The field of public relations (PR) has become an important facet of the learning process in school learning communities. According to Wilcox and Cameron (1978), public relations is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizations’ leaders, and implementing planned programs of actions, which serve both the organization’s and public interest. When a leader in learning institutions cannot communicate properly with stakeholders, taxpayers, board of governors, learners, teachers, and the community, a communication breakdown arises. Kowlaski (2007) points the fact that, whenever a communication breakdown is experienced in the learning institution, the crisis is likely to shoot up from various corners.
Kowlaski (2007) points how poor communication learners may plan a strike, employees may plan a go-slow, parents may become disinterested with school, sponsors and taxpayers may refuse to support the school, and/or how media may shun publishing materials from the school. The field of public relations involves communication that is well planned and strategized to achieve certain results. However, it differs from normal classroom teaching. For classroom teaching, the teacher becomes the source of knowledge and direction. He or she imparts and transfers knowledge to learners. On the other hand, Bagin and Fulginiti (2006) argue that, in public relations, communication is normally complete when a response results from triggered thoughts, emotions, feelings, and actions of communication effect. It is therefore important that organization leaders be equipped with good public relations skills. Acquisition of good public relations skills will enable the learner to adapt to the highly competitive communication world. Learning institution leaders are everyday communicators.
They are therefore likely to be faced with many communication challenges. Their ability to communicate well will determine whether students choose their schools or they go for others. Many organizational leaders have lost their leadership positions due to their inability to deliver in communication despite their managerial and numerical skills. Hughs (2000) argues that a leader should articulate ideas to all stakeholders of learning institutions and/or make an acceptable appeal to both their hearts and minds. With this basis, the paper reveals how communication is at the heart of public relations as the wheel on which good institutional leadership rides. It presents communication as a powerful tool to create mutual understanding among disparaging voices while it can also be a fierce tool for sowing discord among people and communities.
Background of Leadership Failure in Communication
Over the years, there have been complaints that some leaders are good in many aspects while they are just poor communicators. Leaders may be very skilled in their lines of duty but fail terribly in communication tests. They fail to communicate well with their bosses, their subjects, and even with the external community. Some leaders use rude words, are emotionally harsh, are silent in situations that demand their voice, are quick to react in situations that require calmness and slow reactions, while others become confused in case of a crisis. According to Gainey (2010, p. 89), PR imparts skills to people. Leaders must be equipped with such skills to manage their communities. Good PR skills will enable a leader to grow into a trustworthy, honored, admired, and successful administrator. Most of the leaders in learning organizations fail to communicate due to various reasons as discussed below.
Deceptive Beliefs about their Ability to Communicate
Most of the leaders in learning institutions believe that they are good communicators since they can pass information to learners. For the communication process to be completed, there must be a response that results from the impact of the disseminated message. A communication that has no response is dead. In teaching, information is disseminated to learners through a word of mouth for example, in the lecture method, through visual modes such as flow charts, through audio and audio-visual materials such as the use of radios and televisions. However, there is no communication if learners are not allowed to respond to the information that they decode from their teachers or the learning materials. Such educators are therefore ignorant of the other steps of waiting for the response and/or analyzing the response to know whether the information sent was properly decoded, or whether it achieved the intended impression.
Ability to Compete for Audiences’ Attention
Educators are not able to compete for communication opportunities with the rest of the competitors in the world. In learning institutions, there is total cooperation of leaders with their teachers and leaders. Hughs (2000) argues that leaders are less expectant of the circumstances in which the audience would be remorseful, uncontrollable, or unorganized. The initiative to seek communication is normally inverted in learning institutions. Learners need the information that the educators have. Hence, they go to them for communication. However, when the audience changes, with the interest of the community, the stakeholders, taxpayers, media, and the government coming in, leaders find themselves on the other end.
They will seek and compete for their audiences’ attention. In such instances, leaders are challenged by other interesting voices that are of contrary opinions. For example, in schools’ board meetings, some members may be completely opposed to some actions and policies that the leaders propose. It becomes difficult for educational leaders to challenge various interest groups that compete with them for the same opportunities. This results from the fact that the leaders have low public communication skills. How does one make an unruly cloud silent and attentive to their views? In most instances, leaders will try to use similar skills such as those they apply in classroom situations. Russ (2012, p. 312) observes that educational leaders fail to understand that audience characteristics differ from one point to the other. PR imparts these skills to the educators.
Poor Touch with the Speedy Developments in Communication
The field of communication is the fastest developing industry. Every day dawns with changes in the way things are done. Such changes also alter the expectations that people have of leaders in the academic field. In most cases, there is little or no interference with the education systems of a country unless something is very alarming. This case has made educationists live in disregard of the external communities and the way things happen outside the learning environment. However, there has been a quick move to include the education sector in the public interest arena. Parents want to know how their children are rated in the district. Competitors want to know the strength of administration and teaching staff in a certain school.
