Who Are You Teaching Today?

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.