What I Love the Most About Being a Museum Educator

Also posted on Medium, August 10, 2017.

As the school year approaches, I reflect on my experiences as a museum educator from previous museums in addition to the museum I am working with now. My career in museum education so far has been a rewarding field not only because I am surrounded my interesting material but I have the opportunity to translate that knowledge to audiences of wide age ranges. I have been recently asked by one of the parents I was talking with at the Maritime Explorium the following question: What do you love the most about being a museum educator?

When I told her my answer, I kept thinking about my experiences so far as a museum educator and thought I would share some of them here.

All of my experiences have included everything I love about being a museum educator including:
1. Interacting with kids: I love hearing from them about what they learned as well as what they can teach me. When I talk with them, I can see in their expressions how much they enjoy what they are hearing and doing. Also, I love that I have the opportunity to reach out to various age groups rather than only one age group.

2. Bringing their lessons to life: I enjoy being able to show them how the lessons they learned in the classroom can be applied outside the classroom. One of my favorite ways is being able to dress in costume to portray an individual from a time period to show how this person lived back then.

And

3. Leaving an impression: I also feel that if I hear kids say “I want to come back here again” or “I don’t wanna go” I know that I have done a great job showing them how fun and informative visiting the museums can be.

To explain the examples of what I love about being a museum educator, I would start with my most recent experiences then share some details from my previous experiences.

At the Maritime Explorium, I assisted in teaching a couple of library workshops at the local library for young kids and for third grade students. Young kids learned about archeology by digging through small sandboxes finding treasure. The second workshop was learning about how bridges are built and how they are supported. I love seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they learned something new and when they are enjoying the time they spent on these projects.

I also teach different activities during Maritime Explorium’s public hours. One of the summer activities I taught was making balloons into various items and making balloon rockets. While I was teaching these activities, I also was showing one girl how to work on other projects including how to turn a light bulb on only using a battery. After teaching her the activities and projects through the constructivist approach, she decided to go back to the balloon station to make stress balls using balloons and rice from the rice boats. To thank me, she gave one of them to me as a thank you for helping her. This was one of my top moments that made me love what I do as a museum educator.

I look back on each of my experiences, and I think about how many students I have had a similar impact I have had at Maritime Explorium.

My love for being a museum educator began during my summer internship at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford. I had the internship while I was at graduate school in Central Connecticut State University. I was able to get an internship at the Old State House after I interviewed Rebecca Tabor-Conover, Public Programs Coordinator, for my Introduction to Public History course.

On my first day of my internship, I assisted with a group of 140 elementary school students from kindergarten to second grade. One of the activities I worked with the students on was the I Spy program. In I Spy, the kids created and designed their own spy glass using paper towel tubes and designed them using whatever materials they could use such as markers, color construction paper, and stickers. Once they were completed, the kids walked around the Old State House and used their spy glasses to “spy” what they see in the museum.

I enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they saw so many things they have never seen before and not expected to see in the museum. For instance, there was a recreated Museum of Curiosities inside one of the rooms on the second floor of the Old State House that featured a two-headed calf. Then they also pointed out various things they noticed including the tall original Lady Justice statue which used to sit on top of the Old State House.

While I was in graduate school, I became a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House. I taught school programs between kindergarten and fifth grade, and these programs taught them about 18th century American history as well as Farmington history. What I enjoyed the most was seeing the students’ faces, especially the kindergarten students, when they arrive at the museum as well as while they explored the house with me. As a museum teacher, I dressed in costume to portray an 18th century woman that will explain through object-based and inquiry-based methods.

I also joined Connecticut Landmarks’ Hartford properties, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, to provide public tours and teach public programming. One of my favorite memories of working with kids was during First Night Hartford programs. The most recent one I had worked on included a craft activity in which kids made samurai helmets using gift wrapping paper and string to wear during the New Year’s Eve parade in downtown Hartford. I also enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they saw the real samurai helmets that are in the Butler-McCook House’s collections; they thought it was so cool to see those helmets, and it is one of the unique features of the Butler-McCook House.

After I graduated from graduate school, I joined the Noah Webster House as a museum educator teaching students about West Hartford history, Noah Webster, and 18th century American history. Like while I was at the Stanley-Whitman House, I also dressed in costume to bring history to life. Depending on the program, I either simply dressed in costume and taught students through object based as well as inquiry-based methods, or I portrayed a woman who lived in West Hartford (or West Division as it was known back then) during the 18th century named Deborah Moore Kellogg who took control of her property after her husband died in a farming accident. When the program called for students to pretend to be individuals from 18th century West Division, I portrayed Deborah Moore Kellogg while we worked on chores such as cooking recipes in the kitchen and carding wool. I demonstrated cooking over a hearth, and the students love not only preparing the recipes but they also love watching me put the pots and pans over the fire to cook the recipes.

Once I moved on to the Long Island Museum, I occasionally dressed in costume to demonstrate life on 19th century Long Island. I wore a costume to dress as a schoolmarm, a teacher who taught lessons including reading, writing, and arithmetic in one-room schoolhouses. Every time I demonstrated lessons for the students, they were very excited about not only for writing the lessons on slate boards (small chalk boards) but also for 19th century games children back then played.

As I continue my career in museum education, I hope to continue inspiring students to not only learn about the materials the museums have but also to return to the museum to continue to play and learn. I leave these questions for you all to ponder:

What do you enjoy the most about your career? Do you have favorite stories from your museums/organizations?

 

How Museum Can Gain Visitors’ Attention through Educational Programming: Homeschool and Other Non-Traditional Programming

Added to Medium, August 3, 2017

Museum educators prepare for the upcoming school year by not only preparing for school programs but also non-traditional education programs such as homeschool days and scout programs. As museum professionals, we recognize there are various groups interested in educational programming museums have to offer. Museums, however, need to continue to expand its offerings and spread the word to those groups to remain relevant for all visitors.
I have had some experience in education programs for non-traditional groups. It is without a doubt a different experience from school programs. At the same time, what all of these programs have in common were the ability to educate and engage students with the materials offered by museums.

