Mentorships: Why It Is Significant for Museum Educators

Added to Medium, June 28, 2018

Our most important resources in the museum and museum education field come from each other. Mentorships are one of the ways all professionals, especially museum professionals, can learn from one another. As we discuss taking care of ourselves, it is important to learn the value of the relationship between mentors and mentees.

There are many definitions of mentorships since there are many types of mentorships. A mentorship could be described as a process for informal spread of knowledge, social capital, or psychosocial support the recipient believes to be relevant to work, career, or professional development. Professionals especially in the museum and non-profit field can benefit from participating in a mentorship program whether one seeks a mentor or a mentee. In the article “Finding a Guide: The Value of Having a Professional Mentor” written for the Common Good Careers organizations, it stated that

Mentors provide developing nonprofit leaders with the support they might not have access to otherwise. For example, access to the mentor’s personal network can give emerging leaders a chance to meet important people at a crucial time in their careers and can broaden their range of possible professional opportunities.

Mentors have the opportunity to help mold new museum professionals to help develop the future of museums, while mentees have the opportunity to not only learn more about the field but can make connections to help them move forward in their careers. The same article from the Common Good Careers also shared a very good point mentees should keep in mind when communicating with their mentors:

As the relationship develops, mentees should remember to share their successes with their mentors and make sure the mentor knows how valuable their time and insight is. Remember that mentoring is about sharing knowledge and expertise in a way that benefits both of the participants and thereby helps to build and strengthen the nonprofit sector as a whole. As nonprofit professionals develop their leadership skills, it will be important to incorporate best practices into every mentoring relationship.

I believe it is important for both mentors and mentees to continue the mentoring relationship to share successes and to show appreciation for one another. Testimonials from mentees are especially helpful for mentors in the museum field to help improve museum practices and to learn how mentees can benefit from the mentor-mentee relationship. I came across a blog post “Mentorship at the Museum | Origins of the Mentorship” from a mentee, Kevin Mooz, participating in a mentorship program at the American Civil War Museum in Virginia.

Mooz’s blog post discussed his fascination with battlefield history and how museums are run which started at a young age through his own visits to museums and stories from his grandfather who was a museum curator. He explained that his experience as a mentee working at the American Civil War Museum allowed him to express both of these passions, and to learn more about how museums are run. When we learn from our mentees, mentors have the opportunity to learn what their mentees’ passions are then use this information to find the best fit for them to succeed within the field. Both mentors and mentees go through a learning process that will hopefully continue to develop their careers as well as their respective fields.

Some mentees utilize their relationships with their mentors by looking up to them as role models. In the Leadership Matters blog post “Role Models: Why We Need Them and What They Tell Us About Us”, they pointed out that

Role models can be positive or negative. They all teach us, good or bad, and the positive ones inspire us. They’re mirrors by which we can examine our own strengths and weaknesses, measure our abilities and desires, and clarify our choices. Role models can change our outlook and encourage us to reach our own potential.

By seeing mentors as role models, mentees have long lasting inspiration to continue to develop and improve Museum professionals can benefit from participating in a membership program, whether it is within the departments or museum associations.

A number of museum organizations offer mentorship programs to help museum professionals. The American Alliance of Museums Education Committee, for instance, developed a seven-month mentorship program with the mentors and mentees deciding on what to discuss and how often they will meet (in-person or online). Mentors and mentees are matched depending on the program applicants’ backgrounds in the museum education field, and participants are encouraged to report to a supervisor on how the mentorship is working and to help make adjustments as needed. There is also an orientation webinar to introduce mentors and mentees to the program and learn more about the advice they can give to conduct a successful mentorship. As a mentor in the program, I so far enjoy this program because my mentee and myself would not only have the opportunity to meet and get to know one another, but we are able to share experiences and learn from one another. This program also encourages mentors and mentees to continue to keep in touch after the program ends. There are other mentorship programs that help other museum professionals in the field.

The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) also has a mentorship program to assist museum curators in moving the field forward. In the program, approximately five to eight sets of established, senior curators (mentors) and emerging to mid-career curators (mentees) embark on the 12-month program each year. Museums Association created a pilot project called Mentoring for All which looks to develop a new model for mentoring for the sector across England and Scotland. I included links to the previously mentioned mentorship programs and other mentorship programs I came across in the resources section below.

I also included other resources on the benefits of establishing a mentorship program within an organization. When given the right tools and the opportunity, mentors and mentees can learn from one another about our field and help develop and preserve the future of museums.

Have you participated in a mentorship program? What was your experience like? How has your mentorship program helped you in your career?


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