Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program

Added to Medium, August 2, 2018

On August 1st, I executed and implemented a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society. I spent months with the rest of the Education Committee coming up with ideas for activities and coming up with a list of materials needed for the program. During those months, I developed the invoice, lesson plan, and evaluation forms for the program. While planning this program, I thought a lot about summer programming and the significance of keeping activity going in the museum during the summer.

 
Last year I discussed in a previous blog post about previous experiences with summer programs in museums. I included a link to the blog post “Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums” below which provided details about my experience at Connecticut’s Old State House, Connecticut Landmarks, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum. I stated my plans with the Three Village Historical Society:
I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on.
A few months ago, the plan I mentioned in last year’s blog post was put into action. As we planned and implemented the program, we found that there are things we could improve upon for future programs.

 
One of the first steps that were taken was to find a camp that is willing to participate in our test summer program. The Three Village Historical Society decided to ask Campus Camps in Oakdale to participate in the demonstration, and they accepted our invitation. I was put in charge of not only being the main person to maintain contact with Campus Camps but I was also put in charge of leading the activities. Both parties came to an agreement on the cost and number of participants for the program, and we determined that the program should last about two hours. Since this summer program is a test run, we decided to charge the regular rate for school programs but decided to revisit the summer program rates in the future.

 
During the initial process, I developed a couple of documents to put our agreements into writing and to allow program participants provide feedback for us to keep or make changes going forward. After we made the agreements for the amount of campers and rates, I drew up an invoice based on the historical society’s invoice set up for school programs and sent it to the director of Campus Camps. Then I created two different versions of evaluation forms for campers and counselors, and the rest of the Education Committee’s reviewed the forms so we would be able to determine what we want to take away from the evaluations so we should ask the right questions that will help us improve the program.

 
In the counselors’ evaluations, the first couple of questions asked them to provide a rating for their experience with the program and the educational value of the program. The third question asked the counselors to rate the staff and explain how the staff could be more effective while leaving the fourth question to have the counselors elaborate on their previous ratings. The last question asked the counselors to provide any suggestions or recommendations for improving the summer program.

 
In the campers’ evaluations, we asked them to describe what their favorite part of the visit was, what they were surprised about, and what they would like to learn more about. At the end of the sheet, they were also given an option to draw a picture or write a story about their favorite part of the trip. The evaluation forms were given to the counselors at the end of the program.

 
Once we had the evaluation forms developed, we were ready to develop the lesson plan to use as a guideline. The Education Committee met on a weekly basis to discuss ideas for activities focused on the Culper Spy Ring, and we came to a consensus on how this test program will be run. I took the notes I wrote down from our brainstorming and planning process to develop the lesson plan.

 
We decided to have the campers walk through the Culper Spy Exhibit and once they have walked through the campers will gather in the room to listen to the introduction. In the introduction, we would explain what the Culper Spy Ring is as well as who the spies were: Benjamin Tallmadge (who was in charge of the espionage ring), Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and Anna Smith Strong. During this introduction, a brief explanation of what the campers would expect from the program is given. We have three stations to divide the campers into to participate in writing messages using invisible ink, creating clues to guess which Culper Spy they portray called Who Am I?, and solving codes. Each station has an opportunity to create their own presentations to share with the rest of the participating campers to see what they learned and discovered at the end of the program. The campers picked the names of stations out of a basket to help move the process along.

 
In the Invisible Ink station, campers would first practice writing with quill pens and lemon juice. While their first sample dried, campers would make predictions of whether milk, baking soda and water mixture, or lemon juice would work better for use as invisible ink. After making their predictions, the campers wrote messages using each method. As those messages dried, since I was in charge of this station, I would discuss invisible ink or sympathetic stain with the campers and demonstrate how pH pens worked on revealing messages. The campers then prepared poster boards for their presentations, and used an iron to reveal their hidden messages. Each camper had varying results since some found that baking soda worked better while others found lemon juice worked better. What each camper agreed was the heat worked better to reveal the hidden messages than the pH pens for the majority of the invisible ink methods.

 
In the Who Am I? station, the leader would explain why the Three Village Historical Society wanted a permanent display to be made so campers can contribute to the exhibit. The campers can choose from six characters who were involved in the Culper Spy Ring, pick and try on costumes, and pick related props for their characters. Once they picked their characters, they have an opportunity to practice out their clues and act as their characters.

 
In the Coding station, the leader would explain what coding is to the campers and then show a poster of a primary source document, Tallmadge’s Code. The campers received a copy of one of the original letters written by Abraham Woodhull and a dictionary code of Tallmadge’s Code to decode letter. Also, the leader would show campers other samples of types of codes and the campers would choose one to decode. Then the campers chose a code to write their own message with to have other campers attempt to decode.
We used the past couple of days earlier in the week to prepare for the program. The Director of Education and myself went in to the Three Village Historical Society to set up the costumes and props, the invisible ink section, and the coding sections. Then we left the rest of the preparation for the morning of the program.