Russ (2012, 312) argues that students are interested in knowing the best performing, disciplined, and talent nurturing school before they can choose between joining one. With increased interest, the media and other education stakeholders have gained interest in learning institutions. These moves have caught the education administrators unaware. People who never thought that their voices and images would be required for casting on the television, newspapers, and radios have found themselves in the wrong moves. A leader should be prepared to communicate well at all times. For instance, in cases where the community raises against a learning institution after striking students destroy property will have the principal addressing the angry members of the community. Such a move requires clear and good public relations skills. Today, there are close monitoring and scrutiny methods put in place by the government and other interested bodies to monitor the activities of learning institutions. Wilcox and Glen (2008) affirm that the heads of learning institutions have to learn how to manage the media, grapevine, classified information, and other facets of communication. In addition, students continue to become more restless besides demanding to be accommodated in learning institutions. Violence in schools has also increased over the years. With such people and environments, leaders must be prepared to communicate most acceptably in case of any eventuality.
Dependency on Colleagues’ Professionals
Educators regard each other with high esteem and reliance. This perception has made them live in a closed environment where other professionals and their opinions are not accepted. Leaders in the education sector rely heavily on their colleagues for collection, direction, and guidance. This enclosed background has made it difficult for them to accommodate the views and opinions that emanate from other areas. For example, educators find it hard to understand the circumstances that lead to the publication of a certain school’s occurrence on the national media. Over the years, many heart retching cases have been buried because of a lack of understanding and simple discussions and resolutions in the office especially when the victims are not well compensated. However, Wilcox and Glen (2008) posit that, with the increased communication in the world, there has been enough illumination in schools and school activities. This strategy will make leaders in learning institutions develop an interest in learning public relations skills. Such skills will enable them to learn how to handle and manage the media and even to make it work for them. This step opens another door for educators to accommodate other professionals and their opinions into their field.
Leaders in Educational Institutions have Little or No Communication Training
Most of the leaders in educational institutions have not acquired useful skills in communication. This has resulted in poor communication and public relations. Leaders in these sectors have acted with the assumption that communication is the transfer of information from one person to the other. Hence, they have ended up missing on it. According to Cutlip et al. (2008), lack of skills and training in communication results in wrongly packaged deceitful, untimely, and improper communication. As a result, there has been uproar in schools from parents, board members, students, media, and even the government since communication does not meet the set objectives.
Impact of Communication on a Leader or an Advocate in Education Communities
A person may gain various benefits from studying public relations. As a leader or advocate, the audiences or subjects have various expectations. Similarly, the advocate has some needs to fulfill through communication. These needs can only be met through good communication skills. Training in public relations, especially communication, will enable the leader to develop analysis and prediction skills. Leaders will gain skills that will help them analyze the current trends in both the internal and external environment of the school to make the right recommendations. For example, Cutlip et al. (2008) argue that, instead of imposing themselves on any audience. leaders will gain skills to begin all communication by analyzing the audience and tailoring the communication to their needs. The advocate will be able to analyze the environment and decision-making processes.
He or she will also be able to identify and select the right medium of delivering information to various publics to know how to handle media challenges. The leader will also meet the expectations of various citizens on education matters to avoid conflicts with other stakeholders. The training will also enable the leader to gain skills that are necessary for the creation of mutual understanding. In addition, the leader or the advocate will also stand a chance to identify, select, and use opinion leaders to spearhead their opinion. There are two major achievements that a leader in learning institutions can gain from public relations training. They gain the ability to communicate properly with the internal publics, external publics, and skills to communicate during the crisis and special events.
Internal communication is the exchange and sharing of information that takes place within an organization’s internal environment. Such information includes the communication of the school principal or director to the board of action. Directors gain expertise that enables them to analyze the audience and/or select the right language and skills to use in communication. For example, in the board of action meetings, the leader should use clear, concise, and official communication. The leader is also trained on how to handle employees in the organization. Employees include instructional and support staff. Such skills will enable them to communicate well to the employers regularly and/or in case of any eventuality. The leader is also trained that the employees are the most important and the first public of the organization. Negotiations and conflict resolution skills are also imparted to the leader during training. Students and pupils are also internal publics. The leader is trained on how to select the right language and content for them. In addition, skills on how to manage external publics are also gained during the study.
The leader is trained to manage communication between learners and the external environment, for example, the community, through joint community service relations. A leader is also trained on how to coordinate communication between teachers, parents, and the pupils. The language of communication in all these instances is different. The content for the parents is different from that of the teachers. The level of understanding between various publics of external communication should be analyzed and predicted. Pasadeos et al. (2010, p. 136) affirm that, in public relations, the advocate also learns how to handle cultural diversity since people’s interests vary with disparities in culture. The leader is therefore trained on how to make everyone understand the role of the school and the need for understanding amongst all stakeholders. Finally, learning public relations enables the advocate to learn how to deal with crises. Pasadeos et al. (2010, p. 136) argue that every institution is bound to face a crisis at some point.
