The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Added to Medium, April 5, 2018

Museum professionals, in addition to many professionals in various fields, understand there is a lot of time and dedication that is put into management of programs and administration. Throughout my experience as a museum professional, I have learned the significance of being able to successfully manage education programming and the administrative tasks that go along with the responsibilities of education in museums. In addition to the experiences gained, various books and articles also provide information to assist museum professionals in guiding them on education management. An important lesson every professional understands, and sometimes need to remind themselves of from time to time, is that we are human and we are not perfect. We do the best we can to manage our educational programs so our organizations can fulfil their missions.

Before I went to Long Island, I had limited experience in administration management and mainly taught educational programs in historic house museums in Connecticut. Once I went to Long Island, I gained more experience in management.

At the Long Island Museum, I worked in education management in addition to teaching some school programs. I booked 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 information needed including but not limited to the type of program, school, and the date/time on the daily sheet to write down official numbers as well as observe the number of programs for that day.

In addition to what I previously stated, I was 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.

Another part of education management that is important is making sure there is enough materials for each scheduled program. After booking and scheduling programs, and writing the volunteers’ schedules, I also was responsible for inventory of items for programs. Some of the examples of what I took track of are the keepsake photographs for each exhibit for the In the Moment program, and papers for school programs that took place in the one room school house.

With everything that was listed previously, other responsibilities for managing education programs is financially supporting them and promoting them for the public to be aware of what the museum has to offer. 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.

The examples of what I did to help promote the programs was when 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.

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 and flyers in the envelopes, borrowed mailing trays from postal offices to place envelopes in, and send them to the post office to be mailed.

This experience at the Long Island Museum has taught me a lot about behind the scenes situations for managing education programs. I knew that there is a lot that goes into planning what should be taught and what techniques can be utilized that are appropriate for students. What I learned was how much more goes into planning education programs and how they are managed. Also, as time went on I learned that this is continuous work to make sure the programs are well prepped and managed to continue serving their purpose for the museum.

In the book The Museum Educator’s Manual, the writers stated that it is essential for all museum leaders to continually assess and evaluate existing programs by analyzing the time, effort, and cost of each program in comparison to the breath and degree of impact it has on the community, in facilitating visitor engagement, and advancing the museums’ overall goals (13). Continuous work on financially supporting programs and preparing for programs is essential for managing education programs in museums.

When museum professionals are able to manage educational programs well, the programs will be able to benefit the museums’ missions in the long run. In Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0, they pointed out that a well-organized and effective educational programs not only add to the museum’s potential for earned income, but they also help humanize the institutions from the community’s perspective (135). In the end, maintaining a relationship with the community should be the goal for museums, and it is important to maintain that through well-managed educational programs.

I continued to utilize my skills in education management when I did some work with the Long Island Maritime Museum. At the LIMM, 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. I also created word searches and other similar activities for children to learn about Long Island’s maritime history. I continued to expand my knowledge through more experience and reading through resources on museum education.

I also came across a guidebook that was published by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) called Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. This included an article “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions” written by Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knubel who was the Head of Education Department at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, Germany. One of the statements that stood out to me in the article was:

Once a museum has decided to establish an education service and has found a suitable candidate to run it, the new education officer has to set up a structure and decide on a policy and programme. This has to be realistic in terms of what can be accomplished according to the museum’s situation, particularly the staff, time, space and finance available. As a minimum, an effective education service requires a full-time professional head who is capable of handling the management and administrative aspects of the job as well as taking part in the teaching and other educational work. Long experience shows that while a single education officer is better than nothing, one person will not be able to carry out every necessary task, especially once schools, colleges, parents and the wider public recognise the value of the educational programmes offered by the museum.

It is a challenge to complete the necessary tasks of many museum professionals when one museum professional is hired to complete them. We need to form a good foundation in the education department, and establish a system that will help museum educators to accomplish the necessary tasks to manage education programming.

I kept all of the experiences I have gained and all of the resources I have read over the years in mind as I continued to learn through my experience at the Three Village Historical Society. I serve on the Education Committee by assisting in editing the volunteer handbook, preparing for and teaching school programs, and conduct informational interviews to seek advice on programming in the distant future.

Education management is a continuous task museum professionals are aware of, and when we are able to form a solid foundation for the museum education management system museums can successfully fulfill their educational missions.

What were your experiences were like in education management? Did you have challenges your organization faced when managing education programs?

Brüninghaus-Knubel, Cornelia. “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions”, Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook, Paris, France: International Council of Museums Maison de l’UNESCO, 2004.
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Johnson, Anna, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann, Tim Grove, The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, 2nd edition, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.


Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Originally posted on Medium, February 2, 2017. 

