In this series, ELGL Co-Founder Kent Wyatt poses three questions to the guest columnist, and the guest columnist selects one to reflect on. This week, Tabitha Clark, City of Perry, Georgia, Communications Manager, writes about lessons learned from working in public education.
Local government, in some shape and form, is in my blood. Many of my family members retired from careers in law enforcement and it was only proper that I followed in their footsteps. I was however, lovingly informed by the same family that being acutely non observant and my love of more than four hours of sleep a night were not suitable for the law enforcement profession.
I struggled with my career choice early on. I sampled everything from television, radio, librarian, and eventually ended up as the Public Information Officer for my local police department (imagine the Lion King’s Circle of Life playing in the distance). My tenure in communications in the law enforcement field was invaluable. I learned the subtle art of crisis communication and why flexibility in the communications field is a highly sought skill in today’s changing landscape.
I came to a screeching halt by entering the field of K-12 public education after several years of communicating violent crimes and humanizing police officers. Talk about a complete 180! Why did I make the change? That’s a fantastic question. Looking back I can honestly say I really do not have a clue. My 20-something-year-old self will tell you it was a new adventure full of possibilities but it was a tough transition. I learned a lot in my five years in the public education field – both the good that would help me mature into a better communications professional and the ugly.
Here’s a few lessons I learned along the way.
The school district I worked for is the 14th largest district in Georgia with over 30,000 students and 5,500 employees. Our communications department of three people stayed busy. I quickly learned why organizing and prioritizing my work was important to keep ahead of the constant requests from employees from over thirty-eight campuses. I began the habit of writing my current and upcoming projects on a white board on my office wall. This task helped me focus on my current projects and reminded me of what was ahead. This brain dumb technique worked wonders when I felt overwhelmed.
I was twenty-four when I entered the communications field. I had the “don’t ask for help” attitude and I was the queen of “trial and error.” I was fortunate enough not to make a detrimental career mistake. My early career, however, would have sailed smoother if I had taken the time to connect with fellow communication colleagues. This lesson was learned during my public education communications tenure. I was quickly welcomed by the Georgia School of Public Relations Association (shout out to GSPRA!) and learned from some of the best communication professionals in the state. Through their support I earned my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) which has been the highlight of my professional career thus far. The process enhanced my skills in strategic communications, ethics, communication theory, and several other areas within the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the profession. I highly recommend you check out the process! ELGL is a lifesaver in my current position as the communication manager in our growing city. The resources and fellowship among our colleagues are extremely important to keep the pulse on our profession as it rapidly changes to fit the needs of our public.
Remembering the Big Picture
Tunnel vision happens to the best of us. Work overload overwhelms us and all we can think about it getting this latest project finished to move onto the next one. It’s easy to get lost in producing the communication piece and disseminating it to your audience without really communicating why they should pay attention to it. I was recently reminded why it’s important to raise your head above the chaos and see the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. I was recently assigned to create a display to explain why stormwater is important to our community. Making stormwater education exciting to our community – sure no problem (yikes)! Our City’s stormwater professionals sat down with me last week and explained the big picture about why stormwater is important not only to us but also to the rest of the state. They really opened my eyes to why pollution in our stormwater affects the drinking water of millions of people outside of our community. Does the average citizen know this? Probably not. It is my job, however, to teach them the big picture. I must first teach myself in order to be effective in teaching others. This is what communication is all about.