Beware outside consultants? – Part 3, me (and others)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my previous two posts regarding Drs. Willard Daggett and Ruby Payne. Both make a great deal of money and have built mini-empires out of their speaking engagements, writing, and/or consulting enterprises. Both have serious, serious concerns attached to their work. When phrases like ‘riddled with unverifiable assertions’ or ‘[as] full of crap as a Christmas turkey’ get used, that’s not good…
Daggett and Payne aren’t the only ones to experience some criticism. For example, I have tremendous respect for Dr. Rick DuFour and the work that he and his team have done on professional learning communities. I’ve learned a boatload from their books and use On Common Ground as a required reading for my data-driven decision-making class. But I’ve been hearing from some educators across the country that they feel that the presentations are starting to get stale, that there are only so many times the Faces of Hope video can be shown before it loses its impact, that after one institute there’s no need to go back for more. Miguel Guhlin also points us to some criticism of Marc Prensky (whose ideas have been useful to me).
A number of folks in the educational technology community serve as speakers and/or consultants. Will Richardson, David Warlick, and Angela Maiers, for example, do this as their primary vocation. Others such as myself, Doug Johnson, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Miguel Guhlin, Dean Shareski, Sylvia Martinez, and Wesley Fryer occasionally do this on the side in addition to our regular employment.
What obligations do we have as speakers / consultants?
For those of us who do some professional speaking or consulting, this excerpt from the National Speakers Association’s Code of Professional Ethics is probably a good place to start:
Article 1. The NSA member shall accurately represent qualifications and experience in both oral and written communications.
Article 2. The NSA member shall act and speak on a high professional level so as to neither offend nor bring discredit to the speaking profession.
Article 3. The NSA member shall exert diligence to understand the client’s organization, approaches and goals in advance of the presentation.
Article 4. The NSA member shall avoid using materials, titles and thematic creations originated by others, either orally or in writing.
Article 5. The NSA member shall share knowledge and experience with others.
Article 6. The NSA member shall treat other speakers with professional courtesy and dignity.
Article 7. The NSA member shall limit services to those areas in which the member is qualified to serve, taking into consideration available opportunities for the member to develop new materials or undertake new fields. When unable or unqualified to fulfill requests for presentations, the NSA member shall make every effort to recommend the services of other qualified speakers, agencies or bureaus.
Article 8. The NSA member shall maintain the trust of clients, and fidelity concerning the business or personal affairs of a client, agents and other speakers who may reveal confidential information.
Article 9. The NSA member shall protect the public against fraud or unfair practices and shall attempt to eliminate from the speaking profession all practices which bring discredit to the profession.
Article 10. The NSA member shall not be party to any agreement to unfairly limit or restrain access to the marketplace by any other speaker, client or to the public, based upon economic factors, race, creed, color, sex, age, physical handicap or country of national origin of another speaker.
But these may not be specific or comprehensive enough. For example, the primary criticism of Daggett is that he just makes up stuff. Does that come under Article 2? Article 9? Or not at all? The primary criticisms of Payne are that she is overly stereotypical and makes unproven assertions. Under which article(s) do those fall?
Here are some key things that I think we speakers/consultants owe the organizations with whom we work:
- Accuracy. Our work should be truthful and accurate. If we make an assertion, it should be based on a source that’s reasonably trustworthy. If it’s an opinion, it should be clearly indicated as such. If we don’t know, we should admit it. Can we make an occasional unverifiable assertion? Sure, but that shouldn’t constitute the bulk of our work. Does everything need to be ‘research-based?’ No, absolutely not, particularly given the inconclusive nature of educational research on many topics.
- Currency. Our work should be as up-to-date as possible. This is tough, both in terms of monitoring numerous channels of information and in terms of finding the time to update one’s materials. It’s also difficult sometimes to take new approaches to older work; I empathize greatly with DuFour’s challenge of continually needing to find new ways to present, expand, and build upon what’s been done before. I think we owe it to the groups we’re serving to continually update our material and make it as relevant as possible to each organization rather than repeatedly doing the same schtick regardless of audience.
- Transparency. If we make mistakes, say so. Publicly. If we’re wrestling mentally with an issue or otherwise are not sure of something, admit it. Is there a major line of research contesting our assertions (as is the case with Payne) or do we have a particular ideological bent? Acknowledge it so that the organization can make informed decisions about our work. The more transparent we can be, the better.
- Service. It’s about the organization, not us. Professional development time and money usually are quite scarce. We can charge whatever we think our time and expertise are worth (and the market will bear), but we should be providing something of value. Usually that means something practical that members of the organization can start using and acting upon tomorrow. Oral presentations, written materials, and other resources should be professional, engaging, and helpful. [Note: I confess I have trouble with the “I was buried by an avalanche in the Himalayas for 2 weeks with nothing to eat but my clothing” or the “I was down and out but now I’m successful and at peace” speeches. Sure, they’re inspiring (and often quite expensive) but they don’t really help me do my job any better…]
This list is not meant to be conclusive but rather a starting place for conversation. What else should I have included?