Homeschool programming in museums vary depending on what museums offer to their visitors. For instance, my first experience educating homeschool groups was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. There was one homeschool group that came to Noah Webster House, and the students participated in an educational program that was adjusted to accommodate the small homeschool group in one of the pre-existing school programs.

I later experienced working with homeschool students in Long Island Museum’s Homeschool Day program. In May of 2016, there was a Homeschool Day planned in collaboration with the Smithtown Historical Society. Individuals participating in the program were able to visit both places in the same day or choose which place to visit for Homeschool Day. The families signed up with either organization, and they made the decision on whether to visit both places or one of the places. At the Long Island Museum, homeschool students and their families participated in a couple of interactive activities in addition to touring the Museum’s campus. They learned about parts of a 19th century stagecoach, experienced what it was like to attend school in a one-room schoolhouse during the 19th century, and visited the Samuel West’s blacksmith shop. Meanwhile at the Smithtown Historical Society, those who visited the place visited the historic structures and learned how to write with scratch pens (later version of the quill pen).

Many museums created programs that appeal to homeschool students and the majority of these programs helped homeschool students as well as their teachers network with each other. During my research on homeschool programming, I discovered a number of museums that have different programs that welcomed homeschool students and families to their museums. For instance, the New York Historical Society developed the Homeschool Academy which is designed to supplement their curriculum with engaging lessons in their classrooms, studios, and galleries. Also, the Museum of Play had programs geared towards homeschool students.

The Museum of Play in Rochester, New York offer various opportunities and programs for homeschool students to engage with the interactive exhibit spaces. While homeschool students and their families can participate in the Museum’s homeschool activities and lessons aligned with state and national standards, they also have the option to register for school group lessons that can be adapted for homeschool students’ needs.

There are other places that participate in their own versions of Homeschool Day. For instance, the Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air, and Space has Homeschool Days that feature talks and discussions geared towards appropriate age ranges and abilities. Also, there are activities that include an educator-led tour of the Museum as well as a chance to explore various topics through our historic artifacts, photographs and demonstrations. Homeschool students and their families also have time to travel the museum on their own, and can participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt. In addition to the Homeschool Days, homeschool groups of 10 or more students are also invited to take part in the Museum’s K–12 school programs.

Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, New York also has Homeschool Days that include activities such as guided tours and scavenger hunts. Also, when they bring 25 or more students, homeschool families can explore the Museum’s galleries, see a Giant Screen film, and Planetarium Show in addition to attending museum classes. They are welcome to register for any of the museum classes; and the educator-led programs include active discussion, fun visuals, hands-on demonstrations and other related activities.

I also did some research on homeschool programs in Connecticut museums since the beginning of my career in museum education began in this state. One of the examples I found was the Children’s Museum in West Hartford where it has a program known as the Homeschool Series. The Series offers various days in February, March, April, and May which they are able to participate in programs related to science and nature. This museum offers programs that encourage families to engage in hands-on science instruction, inquiry-based learning activities, and cooperative learning opportunities.

The New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut has Homeschool Days that take place on second Mondays of every month between October and June. According to their site, each month features a different artistic element or medium, historical period, or special exhibit, using the galleries as the classroom. Homeschool students participate in inquiry-based learning and flex visual literacy skills with in-depth discussions of works of art, and sessions end with studio workshops that allow them to delve into the creative process.

Mystic Seaport also has Homeschool programs students and families can engage in during their visit. Their homeschool programs are a series of hands-on learning programs designed specifically for homeschoolers ages 4-13, adjusted for each age; each day of the program concentrated on one theme. Also, Mystic Seaport has Homecoming Community Sailing in which students practice boat handling and become familiar with the basics of water safety and wind.

Connecticut Historical Society has Homeschool Days, or events that give families the opportunity to enjoy engaging, educational workshops, tour our galleries, and connect with other homeschool families. There are short workshops on a variety of topics that are taught throughout the day; two Homeschool Days are scheduled at different parts of the year.

There are many museums and organizations that offer homeschool days and programming. While there are some differences, depending on what the museums’ offer, one of the things they have in common are how they offer interactive events that encourage participation in hands-on activities. These activities not only help homeschool students and families connect with each other but also assist with supplementing their education standards.

In addition to homeschool programs, there are other groups and programs that also encourage connecting with other people and engaging with the materials museums offer. Scout groups, for instance, are also drawn to visiting museums for their educational programs.

Boys and Girls Scout programs encourage them to be active members in their communities and part of these programs inspire them to earn badges that showed they accomplished a task and/or skill to move up a level in the program. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, for instance, have programs that are adjusted to meet the these organizations standards not only to allow participants to enjoy their visit but also earn the badges they needed for their programs.

Another example of other programming is family programs that connect them with other families and engage them with the hands-on activities. For instance, while I was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, I worked during a program called Bookworm Adventures with storytelling as well as crafts and other hands-on activities. The particular theme I worked during was Dr. Seuss, and I assisted young children make green eggs of green eggs and ham using marshmallows and green covered chocolates. Meanwhile, the kids pinned a tail on the Cat in the Hat, played with toys, listened to Dr. Seuss’ stories, and made other crafts.

Museums have so many programs and resources to offer. By extending them to groups including homeschool students and scouts, we reach out to audiences that will have another place to interact with other people and take advantage of what we have to offer in educational programming.

What other museums or organizations have similar programs I discussed? Has your organization considered expanding programs like homeschool programs if it does not have a program already? If your organization has similar programming, please share the accomplishments and challenges your museum or organization accomplished.

