EdComversations and Journal of Museum Education: Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion

Originally posted on Medium, March 16, 2017.

I recently read Museum Education Roundtable’s publication Journal of Museum Education, and the topic is Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion. Today I participated in this week’s EdComversation on this edition of the Journal of Museum Education. The moderator was Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The panelists were Lanae Spruce who is the Manager of Social Media & Digital Engagement at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Anna Forgerson Hindley who is the Supervisory Early Childhood Education Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Amanda Thompson Rundahl who is the Director of Learning and Engagement at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the vice president at the Museum Education Roundtable. I will discuss what I have read in the Journal and then I will discuss additional findings conversed in this month’s EdComversation.

Last week I started to talk about this month’s Journal and how each edition lays out each article and case study written for that month. I decided to continue the discussion about this month’s Journal this week since I am participating in this program that is a main about this month’s Journal.

In this edition, the editorial by Cynthia Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Education, discussed how the new National African American Museum of History and Culture is a powerful and timely symbol of hope. Also, Robinson discussed how the large draw of visitors to the new museum testifies the need for such a museum. She pointed out also that talking about race, race relations, and racism has always been difficult for many people, and the education department’s ability to open and sustain conversations across races is a critically important contribution to our society. She introduces the articles by acknowledging the hard work that went into writing the articles, and by explaining how these authors experiences provide information for other museums to adapt the ideas and approaches in their own programming.

For instance, Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Julie Olsen Edwards’(co-author of Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, NAEYC, 2010) article “Early Childhood Racial Identity-The Potential Powerful Role for Museum Programming” examined how the National African American museum of History and Culture approach conversations on race with young children and their families as well as teachers through a couple of programs. One was an Early Childhood Education Initiative program with young children and their families, and another was a series of Let’s Talk! Dialogue on Race workshops for teachers; both programs were developed based on research on the current understanding of the development of race identity and race between birth and age eight. The education specialists use the museum’s collection and content as concrete starting point to discuss abstract concepts (i.e. race and identity), and create staff development programs that also include focus on young children and the approaches to supporting self-care to enable long-term effectiveness in addressing the emotions charged and combative issues of race and racism.

Today’s American Alliance of Museums webinar, Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion, included discussions about two articles in the Journal. The two articles, given to participants before the program began, were “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’-The Role that Museum Professionals Can Play in Inclusive Planning and Programming” and “Social Media for Social Justice”. “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’” was written by guest editors Esther J. Washington (Director of Education, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture and one of today’s panelists).

Washington and Hindley explained in their article that while the museum was planned for ten years the staff had sensed that this rich historical and cultural content, the educational programming developed around this content, and the museum structure itself, with its prominent placement on the National Mall, would quell a desire for a long-awaited inclusiveness. They gave details about what the ten-year process of creating the museum was like, and brief information about each article in this month’s Journal. Also, Washington and Hindley expressed their hopes the examples we provide inspire brave conversations across all museums and cultural institutions. They pointed out that the issues of race will be with us for a time to come and these are subtle and nuanced and often difficult to broach; but with some effort, museums can, do and should play an important role in inclusion and by doing so, the field will be made better.

“Social Media for Social Justice” was written by Lanae Spruce (Digital Engagement Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; another one of today’s panelists) and Kaitlyn Leaf (Digital Learning Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture). Spruce and Leaf explained that the museum is tasked with stimulating a national dialogue on race and helping to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing, and it directly impacts social media practice and how we engage with digital audiences since it helps them reach new audiences, highlight relevant museum collections, create participatory experiences, and confront issues of race and social justice. Also, they discuss a way that describes this museum’s use of collections, programming, and storytelling to uplift marginalized voices in the digital sphere.

In addition to discussing the articles, the panelists answered various questions posted by Sheri Levinsky-Raskin and participants in the program. For instance, the panelists shared their responses to how should museums be catalysts of social change. Hindley discussed that it is disturbing that part of the American culture is to forget what had happened in our past. She also pointed out that African American history is American history. I agree with this statement because we are a country filled of people with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We should celebrate this fact, and we should be able to include all aspects of our nation’s history.

