offer:
- What are the professional expectations of attendees?
- What are the consequences for violating those expectations?
I ask because, after being involved in hundreds of workshops and conferences, I rarely see professionalism enforced at education events. This is something we need to fix.
Expectations Should Be Expected!
- If I were to walk into a classroom, and a teacher didn’t have clear expectations and consequences, I’d assume they were brand new.
- If I visited a city without laws and ways of enforcing those laws, I wouldn’t return to the city. Why? I’d be very nervous about my safety.
- If you’re raising a child, and there aren’t clear expectations and known consequences, you’re going to run into problems (Henry’s not quite there yet!).
The best conference I go to requires all attendees, presenters, and vendors to agree to a code of conduct. Then, during the event, the organizers actually enforce it. I know they enforce it because, every year, someone is removed from the event for violating the code.
Guess what? When it’s announced that someone had to be removed, there’s a round of applause.
Expectations with enforced consequences make people feel safer. They let us know what others won’t be allowed to do. They protect people. When I am at an event that calls out bad behavior, I feel better about being there. I want to return to that event next year. I am proud of the organizers for taking a stand.
A Lack Of Consequences Hurts The Good People
See, the people who are hurt by a lack of expectations and consequences are the good people. The best people sit there irritated that the worst person gets to do whatever they want without consequences.
This leads to low moral and a cynical workplace. This leads to people avoiding meetings. This leads to more people acting unprofessionally. This leads to people quitting. Yes, the best people quit when you don’t enforce professionalism. They’ll just go somewhere that does enforce professionalism.
If you’re running any kind of a meeting, the first thing you do is set the norms and consequences. Here’s what is expected, here’s what’s unacceptable, and here’s what happens when you’re in violation.
If you don’t do this, you’re allowing the least professional person in the room to dictate what’s acceptable.
So, what are your expectations?
The most common reaction to my two questions is this:
Oh, our people are great. We don’t really have any problems.
Can you imagine a classroom teacher saying this? Parents? A city mayor? “We don’t have rules because everyone’s pretty great.”
If you honestly believe that you don’t have problems with unprofessionalism at your meetings or events, then do a quick poll. Ask your past attendees if they’ve ever seen anyone behave unprofessionally previous meetings or events.
You’ll hear some stories!
At my school, I worked with incredible teachers, but at every meeting someone behaved inappropriately, wasted our time, played on their phone, or otherwise demonstrated unacceptable behavior. Often it was the same one person meeting after meeting. Twenty-nine folks engaged and respectful, one person off task or unprofessional.
And there was never a consequence.
And it pissed me off along with every other professional teacher at our school.
Be In Charge
It would have been glorious if our principal had called that person out and told them their behavior was unacceptable. But none of the principals I worked under ever asked for professionalism. They never set expectations let alone clear consequences.
When you set expectations, don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t act like the norms aren’t important. Don’t rush through them. If you’re running the meeting you are in charge. Act like it.
- Don’t say: “I know we’re all adults so just watch your use of phones.”
- Instead say: “If you’re off-task during this time, you’ll be asked to leave and we’ll set up a meeting to discuss it.”
Believe me, everyone else in the room will love you for it. I know this because when I call people out at workshops for unprofessionalism, folks come up and thank me every time.
Why? Professional people want professional expectations to be enforced! Let’s give it to them.
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