Getting students to spit out the gum and act professional

Can texting, napping, ball cap-wearing students learn professionalism?

Melanie Stetson Freeman / Staff / File
A woman in Boston texts outside of South Station. Guest blogger Jeff Cornwall gives advice about encouraging professional behavior in students.

I hear a lot of concern that professionalism is dead or at least dying in the workplace as this new generation of workers has been entering the workforce.

Those of us preparing college students for their careers face it almost everyday as professors - students who seem to lack the professional skills and even basic social skills that they will need to succeed in business. We have students who text message as we talk to them in our offices, who wear their hats on backwards, who sleep in class, who check Facebook during lectures, and even some who answer a cell phone call during class.

Our natural tendency is to throw our hands in the air in frustration and hope it does not get even worse before the time comes for us to retire. After all, this is the always connected, constantly wired generation. This is their culture.

But some of the management faculty at Bradley University began discussing how to deal with the numerous behavioral problems and even rudeness in their classes and when communicating in person, via email, or phone.

Jennifer Robin, who teaches Organizational Behavior, developed a system of professionalism points, designed to replace participation points in class. Professionalism points suggest appropriate behavior that will be useful in the future.

Eden Blair, who teaches Entrepreneurship at Bradley, has adopted this system. She shared her experiences with using this approach to addressing student behavior:

• "'Professionalism' has different meanings in different classes. Thus, Jen could incorporate leadership theories associated with appropriate behavior in her class. I have students treat me and their classmates as future venture capitalists or new venture team members in my entrepreneurship classes, as future stakeholders/alliance members in my social entrepreneurship class, etc. In my creativity class, we discuss how multitasking is really a series of continuous distractions, provide theories in class how damaging that is to brain structures associated with creativity and the ability to be creative. Thus, playing on your phone during a creativity class isn't just rude, it also has an impact on a student's ability to create. My entrepreneurship students go to entrepreneur networking events in town and we discuss what behavior they saw was appropriate and what wasn't. What does it say about an entrepreneur who can't take an earpiece out of his ear the entire time of an event? Does that make him look busy and important or a complete tool (my students' phrase)?"

• "Treat students like adults. I do not care if they miss class, but they need to accept the consequences of it, excused or unexcused. I will not discuss what they miss and tell them that they should never ask me if they "missed anything important." They need to contact me ASAP if they are missing class and should ask politely for me to reschedule an exam, not expect that I will do it. I am under no obligation to do so. Students who act appropriately and as adults are far more likely to get what they ask for."

• "Teach students that small acts go a long way. Greeting me and their fellow students when they come into class, writing polite emails in the correct manner, being a good team member are all important."

• "Explain the long term consequences for unprofessional behavior. Falling asleep in class may not seem a big deal now, but it will when you need a reference to a grad school where I have a buddy or for a job with a local entrepreneur. A lack of punctuality makes me and fellow students less likely to help you in the future."

• "When you can't beat them, join them. I do allow students to have computers and phones in the room and try to utilize them in class. I teach students how to look up company websites and figure out what the site suggests about the current and future success. We then discuss whether students would fund the organization. Since I can't get the students to read, this at least allows for discussion. I have students text into a poll to help promote a discussion ("

• "Enlist students' help when crafting professional behavior. When they state what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate, it is easier to chastise them when they act inappropriately."

To those of you in academia, the faculty at Bradley are in the early stages of developing this system, so they welcome any ideas or comments. Eden Blair can be contacted at

But I know they would also welcome thoughts from the rest of you who are dealing with these issues with young workers in your businesses. I am sure they would welcome your thoughts, as well. I also think that some of the ideas they are developing must also morph into orientation and training ideas in businesses to help address the behavioral challenges I hear from many of you when dealing with your young workers.

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