Another question that was brought to the panelists attention was how do we define inclusion and social justice. Spruce defined inclusion as making people a part of the institution and making sure people are comfortable in the space created. Hindley also stressed the importance of creating a collaborative space for visitors and staff to feel safe in and express different viewpoints and be respected. These points are significant in our museum field because without that comfort we cannot effectively participate in our communities. The more we look at our museums’ historic narratives and missions the more we will be able to find ways to connect with our visitors and create opportunities that will be inclusive for all visitors.

To answer the question on the definition of social justice, the panelists pointed out that museums need to make sure there is equity as well as come up with ideas to train staff and engage with all visitors. One important tip that Hindley shared was to take time on yourself and recognize pieces of your life that brought you to this point in life. I think that is a significant point because we need to recognize that we all have bias, and we need to learn more about ourselves before we can be able to learn about everyone else in our communities. Spruce also stated that it is also important to use partnerships with outside organizations as resources.

The tips on how to tell inclusive stories in institutions include be open to criticism as well as listen to what criticisms there are to adapt programming to be more inclusive. Another tip was to change speaking orders in meetings and set up meetings with diverse members. The most important tip I took away from the program was to listen. For instance, museums should participate in Museums Respond to Ferguson, Museum Workers Speak, read and do research, and look at social media feeds from other organizations that discuss inclusion and equity. After reading these articles, participating in programs such as the NYCMER program last week and AAM’s webinar this week, I hope to find ways to create ways to help the museum community be more inclusive in our society.

How is your institution finding ways to reach out to visitors that may have felt excluded? Did you read this month’s Journal of Museum Education? What was your reactions to the articles?

Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants

Originally published on Medium and Student Voices, January 27, 2017.

I think many museum educators agree that from time to time we all have chaperones accompanying school groups that do not engage with the program and not participate in encouraging kids involvement in the programs. I recently had a conversation on Twitter about this subject which began with this question to the online discussion group, #MuseumEdChat: “how do you engage chaperones to be effective partners in your programs? Without losing kid interest or pandering”. Not many people on Twitter have found solutions to this posted question but we attempted to answer this question by coming up with our own answers. I thought it would be best to create a program that would encourage chaperone participation by allowing them to collaborate with the students so that way kids are not discouraged from participating and chaperones can set a good example for kids to become active learners. Also, chaperones are therefore seen as more than “crowd control”. The conversation on Twitter made me think about my own experiences with school field trips and chaperones.

As a museum educator, I have had mixed experiences with chaperones. Some of the chaperones encouraged kids to participate in the school program activities while others passively sit there not engaging with kids or the educators. Chaperones who have not interacted with the program have either text or talk amongst themselves. These museums I have taught school programs taught me various lessons on how to handle these mixed experiences. At the Old State House in Hartford, for instance, I taught the “I Spy” program for kindergarten students on my very first day of my museum education internship. The “I Spy” program is an activity in which students created their own spy glasses made from paper towel rolls and decorated various stickers, crayons, and color paper; then once their spy glasses were finished, the educators, chaperones, and myself took the group of kids around the Old State House using the spy glasses to make observations about what they saw. While they were being made, chaperones and teachers not only brought kids around with Old State House staff to participate in the activity together but they also assisted me and the Old State House staff helping students decorate their spy glasses as well as made sure they could understand the instructions. After the first day of my internship at the Old State House, I learned that students and teachers can participate together on the activity and can encourage students to participate in the activity. Another experience taught me how to handle challenging situations while teaching programs.

When I was at the Stanley-Whitman House, I taught various programs including a life in eighteenth century Connecticut program for kids aimed at fourth and fifth grade levels that included a cooking lesson assisted by myself and another museum educator. One of the fifth-grade groups were a rowdy bunch that were rough housing and not listening to a word one museum educator and myself were instructing the students about the cooking lesson on making Irish-style mashed potatoes and apple pie. The group was so rowdy that because of the rough housing and not paying attention, the recipes came out poorly and one student cut his finger with the knife used to cut potatoes. The museum educator and myself followed protocol to get first aid to clean and put a band aid on his finger. Then I called the rest of the group to sit down in silence until the program was finished. Meanwhile, the teacher who was with this group sat by and did nothing to help discipline the group nor showed interest in what we were teaching this group throughout the whole cooking lesson. What I kept thinking was: If the teacher was not willing to engage with the session, then why should the students? This experience has taught me to figure out how to handle tough groups, and showed me one of the early examples of what it is like to be around inactive teachers and chaperones. Another example of mixed experiences I have had with school groups and chaperones revealed that each visiting school chaperones behave differently and museum educators prepare for various situations.