 
On the day of the program, we tested our flexibility skills when we executed and implemented the program. As the campers came in, the campers were older than we initially believed they would be so we made last minute adjustments to each of the stations, and we added a trip to the nearby cemetery at the Presbyterian Church so the campers could visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Overall, the campers as well as the counselors seemed to enjoy the visit, and we had a blast working with the group. The Education Committee will meet again to compare notes and see what we can do to develop the summer program further as we look to the future.

 
Have you planned a summer program in the past? What were your experiences like?
Resources:
Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-9v
Three Village Historical Society: http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/

Museums Are Not Neutral: A Discussion on Why There is No Museum Neutrality in Museum Education

Added to Medium, July 12, 2018

Throughout the conference sessions I have attended and the social media discussions I participated in, the topic of museum neutrality has been discussed among myself and many other museum professionals. Questions we should start with when discussing museum neutrality are: What does museum neutrality mean? If we should claim we are neutral, how can we claim to be relevant in current events in our society and in the future? If we claim we are not neutral, how do we move forward in our practices at museums and what are the best approaches in moving forward? In recent years, I began to hear more about the Museums Are Not Neutral movement which addresses how museums should be spaces that allow museum professionals and visitors to express their concerns for social justice. These discussions also included how we in the museum field interpret the term “neutral”.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word neutral means not engaged on either side, or not decided or pronounced as to characteristics. Neutrality, however, means different things to different people, and depend on perspectives. There has been a notion that museums do not take sides on political and social issues since in the past museums focused their missions on collecting and preserving items without considering the visitors’ capabilities of understanding the significance of preserved items on display. Anabel Roque Rodríguez discussed the myth of museum neutrality in her blog post about it. She stated that

In the past, museums were temples where knowledge was preserved and education was the highest value. This might still be a big asset, but with this purpose comes the voice of institutional authority, that does not facilitate a dialogue with the people visiting the museum. A collection can be used as a tool to start visitor’s engagement, but knowledge works two-ways. How much space is there for the own experiences of the public and in which ways are museums still able to transport the research and knowledge behind the exhibition? Museums are facing a shift and need to open up in order to remain relevant in the future.

As our society continues to work on changing these issues, museums need to remain relevant by knowing and figuring out what they stand for. We as museum professionals can connect with our visitors by providing the space to express their concerns with our society. The topic of museum neutrality is a lengthy conversation we need to continue discussing because there are a lot of concerns about museums not taking action and concerns about what if museums do take action. In other words, when we talk about taking action instead of remaining neutral we need to be prepared to take action on many issues.

Museums should find out how they should approach taking action because there are individuals that believe museums are not doing enough to show museums are not neutral. In the post “Changing the Things I Cannot Accept: Museums Are Not Neutral” the writer expressed their concerns about museums’ lack of actions on political and social issues:

I have always known that museums are not neutral. They have never have been neutral. I would hope that our colleagues know that museums originate from colonialist endeavors. They are about power. As I have shared on social media networks, if anyone comes as me with that neutrality mess, I will take them down. I have had it with that narrow-minded perspective that ignores history and enables museums to operate as racist, sexist, and classist spaces.

While finding the balance between incorporating visitor input and utilizing research and knowledge in our institutions can be a challenge, it is a challenge worth pursuing to remain relevant in our community now and in the future.

Some museum professionals pointed out the evidence that museums should not be neutral. Mike Murawski, founding author and editor of ArtMuseumTeaching.com, museum educator, and the Director of Education & Public Programs for the Portland Art Museum, stated in his post

Museums have the potential to be relevant, socially-engaged spaces in our communities, acting as agents of positive change. Yet, too often, they strive to remain “above” the political and social issues that affect our lives — embracing a myth of neutrality.
Well, MUSEUMS ARE NOT NEUTRAL, plain and simple.

In other words, we have the potential to set examples within our communities on how every individual can create positive change. One of the examples I have found in my research shows positive impact on going beyond neutrality and incorporating issues previously difficult to discuss in the museum.

In Elizabeth Merritt’s Center for the Future of Museums blog post “Beyond Neutrality”, she pointed out the reasons Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia are moving away from using the word neutral:

We believe that the bedrock value that many of us brought into this field—that museums should strive for neutrality—has held us back more than it has helped us. Neutrality is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. At Eastern State, more often than not, the word provided us an excuse for simply avoiding thorny issues of race, poverty and policy that we weren’t ready to address.

