After quitting my job last year, I was asked to teach a course in writing for public relations. Although I’d worked in senior communications/public relations roles for many years (and even won an award as Manitoba Communicator of the Year), I was a little reluctant to take on the class.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to teach (I really did). It was just that I’d grown tired of doing most of my communicating on other organizations’ behalf and I felt a burning desire to write and speak about my own stories and passions instead. I was done with writing press releases and wasn’t sure I wanted to teach others to write them either.

And yet, I knew that it would be good experience learning to teach at the university level, and it was steady income, and so I took the job.

Fortunately, the curriculum was flexible and the administration was supportive of my ideas, so I made a few commitments to myself before I started.

– I would teach people to be good writers FIRST and then good PR writers second.

– I would teach people to write from their own voices rather than simply trying to replicate the voices around them.

– I would teach people to be PR professionals with integrity and values and would NEVER teach them to be spin-doctors.

– I would encourage students to follow their hearts into work that they felt passionate about.

– I would teach from the heart and encourage students to be open to the world and to each other.

That meant that we started every day with journal exercises that were all about exploring their own voices instead of writing for PR, we created vision boards during the first class of the new year, we invited speakers with integrity and passion to speak to the class (including Pam Slim, who encouraged them to imagine their careers outside the box of traditional employment), we used a Tibetan singing bowl to ring us into and out of class, and we shared some pretty personal stories and fears with each other.

It wasn’t always easy bucking the trend. I don’t know how many times I heard “you teach SO differently from anyone else in this program!” I was an edge-walker, never quite sure I was living up to the expectations of the administration when they created the classes I taught. But I kept on, believing what I was doing was the right thing and what the students needed.

I often said to my students “if I only teach you the mechanics of writing a press release and don’t teach you to write with passion, personality, and integrity, then I believe I am doing you a disservice.”

This week, I received my reward. One of the students (who is a bright and talented communicator) submitted the following letter to the administration and sent me a copy.

“Heather has added great value to the Public Relations and Marketing Management Diploma Program by not only educating her students about Public Relations fundamentals, but by encouraging us and giving us the tools to be great communicators. Her rapport building abilities allowed us to go beyond communicating – she gave us the ability to communicate effectively and to connect.

“Heather’s superior verbal and written communication skills were definite assets that helped to build our knowledge about Public Relations; however, I believe that her strength was in imparting integrity and honesty to her students.

You know what? It pays to buck the trend!

Live with your whole heart, teach with your whole heart, and break a few rules if you need to! The world needs change, the education system needs change, and you can be a part of making that change happen!

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