35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21:Tarah O’Connell

Tarah O’ConnellTarah O’Connell

Director Of Communications 
Northbrook (Ill.) School District 27
Twitter: @d27schools


What does leadership mean to you?
It means always doing the next right thing. I think that if you continually aim to do the next right thing, thinking about what’s truly best for your stakeholders and your colleagues, you inevitably build trust and a strong, collaborative organization.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
Dare I say COVID-19? Getting through this pandemic as a school PR professional has been the greatest challenge of our careers. However, I feel like if we can get through this, we can truly tackle anything that the future holds. It’s tiring but also empowering.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?
The most challenging part of school PR is that you wear a LOT of hats. Nearly every issue we tackle as a district has some sort of communications component. However, ongoing challenges are what keeps the job exciting. It’s rewarding to be working on a strong team where everyone is valued and working to achieve a shared common goal.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
NSPRA and INSPRA have been huge for me. It's a great feeling to know that I'm never alone no matter what challenge I'm facing, especially now that I’m in a one-person department. My local and national colleagues are always so quick to offer help and guidance. I also found that running for the board of my state chapter has helped me develop those relationships more quickly.

What are your favorite work and personal apps?
Loomly has been great for managing my social media content. I also use Canva Pro for nearly everything!

What book has inspired you professionally?
Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration by Kelly Leonard.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
I have been really impressed with the way my local colleagues in surrounding districts have been stepping up to the plate to show parents and community members what school looks like in their “new normal.” Every district’s reopening plan is very different, and it’s one of those things that people cannot really understand until they see it. My colleagues have been putting together great videos and campaigns that show their students returning to school.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?
I love that social media is ever-evolving and best practices are continually changing to keep up with the latest trends. More people are home and on social media than ever this year, making it a great time to build your district's brand!