The Hidden Curriculum at Work

by rogerclowater

As a professor teaching public relations I tend to wear a suit to most of my classes. To understand my reason for this is to understand the concept of the “hidden curriculum”. My belief is, public relations, is a profession and I should look the part of a professional. I am aware my behaviour in wearing a suit emulates that appearance to my students and sets a standard for them to mimic.


In 1999 I became a student of public relations. Moving from a law enforcement background where a uniform represented part of my authority I entered a post-graduate public relations program. The norm for me was to look the part. Then, it was reinforced. I share this story with my students many times with the intent to set the stage in my class and to motivate them.

The Story

One of my classmates was probably best described as a “party animal”, “not serious” about public relations and generally “unprofessional” for a learner-practitioner in public relations. There was an unspoken yet strongly communicated feeling that his recounting of the previous nights antics was unacceptable in the classroom. I am not sure what made me or others feel this way but I know we did. Was it because there were passive communication cues coming from our instructors? Was there an actual shaking of the instructors head or even a rolling of the eyes? Looking back I can’t be sure. Whatever it was we knew it was not the type of behaviour that instructors condoned. I know I bought in to this and remember thinking “What is he doing here if he is not interested in what is going on? He doesn’t belong here. My preconditioning in policing may have had something to do with this, if you are going to be a professional, you acted the part and looked the part.

Perceptions Changed

Then I shatter this perception by telling my students that this unprofessional and apparent party animal found a role in public relations. He continues in public relations and today fills a Director’s role in Public Relations. This is in an industry whose products are associated with “partying” and having a good time.

My values and beliefs relative to “walking the walk and talking the talk,” were shattered. I have become aware of this unspoken, hidden curriculum within the public relations educational setting and the effect it has had on me. And I try to address it with my story, my experiences, and my awareness of the hidden curriculum in my classroom. I still wear a suit though.

You still only have one chance to make a first great impression. Like the hidden curriculum, it is hard to get away from. The important thing is, knowing that it exists.