To learn more about the programs I mentioned in this post, check these out:
http://www.nyhistory.org/education/homeschool
http://www.museumofplay.org/education/homeschool-students
https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/homeschool-days
http://www.cradleofaviation.org/education/homeschool.html
http://www.thechildrensmuseumct.org/programs/homeschool-programs/
http://www.nbmaa.org/classroom/11
https://www.mysticseaport.org/learn/k-12-programs/homeschool/
https://chs.org/education/home-school-day/

 

Museum Hack’s Relevance: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour

Added on Medium, July 10, 2017

Game of Thrones logo

German Medieval Shield

In my previous posts, I have discussed how museums use relevance to engage audiences with subject matter they present. I wondered what if you did not work for a specific museum but rather a tour company. What would a tour be like with someone outside of the museum? How will they create ways to engage audiences with the subject matter? On Friday, I participated in one of Museum Hack’s evening tours that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to find out.

Friday’s tour was the Game of Thrones theme tour called Metropolitan Museum of Art: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour. For those who do not know, Game of Thrones is an HBO series which is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and Game of Thrones is the first book in the series. I chose the Game of Thrones Mini Tour because I thought it was not a tour that I would expect to find in other places I have visited. Plus, I was interested in seeing how they would tie the show with the pieces displayed at the Met. I also enjoy watching Game of Thrones so I thought it would be a great way to refresh my memory about the series before the new season airs.

There may be minor spoilers of the Game of Thrones series, so be forewarned.

Each of the Game of Thrones tours is adjusted based on the tour guide’s knowledge of a piece in the museum itself, and to connect it someway to the HBO series. The main point of the tour was to show both museum lovers and those who are not fans of attending museums how awesome museums are by sharing how individuals interested in the Game of Thrones series can identify and interact with the museum exhibits.

To get that point across, Museum Hack tour guide, Anna, led activities that the audience participated in throughout the tour. The first example of an activity was introduced during an ice breaker where we were broken up into pairs and came up with our house name, motto, and animal (for instance, my house was House Stragglers, our motto: Pizza is Coming, and our animal was a bear). Throughout the tour, we were encouraged to take pictures of anything in the museum that contains dragons or birds that will later be added for points and whoever has the most points wins a prize; there is an opportunity at the end to take away points from other houses.

Another example of an activity I participated in was verbal jousting. We were given sheets of paper with medieval insults listed in three columns. Then we were separated from our House partners, and were told to choose three insults (one from each column) to use at each other. After shouting these insults at each other, Anna decided the winner by determining whose is the silliest. Not only there were activities related to the HBO series we occasionally participated in during the tour, we were also guided through most of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stopped at pre-selected artifacts to discuss similarities to Game of Thrones.

The ties made between the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Game of Thrones were sometimes strong and other times they were reminders of what we have seen during the show.

During the tour, Anna discussed how George R.R. Martin had written the book series using historical events and figures as inspirations for the events and characters in the A Song of Ice and Fire books and were later portrayed in the Game of Thrones HBO series. For instance, she mentioned the civil war, which was the result of Robert Barathean’s death, to earn the right for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, known as the Iron Throne, was inspired by the War of the Roses which was a civil war fought to claim the throne of England. She draws connections at each stopping point by talking about what had happen to the characters in the show and what similarities are found in individuals from the past.

For instance, she talked about Robert Barathean and Henry VIII of England by briefly talking about the Game of Thrones character then talked about the 16th century king of England. Both men were kings who enjoyed sports especially jousting. Robert Barathean was the king of the Seven Kingdoms who took over the throne after defeating the previous king of the Seven Kingdoms, Aerys II Targaryen, during a battle known as Robert’s Rebellion. Anna then talked about Henry VIII by talking about his two armors we stopped in front of; Henry VIII was an athletic young king, and during one of his jousting games a horse landed on top of him. He survived but because of the injuries he had as a result, he was no longer able to participate in jousting and began eating an over 5,000 calorie diet that led him to a being fitted for a larger armor with an adjustable chest plate.

Henry VIII’s armor, before jousting accident

Henry VIII’s armor, after jousting accident

Anna also mentioned during the tour that both Tyrion Lannister and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec could have been friends if they lived in the same world and time. Tyrion Lannister was a dwarf who was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the Westeros kingdom; he used his family’s status alleviate the prejudice he received throughout his life from his family and others. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, known for his paining At the Moulin Rouge (1892–1895), who immersed himself in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris during the late 19th century. As a boy, he suffered from fractures that were later attributed to an unknown genetic disorder which prevented his legs from growing; Toulouse-Lautrec developed an adult-size torso and retained his child-sized legs. Both Tyrion and Henri soothed themselves with wine and prostitution.

The tour included items in the museum’s collections that did not fit into the equivalent of the Westeros culture but nevertheless reminded Anna of one of the character’s helmets worn during the show. Anna took us through the display of Japanese armors to show us decorative helmets that took on various shapes and animals including a rabbit. She introduced the helmets by talking about the Game of Thrones character known as The Mountain. Gregor Clegane, known as The Mountain because of his height at eight feet tall, is a knight who led Tywin Lannister’s (Tyrion’s father) army, and known for his brutality from his numerous war crimes as well as rape and murder of the Targaryen royal family at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.

During the show, he has been shown to be wearing variously shaped helmets which helped create the connection to the Japanese armor helmets. I also connected these helmets to the helmets and armor I talked about when I gave tours of the Butler-McCook House in Hartford; the McCook collected various artifacts during their world trips including Japanese Samurai armor and helmets displayed in the library. These helmets drew many different reminders that help audiences including myself make connections to.

Japanese armor helmets

Overall, I enjoyed the tour very much because it includes activities to help audiences think about the show and keep them actively participating in the tour. I also enjoyed the tour because the connections made to the Game of Thrones show not only captured my interest but made me think about the museum’s collections a little differently than I previously had when I visited the Metropolitan in the past. This tour did refresh my memory about what I have seen on the show so far, and not only did I leave the museum feeling I had an entertaining evening but I also wanted to learn more about the artifacts presented in the tour. If interested in learning more about Museum Hack tours or want to participate in similar tours, find out here: https://museumhack.com/tickets/.

Have you participated in a Museum Hack tour? If you have, what do you think about your experience participating in their tour? If you have not, have you had similar experiences of making connections like the ones I discussed during the Game of Thrones Mini-Tour?