In one of my previous blog posts, I said that professional development is important for all career paths. I still believe that is true. I recently attended a couple of professional development programs offered by the New England Museum Association and American Alliance of Museums. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) offers monthly online discussion series called Lunch with NEMA. NEMA’s program this month was called “Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation Will Increase Visitors and Save Marketing Time and Expense”, and the presenters were Jonathan Lhowe and Terra Marcarelli from the Visit New England website. Lhowe and Marcarelli discuss how to attract today’s visitors and maintain museums’ online presence. Meanwhile, the American Alliance of Museums feature various online programs, including the EdComVersation discussions. The EdComVersation I attended this time was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” which featured several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations; each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. It is important that volunteers feel like their time is well spent at the organizations and the museums or organizations need to see how volunteers’ work are assisting with their overall goals. By attending these programs, I not only learned more about the museum field but I also could see how the advice these programs gave can be applied to the museum education field.

The New England Museum Association’s “Managing Your Online Reputation” program began with statistics related to online presence of businesses in general then moved on to detailed advice for maintaining an accurate online presence to gain as well as maintain attention. Lhowe and Marcarelli explained that in the past reviews of museums and other businesses depended on in person visits and word of mouth. Today many people rely on online reviews from reliable sources including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and expedia; in fact, two-thirds of people are more likely to buy from a store if they find positive comments about it online, and half are less likely to buy if there are negative comments. They also stated that it is important to be a part of the people’s conversations since the consumers control conversations about your institution and therefore your institution can participate in the conversation to easily moderate it. Another take away from this program was social media is not just about followers and likes but social media can also be used to generate leads and conduct customer service to gain return on investment. Managing online reputation can contribute to museum’s educational purposes.

By participating in consumer’s conversations, the museums will be able to get accurate reactions to the summer camp programs, after school programs, adult programs, and other public programs; then the staff can understand how to improve their programs or how to run the programs. Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, has released a survey on Facebook that will provide data that will help them understand how they are doing, compare them to other museums, and help them understand how they can create better experiences for the viewer and their community. With the data they collect, Connecticut Landmarks will be able to better serve the community with re-evaluated educational programs. It is especially important if a museum created a new educational program like a lecture, family or summer program; the museum would want to see how participants reacted to the program to see what they liked about it and what can be improved upon for the future. The second program I attended went into detail about how evaluating volunteers and the programs can benefit the museum overall, and by attending I not only gained new skills but was reinforced by my unique advantage of both running a volunteer program and being a volunteer myself.

The American Alliance of Museums’ “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” discuss the importance of evaluating volunteers and the programs as well as providing specific case studies on how evaluations can affect volunteers and volunteer programs. The following are reasons why museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs: evaluation can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers); convey appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivate volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program. When evaluating volunteers and the volunteer program, museums need to keep these questions in mind: Are we attracting enough volunteers with the right skills? Is our volunteer program effective? Are volunteers having the best possible experience with us? The presenters also gave specific pointers about how to evaluate the volunteer programs and the volunteers themselves. To effectively evaluate volunteer programs, it is important to have constant and consistent formal as well as informal evaluations; also, it is important to build the evaluation into the handbook, expectations, and orientation, explain your motivations and methods then report back to the volunteers, and be prepared to actively use the results and feedback. To effectively evaluate volunteers, there are a few ways to proceed including self-evaluations (asking them about their own actions as volunteers can give museums a visual of what is exactly being accomplished), individual evaluation sessions with supervisor, informal feedback, and if they are leaving the museum provide an exit interview to see what the museum can improve on the program. Then the program went into specific case studies with details on how their programs are run and what methods were used that either worked or needed improvements; a couple of them include a teen volunteer program at the Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and the Chicago History Museum. Volunteers can serve many different departments in a museum, and the education department is no exception.

Volunteers can serve different purposes for the education department in a museum including assisting with school programs and summer camps, and working on administrative duties in the office. In my experience as a museum educator, I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers as well as being a volunteer for museums because I hope to develop my skills as a museum professional and continue my career in the field. At the start of my career, I volunteered at my childhood hometown’s museum during college and later I began an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House as a graduate student; then I got a job as a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. I then later worked for Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums in Hartford, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, as a museum interpreter (I gave tours for school groups and the public) and Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a museum educator; while I worked at these two historic house museums, I also volunteered to co-create and run a craft fair fundraiser for the Killingly Historical Society in Killingly, Connecticut. I created this fundraiser with my friend and grad school colleague to raise funds for operating the historical society; I ran the historical society’s twitter page to point out fun facts about the history of the town and advertise for the craft fair, talked to some interested crafters who wanted to sell their items at our craft fair and collect reservation fees, went with my friend to see the space where it will take place and organize the tables layout, and helped set up and clean up the fair. When I went on to the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then when I went on to the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. From my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.

Have you attended programs like these two programs? Did you attend these programs, and what did you think of these programs? What are your organizations doing to preserve your online reputations? What are your volunteer programs like? Do you feel that volunteers are accomplishing their goals and the goals of your organizations?

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