At the Noah Webster House, I have had various teachers and chaperones that had different levels of involvement in the programs. Some chaperones were willing to assist the groups in making sure the students were paying attention as well as assisting with activities. Others were either passively sitting by as I teach the session or were destructive in the students learning process. For instance, there is a program called Living History in which museum teachers and students assume 18th century identities and pretend to be living in that period in West Hartford (or West Division as the town was called in the 18th century) learning different ways the Webster family performed chores i.e. cooking and cleaning. Some teachers and chaperones would continuously refer to 21st century items and ideas which distracts the students and encourages the students to do the same thing even though the pre-visit materials they received before the field trip warned against doing so. Then at the Long Island Museum, one of my most recent experiences, I taught a program that took place in the museum’s 19th century School House to teach students about what school and life was like on Long Island during the 19th century.

The program starts with a comparison on what school is like back then and now by asking students about their school and informing them about the 19th century rural community. I asked the students what their schools was like, and then asked inquiry-based questions about what they think it is like in the School House; for instance, I ask how many rooms are in this school house as well as how many grade levels are inside and after hearing their answers I inform them there is one classroom with eight or nine grade levels. After the short introduction, I informed the students we are pretending to be traveling back in time and share that they will be participating in reading, writing (using scratch pens, or pen and inkwells), and arithmetic (math) activities as well as behave how 19th century students would have in school. After the students participates in the lessons and the recess using toys students back then used, we pretended to travel back to the 21st century so they can go back on the bus to go back to school. There were different reactions chaperones had to the program and different ways chaperones interacted with the students. Some assist with the activities and even asked to also participate in the activities such as working on penmanship using scratch pens and inkwells. Other chaperones had a less active approach including sitting back and chatting with other chaperones. All experiences showed me that each chaperone had different expectations about what the chaperones’ roles should be.

I decided to take a closer look at any research and published works written about chaperones to see how museum educators can answer the question about chaperones being effective partners in school programs. I found an article from Volume 28 of the Journal of Museum Education by Maija Sedzielarz called “Watching the Chaperones: An Ethnographic Study of Adult-Child Interactions in School Field Trips”. Sedzielarz, at the time of the article, was the School Visits Coordinator at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul where the research for the article took place. This article was a synthesis from her master’s thesis research at the University of Minnesota; it was a study of the types of chaperones that participate in school field trips to museums by using ethnography to record observations between adults and children. This study was conducted at the Science Museum of Minnesota where they began to design materials that tap into the chaperone’s expectations of field trip outcomes, directly addressing chaperone needs as well as assumptions then share these findings with the teachers planning trips to the museum. According to Sedzielarz, she stated that she found in the recent study of the chaperones’ behavior in elementary school field trips, in which she observed and interviewed almost thirty chaperones at the museum and additional five chaperones at three other local museums, she “heard comments that revealed what each chaperone felt was important about the trip and what kinds of outcomes they expected and consequently experienced” (Sedzielarz, 21). The article went into detail about how the chaperones Sedzielarz observed felt they had multiple roles to fill: guide, learning leader, teacher, role model, security guard, learner, group facilitator, and timekeeper. She explained chaperones frustrations on what roles they should be focusing more on during their visits with school groups.

From my own experience, chaperones are not necessarily included in most of the programs taught and this causes them to think the programs are only for the students; therefore, it leads to most chaperones taking inactive roles in the field trips. What I understood from the article is that we as museum educators need to remind chaperones that the most important role that they are there to learn as well. Sedzielarz stated that “If we believe that school field trips are valuable learning experiences, we also need to regard all members of the field trip as learners” (24). Each museum has their own materials and ways of presenting this material to the school groups, and it is up to museum educators to make sure the chaperones’ role have a part in being learning partners with the students and museum educators.

How are your museum(s) or cultural institutions handle working with teachers and chaperones? Do you have ideas on how chaperones can be learning partners in your programs? What are your experiences working with chaperones like in the past?