 

Book Review: Museum Administration 2.0 by Hugh H. Genoways, Lynne M. Ireland, and Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Originally posted on Medium, April 6, 2017.

After a while, I have completed Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0 with revisions made by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. It took me a while to read this book because I wanted to make sure I comprehended each detail the authors provided. I wanted to read this book not only develop my skills as a museum professional but to learn more about how museum administration works. As a museum educator, in the past, I had limited experience in the administration aspect of the museum. I taught school and public programs and the experiences I gained did not include a lot of administration skills. The administration skills I gained before I went to the Long Island Museum was some time answering phone calls and preparing flyers and mailings.

While I was at the Long Island Museum, I gained more administration skills that helped me develop my skills as a museum professional. In addition to teaching school programs and implementing public programs, I learned how to book school and group programs including tours and In the Moment program (for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients); after answering phone calls and taking down information such as the name of school/organization and the number of individuals attending, I recorded the information on the facilities sheet, placed the program and organization (as well as the time) on the Master Calendar via Google Docs, and provide the program/school/organization/time information on the daily sheet to write down official numbers as well as observe the number of programs for that day.

Also, I was also in charge of scheduling volunteers who taught larger school programs that require various stations and geared towards larger school groups. Based on how many of these school programs were scheduled for that month, I used the sheet of the volunteers’ availability to schedule the number of volunteers needed to run the program(s) for the number of days scheduled. Once finalized I printed copies and sent them to all volunteers while keeping one to put on the board for them to refer to while at the museum.

In addition to the programming related administration work, I also worked on various projects in the Education department. For instance, I oversaw printing program flyers, after the everyone in the department approved of the details, and sending the flyers to the head of the Suffolk County and Nassau County libraries for them to distribute to all libraries in the counties to post on bulletin boards; I also made sure there was many copies printed to be sent to and distributed at the museum’s visitor center. Then I went over budgets with the Director of Education for purchasing food and drinks for the public programs; we collaborated on the paperwork once the items were purchased. Also, I made sure the mailing for school program brochures and bus trip flyers mailings went smoothly; I printed address labels, placed address labels on envelopes, placed brochures/flyers in the envelopes, borrowed mailing boxes from postal offices to place envelopes in, and send them to the post office to be mailed. Since the Long Island Museum, I answered and redirected phone calls at the front desk, assisted in gift shop inventory, and tallied volunteers’ sailing Priscilla records during last year’s sailing season at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

I decided to write a review of this book because not only will this book be useful for all museum professionals but it has also been a while since I wrote a book review. By reading this book, I gain a deeper understanding of the museum running process on all levels and I hope everyone who reads this blog entry will also have a better understanding of how museums are run.

Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. ISBN: 978–1442255517

This book is a second edition to the Museum Administration book published in the early 2000s and revisions were made in this second edition to provide updates on changes in the field since the first edition was published. The authors pointed out that this book is not just for museum directors and department heads but this book is for all members of the museum staff who have administrative duties. The book also provided not only case studies and case reviews but it also shared activities that can be used to practice the skills introduced in that chapter. There are also diagrams to illustrate the concepts explained in the chapters. Also, the authors pointed out the main point of this book which is this book should be used as a quick reference, inspiration during challenging times, and a jumping off point to dig deeper into more complex topics. Each chapter is dedicated to different aspects of how museums are run from what a museum and administration is to interpretation, exhibits, and programming.

The first chapter not only defines what a museum is and what an administration is but it also discusses types of museums, museum associations, the museum profession, and academic programs related to the field. In this chapter, the academic programs discussed in the book are museum studies, public history, and archival education. The chapter also lists several museum associations that exist in the United States including the primary professional museum association American Alliance of Museums, American Association for State and Local History, Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums, Association of Children’s Museums, International Museum Theatre Alliance, and Museum Education Roundtable. The first chapter also pointed out that ultimately when learning about administration in museums experience is the great teacher. Also, it is important to know that no matter what position one holds in the museum each staff member will be expected to perform some administrative duties and each day presents sets of opportunities to make something happen.

The second and third chapters discussed start up and strategic planning. According to the second chapter on start up, creating a new museum or improving an existing one is a complex process requiring a clear sense of purpose and compliance with state and federal regulations. A couple of things the chapter points out are a museum should form only when a community can specify the need for it and plan a solid business model for its sustainability; and all museums need a well-defined mission statement, written bylaws, articles of incorporation, and IRS tax-exempt status. Another important part of museum operations is strategic planning; a strategic plan is a map or chart an organization agrees to follow for three to five years to reach its goals, and the plans are strategic when the goals that respond to a museum’s environment, seek a competitive edge, effectively serve stakeholders, and identify the keys to long-term sustainability.

There are ten steps in the developing process of a strategic plan for a museum. The steps are initiate and agree on process, identify organizational mandates, identify and understand stakeholders and develop mission, external and internal assessments, identify strategic issues, review and adopt strategic issues, formulate strategies (action or work plans) to manage strategic issues, establish a vision for the future of the museum, evaluation and reassessment, and finalizing the plan. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss topics on finance and sustainability.

I appreciate that the finance chapter went into such detail since finance is important for the staff to have a handle on how money is spent as this helps them make effective decisions with significant financial impact. The chapter discusses how to develop a budget, manage a budget, and accounting. Budget management requires both a day to day approach and a long view so by learning all the steps of developing and maintaining the budget a museum will be able to function and fulfill its mission. On the chapter of sustainability, it discusses how a museum’s financial stability and future rely on effective fundraising and revenue-generating practices that provide for present operational needs and generate income for future capital and operational needs.

There are various parts of financing that help sustain museums to keep them running. For instance, development is about building relationships with people that would lead to the end result (money) for museums. Other parts of sustainability include making a (development) plan, raising funds, accumulate contributed income (i.e. memberships, annual giving, sponsorships, fundraising events, and campaigns), planned giving, government support, and grants. Museums are also sustained through earned income which includes admission fees, museum store, dining facilities, planetariums and theaters, educational programming, special exhibits, traveling exhibits, and blockbuster exhibits and other partnerships.

