Who Are You Teaching Today?

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A Guest Post by Shonali Burke

As I’ve been getting more involved in social media over the last few years, one of the roads my career has seen me walk is that of teacher. Three years ago, I serendipitously landed an adjunct faculty position at Johns Hopkins, where, ever since, I have been teaching a course called “Communication dot Org; not-for-profits in the digital age.”

This has been rather a delightful turn of events. You see, I come from a family of teachers. Several of my father’s aunts and extended family were educators at the undergraduate and graduate level. It’s the same story on my mom’s side, with a few of the family founding schools that have, since their inception, grown extremely large. My mom herself became a teacher at a fairly young age, and retired as a senior administrator for one of India’s largest schools for boys (yes, they still have boys’ and girls’ schools there). Having completed her doctorate, my sister teaches… and now me!

So I suppose you could say teaching runs in the blood. Even in my theater days (I used to be an actress), while I loved the thrill of being on stage, what I enjoyed more than anything else were the workshops I’d hold for young people. I’d get to see them come out of their shells and grow in confidence. I’d get to watch them revel in discovering aspects of their characters they’d never before known existed. And to this day, I have former students who find me on Facebook, or Twitter, and say, “Ma’am, do you remember when…?”

It’s a heartwarming feeling and, no doubt, one of the main reasons so many wonderfully gifted people feel drawn to the academic world despite lower pay and less-than-ideal work environments.

If you think about it, though, all of us who practice in public relations are teachers, whether or not we are officially designated as such.

We teach up-and-coming professionals the right, and wrong, way to ply our collective craft. We teach our colleagues in other business units how to approach relationship building, the lifeblood of successful businesses. We teach – and learn from – other PR professionals by virtue of our tweets, our Facebook posts, our YouTube videos, our blogs. We even teach other organizations and businesses, sometimes clients, that “PR” isn’t just “spin,” or “publicity” … that it is a discipline that must be given its due if it is truly to help a business succeed.

I know many public relations practitioners who have teaching ingrained in them. They teach when they volunteer with PRSA or IABC (or other professional organizations). They teach when they become mentors to students. They teach when they participate in Twitter chats. They teach when they volunteer, through their sheer generosity of spirit, to help nonprofit organizations “get the word out” about campaigns.

They can’t help it. They are teachers.

So I ask you: if you’re not already teaching – consciously or unconsciously – what are you doing? Are you just going to work, earning a salary? Nothing wrong with that, we all need to do that. But what are you doing, over and above that, to advance our profession? What footprint are you leaving on the sands of public relations that future practitioners might some day walk in?

Who are you teaching today?

Shonali Burke is one of 25 women that rock social media. Her business turns your corporate codswallop into community cool. She also blogs, teaches, and cooks.


7 Responses to " Who Are You Teaching Today? "

  1. Literal answer: I’m teaching second year undergraduates about the issues surrounding Occupy London (UK’s version of #OWS).

    Interesting digression: There’s a connection between public relations practice and education. It’s in the role of public relations to seek public understanding of issues (or mutual understanding of positions) and to negotiate outcomes in a contested public sphere. There’s a BIG role in educating managers and clients that this educational role is ‘soft power’, not ‘shock and awe’. (Johns Hopkins students enjoy this sort of distinction.)

  2. Thanks, Richard! There is indeed that connection as you say. Maybe a big reason as to why you and I love what we do? And thank you so much for taking the time to stop by!

  3. Excellent post, Shonali! And you’re absolutely correct in asking our colleagues in the wonderful world of public relations, “What are YOU doing to make a difference to and for our profession?”


  4. Kirk, all I can say to that is… thank you. And thank you for all that you have done/keep doing to further our profession!

  5. Great post; you’re passion for what you do is very evident! I especially appreciate this as a student. That course you are teaching sounds very interesting. I am currently involved with a non-profit and I hope to be working for one once I graduate. My girl friend’s dream is to do PR and vision advancement for non-profits when she graduates. Is there any content online that you could refer me to that covers some of what you teach in that course?

  6. Hi Shonali,

    I love that you are so passionate about sharing and teaching! Even though I’m only in the early stages of my communications careers, I’ve always said that I’d love to teach one day. One thing I always try to do is help out fellow young communicators when I can. Be it participating in a blog post, project, or just catching up for a coffee to ‘chat comms’, I want to make sure I’m the type of professional who is willing to help and mentor others with a passion for our industry (much like you and Deirdre!).

    I recently had a great experience when a professional I’d been engaging with for a long time via social media finally finished their academic study and managed to land their first communications/social media position. Around the same time, we finally managed to connect in-real-life, and it’s a relationship I hope to continue as they embark on their career. That’s what I love so much about our profession – so many practitioners are willing to mentor and teach you if you take the effort to connect and work at your craft.

    Thanks for reminding us that we all have the opportunity to mentor and teach.

    Best, Jamie

  7. […] chats bring people together. They educate (a core function of public relations). They curate conversations around a particular topic on a regular basis. They build […]

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