Why I teach: it’s the biggest communication challenge

25 Feb

Teaching in Bulgaria Looking back on almost thirty years in the workplace, I think I can spot the twin peaks of my career.

Twenty years ago I was a public relations consultant with an outstanding list of clients in the fast-growing technology sector. Working life was hectic, and we were building and developing a great team of colleagues.

I'm now in full-time public relations education. Working life is hectic, but I'm helping develop some talented young people.

I've made one rather banal link between the two roles. Much better is this from Maister et al's The Trusted Advisor, a book about consultancy skills in business:

In many ways, advisory skills are similar to those of great teaching. A teacher's task is to help a student get from point A (what they know, understand, and believe now) to point B (an advanced state of deeper understanding and knowledge). It is poor teaching for the professor to stand at the front of the class and say "B is the right answer!" (As the old joke goes, a lecture is the fastest means known for getting ideas from the notes of the teacher into the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.)

Maister et al 2000: 33

The one obvious difference between my two peaks is that the technology sector was fast-growing then, and has remained so ever since. Higher education has had a twenty year growth spurt in the UK (it was in 1992 that former polytechnics became universities), but the brakes are on right now.

We're still in business and our skills are still in demand, but it's a tougher world to enter now. That said, I'm always willing to talk to practitioners about the journey from PR practice to PR education, a journey that often starts when you give a guest lecture and discover it to be a very worthwhile communication challenge. Perhaps you too will come to find it the biggest communication challenge of your career.

Photograph from Apeiron Academy's photostream on Flickr

2 Responses to “Why I teach: it’s the biggest communication challenge”

  1. Urkovia Andrews 01/03/2011 at 10:05 pm #

    I must ask the obvious question: “Do you feel you are winning this challenge, and how do you know?”
    I appreciate your perspective as I’ve never thought of teaching as my biggest communication challenge, but it is. However, my aforementioned question is always in my head, but worded more from the “Am I getting through?” angle.

  2. Richard Bailey 02/03/2011 at 8:10 am #

    Good questions. If I can dig down a bit, I find the vocabulary of higher education (with its ‘learning outcomes’) limited and unambitious.
    I certainly don’t succeed all of the time (or even most of the time), but education’s also a relationship business. Judged over the longer-term, I feel that I retain good relationships with many graduates and they are achieving good things in the business. I’m charting this at http://prandcomms.com
    Of course, this is a qualitative measure – and others are better placed than me to judge my success (or otherwise).
    Success in education (like success in public relations) can only be measured over the longer term.

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