The sixth and seventh chapters discuss topics on the working museum and ethics and professional conduct. According to the working museum chapter, staff are the museum’s most valuable asset. I agree with this statement because each museum staff member has a role in keeping a museum running, and a museum like any organization is like a car (each part of a car helps keep the car running and performing its functions as well as fulfilling its purposes). The working museum describes how the staff, board members, and volunteers understand how their organization is laid out in chart form that would be especially helpful for new people joining the organization. It also discusses the museum employees which reveals general expectations of the employee based on their job descriptions, and the significance of leadership in museums with detailed descriptions of leadership types. This chapter also went into detail about how the museum board, director, and staff should interact with one another.

In the ethics and professional conduct chapter, it points out that there is a universal agreement that standards articulate a way to guide the thoughts and actions of museum professionals and provide some basis for judging the performance of institutions and individuals. The chapter discusses museum ethics by defining ethics and how important it is to develop a code of ethics for museums. Also, the chapter describes ethics statements and a good statement according to the authors will articulate the traditional values or morals and communal standards of the museum profession. Then the chapter discusses the codes of professional museum conduct through governance, collections, institutional codes of professional museum conduct, and enforcement.

The eighth and ninth chapters talk about legal issues and facilities management. I appreciate that in the beginning of the legal issues chapter the authors stated that nothing in the chapter should be considered legal advice because it reinforces the idea that this book should be used as a reference. The authors also recommended a couple of books to use as museum law references to start with and then seek legal counsel when necessary: Museum Law: A Guide for Officers, Director and Counsel by Marilyn E. Phelan (2014), and the 2012 update of A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections by Marie C. Malaro and Ildiko P. DeAngelis. This chapter provides brief detailed descriptions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBIT), legal liability, artists’ rights, copyright, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. To have a good facilities management plan, museum staff must consider the needs of the people who work within the organization, the preservation and exhibition of objects in the museum’s collection, and the people who visit the museum.

The facilities management chapter describes in detail museum facilities and the significance of maintaining the museum property. Museum facilities includes the physical structure and the utility services. This chapter also discusses facility operations which includes housekeeping, emergency preparedness, health and safety, fire prevention, safety data sheet, hazardous materials, biological waste materials, integrated pest management, and security. Visitor services is also part of facilities management since providing a range of services will make the museum a welcoming environment for visitors to feel comfortable in and a guaranteed return visit. The services provided are pre-visit information, parking, accessibility, orientation, museum stores, rest rooms, food service, and educational services. In the tenth and eleventh chapters, the authors provided details on marketing and public relations as well as collections stewardship.

Both marketing and public relations are married concepts since both concepts deal with communications and reaching to the public. Marketing is a process that helps people exchange something of value for something they need or want. This chapter discusses several aspects of marketing including motivations for marketing, history of marketing activities, the marketing plan, tactical marketing, and e-communications. Public relations, meanwhile, is built upon marketing and is charged with trying to develop a successful image for the organization. The chapter also discuss how public relations are incorporated in museum’s overall strategic plan; it also describes the PR tools museums use in museums’ public relations practices which are events, community relations, media relations, media releases, public service announcements, interviews and speeches, print materials, and buzz. This chapter also discusses the significance of museums and the community working together to maintain museums’ relevance within the community. The authors dedicated an entire chapter on collections stewardship.

In this chapter, the authors describe what a collections management policy is and addresses nine issues that the collections management policies must cover. The nine issues mentioned are collection mission and scope, acquisition and accessioning, cataloging, inventories, and records, loans, collection access, insurance, deaccession and disposal, care of the collection, and personal collecting. Each of these nine issues are fully described throughout the chapter. The twelfth chapter discussed interpretation, exhibition, and programming.

According to the book, interpretation is everything we do that helps visitors make sense of our collections include: exhibitions, education programs, and evaluation. The core of interpretation is communication and it is up to museum professionals to translate these communication pathways to a variety of audiences. In this chapter, it discusses exhibits as well as interpretive planning, exhibit policy, exhibit planning and development. The chapter also went into detail about programming as well as the policy and guidelines for the museums’ educational functions. All museums also need to provide evidence from outcome based evaluations that they are fulfilling the social contract of providing educational experiences for its visitors.

One of the things that we all should take away from this book is the longer one works in the field, the more one will know and the more one will give back to the field. The advice that I took away from this book is to keep your head up, your eyes forward, and your brain learning. This is important to me as a museum professional because I understood that we are always learning from our experiences and we continue to develop our skills as museum educators to better serve our institutions and our communities. While I read this book, I used a pencil to write down notes in the books to highlight the main points of the book for whenever I want to look back at the lessons this book presented. It is an important book I will continue to use throughout my career as a museum professional.

What are your experiences in museum administration? How have you applied your administrative skills in your daily role as a museum professional?

Professional Development: Shared Authority and Relevance of Education

Originally posted on Medium, February 16, 2017. 

This week I attended a couple of professional development programs on shared authority through the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) called Peb Yog Hmoob Minnesota: Sharing Authority and Building Relationships with Your Communities and on education called The Relevance of Education through the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The AASLH program was a case study of the Minnesota History Center and the Hmong community members’ relationship, and how they worked together to create an exhibit in 2013 on the Hmong culture anchored on the 40th anniversary of the first Hmong refugees’ arrival in Minnesota. The Relevance of Education program was a discussion based on the Committee on Education’s Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Principles and Standards that was released in 2002 and revised in 2005, and the program tackled questions including What has changed in the 15 years since its publication? How has the document impacted the field? How do the principles and standards hold up over time? In what way would the document be different if it was written today? These programs are significant to the practice of museum education since both topics discuss how to adapt the field to a changing society.
The concept of shared authority is certainly not a new one in the museum field but is continually discussed to be relevant in our evolving communities. While I was in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Public History, I did some research in 2012 on shared authority between museum officials and the public by presenting the challenges in interpreting history with articles and case studies found in my research. Shared authority is a partnership between museum professionals and outside parties to work on projects for the public. I discussed in my presentation the positive impacts and the challenges shared authority has on museum staff.