Maija Sedzielarz (2003) Watching the Chaperones, Journal of Museum Education, 28:2, 20–24, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2003.11510478

https://mystudentvoices.com/museum-education-programs-the-challenges-of-having-chaperones-be-effective-participants-96cced3d449c

Responses to the Presidential Election: An American Alliance of Museums Conversation on the Future of Museums

Originally posted on Medium. January 19, 2017.

This afternoon I attended a webinar I registered for about museum education, EdComVersation, called Museums Respond to the Presidential Election. The program was hosted by Greg Stevens, Assistant Director of Professional Development at the American Alliance of Museums; moderated by Megan Wood, Director of Museum and Library Services at the Ohio History Connection and Ed Com Secretary; and guest speakers were Nina Simon, Executive Director at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Will Walker, co-editor of New York History and National Council on Public History’s blog, and assistant professor of history at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. It was a panel discussion that presented questions and answered questions from participants. Wood, Simon, and Walker expressed their thoughts and opinions as they answered the questions: How are US museums, museum educators and other colleagues dealing with the election results? What does it mean for museums and our evolving role in society? What action should we take to foster civic responsibility and service, continue to defend and reaffirm democratic ideals and principles, and advance understanding on the interrelationship between actions and consequences nationally and globally? Along with the program, it provided a handout with resources to refer to the presidential election and the influence it could have on the museum field. I took away from this program what I began realizing after I found out about the results of the election: we need to keep moving on and if we want to make a difference in our community we need to be the ones to effect change.

Our nation is divided on the results of the recent presidential election, and there are many that take their stand on how they feel about the outcome. I will admit I was not happy with the results of the election but I will not rant about my feelings here because on this blog I like to discuss how this would be significant as a museum professional committed to providing an educational opportunity for those who seek it and the position I have to reach out to people to build connections as well as provide a space to express their voice in a society where they fear it cannot be expressed. After I found out about the election, I went on with my day and drove to the Long Island Maritime Museum to do my work. While there I realized that we continue with our day no matter how we feel about the election because we have an opportunity as Americans to affect change in the way we behave as individuals. I continued to greet visitors who came to see the museum, I worked on various collections projects, and other duties as I would on any other day since just because the results did not turn out like I hoped it does not change me as a person or as a museum professional.

There was an old saying that my high school principal said after every announcement: “Be good to one another”. I keep this in my mind as I continue with my life as a student and as a professional, and I try to be the best person I can be. I think about what this expression means every day, and while something good happens in our society there is something else that tells me we have not made enough progress to be good to one another. For instance, as our nation has legalized gay marriage there are still acts of hatred that cause harm to people of different races and genders. We live in a society that has made much progress and has not made enough progress at the same time. To inspire progress on improving our society, everyone, including myself, need to step outside of their perspectives and learn more about each other to build our empathy as humans. We educate ourselves on the issues and learn about each other to find out how we can make a better community for ourselves as well as for future generations. This is where education professionals like myself come in to assist in making this progress.

Today’s discussion this afternoon and tonight on Twitter’s continuing #MuseumEdChat discussion on the election delve into what we should be doing as museum professionals and for museums. Museums and other cultural organizations took their own stands in response to the inauguration tomorrow; some believe in participating in the Arts Strike movement and others have their own plans for running the museums with various programs and events that are based on what they believe should be doing to help their communities. There is a list of museums in New York City that share their plans during inauguration day (found here: http://ny.curbed.com/maps/nyc-free-museum-inauguration-day). There are a few things I took away from the discussion including there are persistent inequalities that did not begin with this election that we have to keep in mind as we make plans to serve our communities; keep in mind the voices that are not being heard in our community and find a way to include these voices in our programming and see how we can progress from there; and figure out how we could reach out to the audiences we want to reach out to based on our missions and expand our missions to include social issues we want to address. Also, we need to figure out the answers to these questions and learn how to proceed from there as organizations: What dialog we are inviting in our work? Are we perpetrating ideas we do not believe in? Another question to keep in mind as I read on Twitter tonight: What role, if any, do you think museums have in creating/making space for dialogue for divided public? My answer to this question would be to make sure our communities understand the significance of our roles in the community and build upon this by becoming more involved in the community to be able to have the trust to provide that space for dialogue; it does take time for any improvements in our society so we need to keep working toward that space for dialogue.

What do you think the museums roles should be as we face the future of our society? Do you have any responses to the questions presented in this discussion?