By moving away from using the word, and making different approaches in discussion about tough issues, the Eastern State Penitentiary saw significant positive change in the amount of visitors learning something thought-provoking and an increase in attendance at the Penitentiary. Each museum is different so no one way would be effective for all museums but by looking into their own organizations and the communities they serve museums could potentially work towards addressing the issues. Other museum professionals expressed concern about how we can be agents of positive change while finding out how we define museums in the process.

Rebecca Hertz reflected on what has been discussed about museum neutrality and brought up concerns she has on the possibility of museums being neutral. In her blog post, Can Museums Be Neutral?, Hertz stated there are two problems that concern her: first, the assumption that museums or any other institutions can be “neutral,” and second, the places that political engagement on a larger scale might take us. She discussed that museums being neutral or not neutral is more complicated than previous museum professionals have suggested; Hertz pointed out

Museums implicitly support systems of hierarchy through their funding structure, which makes museums highly dependent upon the support of the 1%, the “winners” in our capitalist system. Racism, sexism, and injustice of many kinds in the contemporary world are entangled in a system which equates merit with money, and confers advantages to the rich that keep them rich. So museums are not neutral, but instead bulwarks of the system that the “Museums are not neutral” campaign asks us to lobby against.

A lot of museums depend on donors with significant amounts of financial support to keep its doors open, and unfortunately the issues we face are intertwined with financial dependency. What seems to be suggested is we should also tackle on economic issues as well when we move forward to untangle the complicated weave. Hertz’s blog post described further detail about each of the problems she is concerned about such as opening up the possibility of continuing to widen the gap within already divided communities as museums begin to take sides of the political spectrum.

Leadership Matters blog expressed their support for museums not being neutral and they also pointed out concerns museum leaders face. In their blog post “Museums Are Not Neutral”, they summarized their thoughts on museum neutrality by stating

We believe first and foremost that museums have to understand their communities, and their entire community, not just the largely white, heterosexual, wealthy community who wanders their galleries and attends openings. But how do museums decide when and how to take a stand? Is what’s relevant to the director important to the community? And how about the board? As a director, if you take a stand will it matter to the people you’re trying to support? Does not being neutral mean being a good citizen, and how should an organization be a good citizen? How do museums engage their communities while being transparent?

All museum professionals should be able to understand and have knowledge of the community surrounding their museum. We also should be asking ourselves questions, especially the previously listed questions, about what it means to not be neutral.

Each museum is different, and each community is different so therefore all museums would have to answer similar questions differently and sometimes ask different questions. What we all could agree on is we cannot go backwards in our progress as a field. Our museum field talks about what our role should be in the community, and by stating that museums should be neutral we would be taking steps backward in trying to be relevant in our society.

What does museum neutrality mean to you? When was the first time you began to see the “Museums Are Not Neutral” phrase, and how do you respond to it?
To learn more: I included more resources on the subject below, especially ones I referenced in this week’s blog post.

Resources:
https://artstuffmatters.wordpress.com/2017/10/15/changing-the-things-i-cannot-accept-museums-are-not-neutral/
https://artmuseumteaching.com/2017/08/31/museums-are-not-neutral/
https://museumquestions.com/2017/12/18/can-museums-be-neutral/
https://www.aam-us.org/2016/08/23/beyond-neutrality/
https://archivaldecolonist.com/2018/01/18/your-neutral-is-not-our-neutral/
https://soundcloud.com/museopunks/s2-ep27-museums-are-not-neutral
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/category/museums-are-not-neutral/
https://coalitionofmuseumsforclimatejustice.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/is-there-another-way-reflection-on-museums-neutrality-and-activism/
https://www.anabelroro.com/blog/the-myth-of-museum-neutrality
https://medium.com/@artlust/are-museums-neutral-or-are-they-neutered-4d879721a54

 

Mentorships: Why It Is Significant for Museum Educators

Added to Medium, June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2018/06/25/role-models-why-we-need-them-and-what-they-tell-us-about-us/
http://commongoodcareers.org/index.php?/articles/detail/finding-a-guide-the-value-of-having-a-professional-mentor/
https://www.artcurators.org/page/Mentorship?
https://www.museumsassociation.org/professional-development/mentoring-for-all
https://museums.ca/site/projects_rbc
https://acwm.org/blog/mentorship-museum-origins-mentorship
https://nemanet.org/conference-events/lunch-nema/multigenerational-mentorship/
https://www.kent.edu/yourtrainingpartner/value-establishing-mentoring-program-within-your-organization

How We Can Show Policymakers and Teachers Our Museums’ Potential as Educational Resources

Added to Medium, June 21, 2018

Museums continue to find ways to develop the relationships and collaborations with schools whether they are private, public, or homeschool. Even though museums are increasingly being seen as educational resources for school curriculums, education policies in the United States suggest that as museum professionals we need to continue to prove how significant museums are for our schools.

To be able to convince education policy makers the significance of museums, we as museum professionals need to have a better understanding of education policies and keep up to date with current education policies. The Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009: A Brief Synopsis, for instance, provides information about education policies in the United States.