 

 
Positive impacts shared authority presents includes encouraging experts to engage with the world around them; encouraging museums to stretch out beyond their communication channels and include others to interact more with the projects; visitors can engage deeply with the exhibits and museum experts are still able to share expertise in the collaborations. Partnerships also bring as many challenges into developing projects as they bring positive impacts. For instance, it is hard to please each visitor, and therefore it is important to have as balanced input from both museum professionals and visitors or outside parties as possible to have a successful program or exhibit. As we continue to work with others within our communities, our involvement in the community is increasingly becoming more significant as it is demonstrated in AASLH’s shared authority professional development program.

 

 
The presenters in the Peb Yog Hmoob Minnesota: Sharing Authority and Building Relationships with Your Communities program were Dan Spock (the Director of the History Center Museum and Exhibitions & Diversity Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society), Wameng Moua (the publisher of “Hmong Today,” a community newspaper and the voice behind HMONG-FM, a radio variety show focused on the Hmong), Sieng Lee (exhibit designer for the Peb Yog Hmoob/We Are Hmong Minnesota exhibit/visual artist), and Nicholas J. Hoffman (Managing Director of Education and Visitor Experience at the Missouri History Museum in Saint Louis, Missouri). The program discussed how the idea for the exhibit began and went through the entire process of creating this exhibit. It also revealed how museums can overcome the lack of diversity and diverse viewpoints within historical interpretation.

 

 
Before the exhibit was added to the Minnesota History Center, there was a lack of diversity that was in the exhibits as well as a lack of items that reflected what the community was really like in St. Paul. One day a committee from their local Hmong community, led by Wameng Moua and Sieng Lee, approached the History Center with a huge binder of photographs and materials of Hmong history. The committee asked this museum for full collaboration on this project, since they were concerned about having their impact on the state lessened in the eyes of MNHS’ visitors, by sharing curatorial control with Hmong community representatives from a list put together of a good mix of people that would form an advisory committee to discuss ideas. A few examples of what the advisory committee discussed include figuring out what do the people want to see (and it was decided they will tell the whole story of the culture), put together what the narrative would be, and the layout of the exhibit throughout the galleries.

 

 
The challenges that they faced while creating this exhibit was figuring out what objects to include and exclude in the exhibit, and where these objects would be placed in the exhibit. These challenges are always going to be present in every institutions’ exhibit planning, and it especially includes project collaborations with individuals outside the institution; the best way to approach these challenges is to stick with the narrative chosen for the exhibit then base decisions on that narrative. The presenters stated something similar in their discussion amongst other things they took away from this experience.

 

 
Some of the advice they present include the whole staff must be on board with doing things a little differently than what they normally do, and maintain authenticity for projects especially when presenting someone else’s culture within an exhibit. Also, they say to hit the streets and be open to learning all aspects of the community. It is also important to keep up with the evolving history of the community; exhibits like this one must be reflective of what the community is today. If an institution ignores the community surrounding it and does not acknowledge the evolution of a community, then the institution will not be supported by the community. The exhibit should also be created to attract each member of the community; for instance, an interactive element of a farmer’s market was added for children to learn about the food in the culture in English and Hmong by scanning the food to visually see the names associated with them. Each of the presenters also discussed what happened after the exhibit opened to the public, and how the History Center was affected by the exhibit.

 

 
During the exhibit opening, the staff noticed that there was a positive reaction to the exhibit. The exhibit also lasted longer than they were expecting; it ended up running for six months after the exhibit opening. After the opening, the staff conducted visitor research to find out how this exhibit affected the museum. According to the visitor research, the number of Asian visitors had quadrupled and a lot of them were under thirty years of age which means these individuals wanted to learn more about their history and their community. The exhibit also inspired to continue to develop new relationships with more people in the community. For instance, the exhibit led to the creation of Asian Pacific Heritage Day which celebrated various Asian cultures represented in the St. Paul community and currently they are working with Native American communities. Shared authority is a part of maintaining relevance in education, and the American Alliance of Museums’ The Relevance of Education program continues the discussion of learning to continue adapting the museum education practice.

 

 
The Relevance of Education program was hosted by Greg Stevens and moderated by Timothy Rhue II (Senior Informal Education Specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD and Communications Chair in EdCom). The panelists for this discussion were Jim Hakala (Senior Educator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder, CO), Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Ford. W. Bell Fellow for Museums and P-12 education at AAM), and Mary Ellen Munley (Principal at MEM & Associates in Bennington, VT). After providing links to the original 1990 Statement on Professional Standards for Museum Education and the 2002 (revised in 2005) Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Principles and Standards for our reference, the discussion began with this question: How do these principles apply today? It was agreed that the principles in museum education need to be updated on a regular basis instead of addressing the need 15 years later.

 

 
Another point that was mentioned in the discussion was our institutions are constantly evaluating our communities and because of this we cannot stay static. Also, our institutions make efforts to make connections within our communities as well as include community members in collaborated projects to create a shared space for multicultural groups to get together in. The discussion also pointed out that our roles as museum professionals transitioned from about education being about what we want the public to know to serving the public by having the responsibility to earn the recognition of how important our institutions are.

 

 
Then we also need to acknowledge how we now define museum educators in the museum community. The term “museum educator” has a different definition at each institution. Based on my experience, I have noticed that museum educators can describe individuals who specifically teach school programs as well as museum staff in general that are dedicated to their institution’s mission in education. As a museum professional, I have had different titles at each museum I work for. For instance, at Stanley-Whitman House my title was “Museum Teacher”; at Connecticut Landmarks, when I started there it was simply “Tour Guide” but as I and my previous co-workers became more involved with interpretation and creating our own ways of presenting the material the title changed to “Museum Interpreter”; at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, my title was “Museum Teacher”; and at the Long Island Museum my title was “Museum Educator” and yet my role included not only teaching school programs but also I was responsible for administrative tasks including mailing flyers and booking school programs as well as assisting running family and public programs. Since we include outside parties collaborate with museum staff, we allow their contributions to define their relationships as being co-curators, co-authors, and co-educators within our museum community. As a result, we need to keep in mind that the terminology for museum educators will change based on what the institutions and communities value in our society.

