How Can I Grow in the Museum Education Field

Originally on Medium, November 30, 2017

Museum education has been a passion of mine for a long time, and I continue to find opportunities to develop my career. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my career is to connect with other museum professionals since we learn best about the field when we talk with others who understand the field. After Thanksgiving weekend, I attended a professional development program on museum education career. The program I attended was New York City Museum Education Roundtable’s (NYCMER) Career Growth in Museum Education located at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I was inspired by the NYCMER Career Growth in Museum Education program to think more about my museum education career and how I could move forward in my career.

I reflected on how my museum education career has been going since coming to Long Island, and while it was not easy I learned so much so far from this experience. After I began the next phase of my career on Long Island, I learned that I needed to know more about the administration side of the museum realm in addition to doing well as a museum educator. Since then, I was able to learn more through experience on the job and professional development. It is especially not easy to move forward in the field when there is so much that needs to be improved on to help me and my colleagues stay in the field; I seize opportunities when I can and find ways to utilize my skills to be a better museum professional. We need to find a middle ground in our field that will help us fulfill our personal needs in addition to our professional needs. These were the thoughts I reflected on as I participated in the NYCMER program.

While we were in Brooklyn for the program, participants listened to presentations on what is inspiring museum workers to leave the field and had the opportunity to contribute in small group discussions.

Claudia Ocello, who co-authored the blog post I referenced in one of my previous blog posts called “Leaving the Museum Field”, discussed some of the results Ocello, Sarah Erdman, Dawn Salerno, and Marieke Van Damme found in the survey. Ocello began her presentation with the question: Why are great museum workers leaving the field?

She shared information that was included in the blog post including results from the survey that addressed the question: what could museums do to get you to stay? According to the results, 51 percent of those who participated in the survey said better pay would encourage them to stay while more support (i.e. more staff, budget, and projects) and advancement opportunities tied at 23 percent. Other responses survey participants stated to answer the question included having paid internship opportunities (one percent) and benefits (13 percent). These are very important responses because there are not many opportunities for museum professionals to be able to support themselves during this poor period in our economy.

During the presentation, Ocello pointed out that our field is not alone in wanting to change our current financial situation. She revealed that she found in a national survey on the ladder website that 71 percent of people in our country are actively looking for another job. While we are not able to have immediate results, there are things we need to do and work on now.

Ocello stated that we need to as individuals and what museums as institutions need to do to maintain a healthy work environment. As individuals, we need to take care of ourselves, be realistic, and give ourselves credit for the work we do. This is really good advice since we do have a hard time remembering that. I especially sometimes forget about this advice. I get involved in so much that a lot of times I wonder how exactly I am going through my day and getting things done.

Our institutions should also encourage its museum professionals to take advantage of professional development opportunities and mentorships for all levels in the field. We can learn so much from these opportunities not just for the museum professionals’ benefit but can also help museums get inspired to revitalize programs, exhibits, and well-being of the collections. It is also important for museums to look critically at benefits, pay, and work/life balance as well as committing to diverse hiring. Museums need to find a way to keep their professionals in a healthy work environment that will assist them in their well-being since if we keep overworking with less support from our institutions it will be harder to encourage us to stay working in the museum field. Also, museums should reflect on the fact we live in diverse communities and our institutions should be able to represent our communities by bringing in more diverse museum professionals onto our staff and board.

After the presentation, we participated in a small exercise to see what position title is based on the bullet points in the job descriptions. We were also given the opportunity to meet with one or more of the group facilitators to talk more about career growth and sought advice. I had the opportunity to participate in a group discussion facilitated by Daniel Zeiger who is the Assistant Director for Children and Family Learning at the American Museum of Natural History. While we asked questions and shared our experiences Zeiger told us about how he ended up in his position, and gave us some advice on career growth.

Some of the advice we heard include being able to understand museum operations such as finances and strategic planning. Another bit of advice is to seize for opportunities. Since taking on more responsibilities at the Maritime Explorium including financial operations, I thought it was great advice because by working on museum operations in addition to on education I became more aware of how my work as an educator contributes to the larger operation of the museum. Also, by being able to have a number of additional skills more opportunities will open for us to show ourselves and our museums what we are capable of. We should be able to learn from each other and help each other move our field, as well as our personal wellbeing, forward.

What do you do to help your career grow? What professional development programs do you participate in? How do you feel about your own career growth?
*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

Resources:
http://labs.aam-us.org/blog/leaving-the-museum-field/
https://www.theladders.com/p/25789/majority-unhappy-at-work

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