The leader gains skills on how to plan for the predicament proactively to avoid subdue. Such planning enables the leader to organize crisis management teams that respond to disasters with the right information and on time. With a good public relations strategy, the leader is trained to always let the truth shine to create an open environment for information since hiding information from the media will only make it worse. The credibility of the learning institution may be spoilt if the media learns of certain information from other sources. Leaders are equipped with the necessary skills to respond to the media and even to make it work for them during an emergency. In addition, advocates and leaders of educational institutions are also trained on how to handle the impacts of the crisis. Crisis aftermath strategies will enable them to prove to the public that such a crisis will not happen again. All these skills are essential to the leaders of educational communities.
Application of Public Relations skills such as Communication to an Educational Leader
The educational leader can apply public relations skills in various ways. For example, leaders can develop basic policies that encourage the expansion of good relationships between their learning institutions and the community. This effort can be accomplished through the creation of mutual understanding between two publics hence creating a good environment for the learners. The leader can also develop open communication channels that keep the school system intact besides checking communication breakdowns at various points. Such moves will enable the organization to have a clear direction and/or reduce conflicts. The leader will also create an enabling environment where the community and the staff of the school can interact without fear. Such a move will create the right environment for learning. The administration will also be free to interact and work as a team with the staff and the community. The leader can also analyze and point out opinion leaders in the school and from the community to champion his or her development and educational policies. Opinion leaders are very influential in promoting certain opinions in society.
The establishment of a good strategic plan that brings together various stakeholders in support of the learning programs and policies will also help to promote good relations. The leader can also ensure that every interested member is supplied with the right information and on time. Such information should be complete, concise, and correct. The information should direct the target audience to move to the desired action. The leader should also take the initiative to provide leadership at every point of implementation of the program. Such a move ensures that the right programs and people are involved in the process. The leader should ensure that the media is well managed. Media needs to be supplied with the right quantities of information in the correct format and taste. During a crisis, communication experts should ensure that there is clear communication to all the stakeholders. Information should also be tailored to be disseminated from one point. Having a series of sources of information promotes confusion.
During a crisis, the leader should form a crisis management team to ensure that the media is well fed with information. The process of public relations should be made to appeal to all the public parties of the school. The program should have an impact on the administration, the board of academics, students, parents, taxpayers, the media, and even the government, and hence the reason as to why all stakeholders should be made to own the process. With good public relations skills, leaders will have the right people’s skills in persuasion and argumentation. Hence, they will be able to move the audience from one point to the other on to the desired action. After the implementation of the public relations program, the leader must ensure that there are well-set evaluation programs. Such evaluation programs should be consistent. They should be implemented by well-qualified persons. West and Turner (1996, p. 61) affirm that public relations programs require occasional auditing to ensure that all communication channels of the organization function accordingly.
Lessons Learned from this Paper
In summary, this paper teaches the reader that the field of public relations is an important facet of communication. Leaders require skills in public relations. These skills will enable them to manage people. Every leader has some followership that depends on him or her for instruction. West and Turner (1996, p. 61) observe that followership is made up of divergent opinions, cultural orientations, economic backgrounds, and social backgrounds: it is exposed to different environments. Dealing with such a group in learning institutions will therefore require high communication skills. The paper also teaches that communication is an important tool for managing people in learning organizations. In learning institutions, there are both internal and external publics. These publics require close monitoring and management. The internal publics of learning institutions that include the learners, the board of academics, the support staff, the teaching staff, the administration, and the management require proper management. These publics require correct, concise, and timely information since they are directly involved in the strategy formulations of the organization.
Employees of learning communities are the most important public. They should therefore be supplied with the right information, in the accurate arrangement and in time. The external public like the media the community and the prospective employees and parents should also be supplied with the right quantities of information. The provision of enough information enables the leader to hype the name and the success of the organization. Public relations in leadership communities will also enable the leader to analyze the current trends, predict the likely occurrences, and make the right recommendations in the education field. The paper also teaches how to manage the media. The media is a powerful tool of public relations. The leader can therefore use it to his or her advantage. Media can create public opinions and even med spoiled image. Leaders can therefore provide correct, adequate, and proper information to the media in a bid to use it to their advantage. According to Gainey (2010, p. 89), public relations is also important in crisis management. Since leaders deal with people, they are likely to face a crisis at certain points of their leadership. Learning various public relations skills such as speaking, writing, and public communication will enable the leader to handle crises in the best way. In addition, the skills will enable the leader to manage the aftermath of the crisis and hence mitigate the occurrence of another in the future.
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