 

 
Another question that was addressed in the discussion was: How do the principles and standards hold up over time? The panelists discussed that the principles had a theoretical base work but it does not provide an example of applied best practices. Also, they stated that the basic principles were there all along but the interpretation changes over time. I agree with that statement because the principles do address ways to engage audience members of various backgrounds that would theoretically work in the museum setting, and yet our institutions learn to adapt and change with our society and because of these changes we view these education principles differently. Since our policies continue to change we need to be able to understand that we will not be able to get our programs right the very first time and that we need to be able to leave room for adjusting our programs based on audience members’ reactions and interactions with the programs. The next question on our minds would then be: What are the next steps?
Do we need to write another document to reflect what is going on now in museum education practice? The panelists concluded that the principles do need to be readdressed to reflect the changes that have been made since it was written in 2002 and revised in 2005.

 

 
Then we need to also address how the museum education field as its own community will support each member as we allow it to evolve with the changing society. Mary Ellen Munley had stated that she noticed there is what she calls an “isolation in practice” or in other words we do not have the time to catch our breath let alone get together to figure out what we need to do collectively as our own community. I see where she is coming from since as museum professionals we continue to create and implement programs, maintain and protect our collections, and run our administrations there is little time to stop and figure out our communities in practice.

 

 
However, I also see that there are moments where we can stop and develop our skills as professionals as well as connect with our community. For instance, there are opportunities for museum educators to develop their skills with state museum educator roundtables (like Connecticut Museum Educators Roundtable and New York City Museum Educators Roundtable), and the national group Museum Education Roundtable that offer resources and programs to allow them to be involved in the practice. Also, there are other ways that museum professionals can connect with the community and develop our skills including writing blogs about our experiences and joining various organizations that will help both parties grow and develop. The challenge is to finding the right balance so we would be able to both run our institutions and continue to grow with our community.

 

 
What is your opinion on how museum education is changing? Have you read Excellence in Practice? What are your answers to the questions I posted from the program? Do you have an example of shared authority that has occurred involving your institutions? What worked and what did not work?

Book Review: Programming for People with Special Needs

Originally posted on Medium. November 23, 2016.

This week I am wrote a book review on Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites which is about creating programs and exhibits that are accessible for all visitors especially visitors with special needs. I personally enjoyed reading this book because it gave me more insight on programming I am familiar with to an extent, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a museum goer and professional. In my first blog post, I stated that as a kid museums have helped supplement my education whether I went during field trips or during family visits to various museums including Plimoth Plantation.

Each school year growing up, my educational plan would be adjusted since my summer experiences would give me various experiences that would change the way I learned from the previous year. My teachers understood that my mind was always changing so the lessons are planned accordingly and my Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) was adjusted after each review. A part of my altering learning experiences I have always owed to my visits to museums. When I read the book, I saw the content from the perspective as a museum professional and as a former child with learning differences; I liked how Stringer handled the material and that she understood that programs would need to be adjusted to make sure all visitors get the full experience of what museums can offer. I recommend reading this book to at least get started on planning for your museums and/or at least to get to know how to address all audiences from all backgrounds including those with special needs.

Stringer’s book had six chapters dedicated to creating programs for every visitor especially for visitors with special needs. The first chapter introduces the book explaining museums as educational centers and brief history of disability in the United States. The second chapter shares details on etiquette on how to interact with visitors who have disabilities. The third chapter is dedicated to defining universal design and how museums and historic sites can benefit from implementing programs, exhibits, and spaces adhering to universal design standards. The fourth chapter reviews programs at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the New York Transit Museum, and explain what the programs are as well as the ways to adapt those programs for various audiences are explored. The fifth chapter is a case study from Tennessee of best practices for creating museum programs for all visitors especially those with special needs. The sixth chapter is the concluding chapter which ends with suggestions for museum professionals to make their own museums universally designed and accessible for audiences with special needs. Each of the chapters are divided into sections to explain certain aspects of creating programs for all audiences.

Chapter one discusses the museums’ roles as centers for education, disability rights and awareness, early exhibitions of people with disabilities. The chapter is divided into a couple of sections on museums’ roles in education and history of disabilities in the United States. The first section is called The Role of Museums as Centers for Educations which explained the history of museums and how they became to be centers for education as well as understanding museums’ roles in education. The second section is called Disability Rights and Awareness. Stringer explained the history of disability rights which began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s and led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The third section was called Early Exhibitions of People with Disabilities in which she talked about when individuals with disabilities were part of traveling circuses, sideshows, and dime museums; she iterated in the section that museums today want to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, and explained the historical legacy of discrimination with focus on people with intellectual disabilities and other related cognitive and developmental disabilities. The last section was called Accessibility at Museums and Historic Sites and she discussed the ways historic sites and museums must do to adjust to make them more accessible.

Chapter two is dedicated to sensitivity and awareness of visitors with special needs and disabilities. The sections in this chapter include strategies and techniques for welcoming all visitors, workshops and training opportunities, and museums leading by example. Stringer explained in detail strategies and techniques to welcome all visitors, and emphasized that all museums should form partnerships and consultation groups that include community members who have disabilities. The workshops and training opportunities section reveals various examples for professional development for museum professionals such as information for staff training at the British Museum called “Disability Awareness Scheme”; it offers training for museum employees and volunteers through the SHAPE program, training for all visitor service and security staff by the access manager employed by the museum, and visual awareness training for visitor service staff. She also provided details about a few museums that are leading by example of innovative programs and opportunities for both staff and the public to learn more about disabilities and sensitivity including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which hosted an Autism Awareness Night in 2009. The Autism Awareness Night is a program for one evening the museum was open to families and children with autism, and the program was so successful that in 2010 the Please Touch Museum opened for a Disability Awareness Night for all children and families with disabilities.

Chapter three has examples of museums utilizing universal design successfully including the Boston Museum of Science, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Boston Museum of Science created accessible exhibits that every visitor can easily use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a program referred to as “seeing through drawing” which is an activity for individuals with sight impairment. The Royal Ontario Museum offers Braille and large print booklets for visitors with sight impairments. There is a section about universal design in learning which focuses on the four essentials of universal design. The four essentials of universal design are to ensure that the lesson represents information in multiple formats and media, provides multiple pathways for students’ actions and expressions, provides multiple ways to engage students’ interests and motivation, and occurs in a safe environment. Stringer stated in the book that museum educators should remember these aspects creating lesson plans and programs for any groups. Chapter four has examples that are selected from museums that represent art museums, science and technology museums, and historic sites and history museums. The museums included in the book’s examples are MOMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C. The programs from these museums highlighted in the book vary from those offered to senior adults, to children with disabilities, and to families that have a member with a disability.
In the Museum of Contemporary Art’s program, Stringer stated the museum staff stress that their program is not a field trip experience but rather community based instruction. A field trip is a visit or an isolated experience that supplements the curriculum; meanwhile community-based instruction relates to goals in the school, ongoing instruction, and continuing reinforcement and can translate to the real world instead of only the classroom. When I was a kid attending museums with my school, I assumed that museums are all about sharing its space for school field trips and for families visiting the museum. With experience in the museum field as a museum educator, I saw that museums are more than field trips and family trips; museums have and explore many ways to reach out to the community to use resources that explain the shared relationship museums and communities have in our society. Stringer explained there are opportunities for adaptation and integration at small museums and historic sites.

Chapter five explores the process of creating educational programming for children with special needs and the elements that create successful programs. There are seven key elements for effective programs that were explained and visually displayed in a table with details about each key concept and their purpose. The seven key concepts are sensitivity and awareness training, planning and communication, timing, engagement, object centered and inquiry-based, structure, and flexibility. I agree with Stringer when she reiterates that flexibility is essential for any museum work because we can plan for any possible outcome in each of our lessons but something unexpected will always happen no matter which group we work with; we come up with as many backup scenarios as we can to make sure we can still have successful programs for visiting individuals especially visitors with special needs or disabilities. The chapter also discusses a survey that were given to educators working with individuals with special needs; this survey asked questions including do they take them on field trips, kinds of disabilities they work with, desired learning experience from trip, and educator references for programs. The results of this survey were displayed in pie charts giving museum educators an idea of what other educators’ expectations were from the museums. Stringer stated that the takeaway from the survey was some people still believe that museums are not places where all students are welcome because of noise or behavioral problems that students may cause. Our museums have a long way to go to create programs and exhibits that can reach to all our audiences but the result will be worth it.

In the last chapter, it discusses the future of adapting programs for each visitor especially individuals with special needs. I am personally glad that the book is honest by not saying museums have completely figured out programming for all visitors of various backgrounds. Stringer revealed that the book does not explore all the options in the relatively new field of programs for people with special needs, and the field continues to grow as the population becomes more aware of the growing population of individuals with disabilities. I believe this book is a good starting point for museums to adapt their programs for all visitors of various abilities, and we need to use the experiences the museums in this book had as references for our own museums to follow suit. If we do not continue to adapt our lessons for our surrounding communities, we risk alienating people who could enjoy the experiences as well as learn from them.

Stringer’s book opened my eyes to ideas and concepts that I’m already aware of as a museum educator and things I was not aware of at the same time. For instance, I did not know about the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) of New York City which allows museum staff, volunteers, community members, and educators opportunities to discuss strategies together and to develop successful programs. Since I am still new to the museum community in New York, I am not surprised that I have not heard about this organization. This looks like a great resource I would use as I create lessons for all visitors of various abilities. Also, I learned more about audiences I have not worked with before; as a museum educator, I have worked on occasion with students with learning differences and I have worked with adults with memory loss in various programs. I have very limited experience working with children with autism for instance; Stringer found helpful advice on creating activities for children with autism including plan for multiple levels of development, incorporate levels of sense involvement, activities build success at any level in process and/or product, provide visual cues in set up, minimize distracting incorporate areas for sensory down time, and always have a backup plan. This advice will be very helpful for me and for museum professionals when creating programs for children with autism.

The experience I do have, other than working on occasion with visitors with disabilities at the museums I worked at in Connecticut, is at the Long Island Museum I worked with adults with memory loss in the “In the Moment” program. The “In the Moment” program is a hands-on program that allows individuals with memory loss engage with LIM’s exhibits to stimulate their own memories. Each experience is different depending on what exhibit the day care service or Alzheimer’s Association group is interested in; a program is developed each time a new exhibit is installed. At each exhibit, the exhibit is viewed and a few items or sections are chosen as topics of discussion for the group; questions are brainstormed for them to answer; either music or objects are chosen to help connect with the exhibit and inspire discussion; and provide cookies, juice, and photographs of the featured items to bring home with them. At LIM’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit, for instance, music of the 1960s was chosen that represented different sections of the exhibit and the pictures chosen were of a dress from the era, the set up for a girl’s bedroom in the 1960s, and the New York Mets section of the exhibit. From my experience, not every individual automatically start talking about what they see or what an item reminds them of but it allows them to be outside of their environments to experience something new or different; and it is always interesting to see what they enjoyed about the exhibit and what stimulated their memories. One woman was so moved by her experience that she started talking about all her life’s experiences including the fact that her family came from Italy and that she used to be a teacher. I always smiled whenever I get an opportunity to work with them so I can make a difference in their experiences. I wish Stringer’s book went into detail about programs for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related memory loss, but someday there may be a book that will address more on how to create these programs if there isn’t already.

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! Be good to one another and be safe!