Our education policies constantly change to fulfill our need to improve the quality of education in our nation. Education is a state and local responsibility, and yet the federal role in the schools has grown significantly since the mid-twentieth century, and as a result state-federal interactions in the realm of education policy have become increasingly complex. Both the New Deal and World War II contributed dramatically to the size and the scope of federal activities. In 1944, Congress passed the biggest package of federal aid to education to date: the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights which entitled veterans who had served at least ninety days in the armed forces to a year of secondary, special, adult, or college education, plus an additional month of education for each month in the service, up to a total of 48 months.

When Eisenhower became president, the increase in children during the baby boom had caused school districts to request federal aid to increase the number of classrooms and teachers to accommodate more children enrolling in schools. Since the Eisenhower administration, each incoming president of the United States faced various circumstances that led to them changing education policies to accommodate current economic and educational situations.

For instance, we had the No Child Left Behind during the Bush administration and the Every Student Succeeds Act during the Obama administration. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual outcomes in education, and required states to develop assessments in basic skills. According to Julia Kennedy in her article “The Room Where It Happens: How Policy and Perception are at Play in Museum-School Relationships”, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave incentives for states to adopt academic standards which prepare students to succeed in both college and the workplace, and narrows the government’s role in Elementary and Secondary education.

In the education policies, museums are not mentioned as education resources. While these education policies do not directly affect museums, it is important that museums pay attention to any changes to the policies. Museums and museum groups such as the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) have kept a close eye on the policy in an effort to become a better partner to the formal education sector. Julia Kennedy pointed out that,

“Policy remains a large divider between formal and informal educational institutions because: public schools are at the mercy of policy with state and local standards; museums are loosely legislated and not governed as official educational institutions; and museum’s strengths as places of lifelong learning are not considered when discussing educational policy.

Current and past policy reflects the perception that museums are just an extension of the classroom; and before any real, impactful, collaborative effort or long-standing partnerships can happen, the relationship between these two institutions must be examined. “

Before we can convince policy makers museums have a ton of potential, we need to get the evidence by strengthening the relationships between museums and schools.

One of the articles that was posted on the American Alliance of Museums was written about how museums can improve the relationship between museums and schools from a teacher’s perspective. There are many complications in planning field trips for both museums and schools; the article described the teachers perspective on the challenges of planning field trips. Meg Davis pointed out it takes time, resources, and local expertise for teachers to plan field trips. To make sure a field trip happens, teachers have to navigate complex websites to find out costs, scheduling protocol and basic logistical details; then afterwards, teachers have to reach out to the organization to schedule the field trip, and that takes additional few days or weeks of back and forth so field trips teachers end up planning are ones that feel easy.

Davis suggested making a few changes to position museums as partners in the future of schools. The changes she suggested in the article were divided into three categories: on the website, in communication, and support students.

On the website, Davis suggested the website should highlight the alignment of each learning experience clearly so the teacher can quickly and easily explain what objective they can achieve through the field trip to their administrators and therefore will have an easier time getting approval. Also, it is important to list logistical information right on the website so teachers will know where the students can eat lunch, use the bathroom, and any offsite places the museum recommends so planning the field trip would be less intimidating. She also revealed that it would be helpful to offer a pre-trip preview so teachers can visit and have the opportunity to plan logistics and objects they want to highlight in advance.

When museums communicate with teachers, museum professionals scheduling field trips should shorten the feedback loop and communicate asynchronously. Davis explained that museum professionals should respond to requests in between 24 and 48 hours and if staff is part-time we should make sure it is indicated when staff is able to schedule field trips so that way teachers would be able to expect a delay and can communicate with their teams accordingly. Also, make sure there is an opportunity to make it easier for teachers to have time to make field trip arrangements since 90 percent of teachers have limited time during the day to answer a call or send an email.

To support students attending the field trips, routines should be facilitated and supplementary materials should be provided to the students. Davis pointed out that “If you have specific routines that teachers and students can follow when they arrive or move through your space, it makes the inherently hectic nature of shepherding 30 students through a new place feel calmer.” Since students are used to routines in the classroom, it will be easier for students to understand there are routines at the museums and to facilitate the visit. Also, if they are not doing so already museums should provide supplementary materials such as pre/post trip materials so students would be prepared with questions before they arrive to the museum. By making various changes and tweaks, museum programs would become more accessible to teachers and the museum-school partnerships will continue to grow and strengthen.

As we continue to advocate for museums and its educational mission, we need to continue to keep in mind what is going on in education policies to strengthen our knowledge of what we can do to better help schools.

What do you think of the educational policies? What is your reaction to the teacher’s perspective of the educational programming in museums?

Resources:
Meg Davis, Founder, Explorable Places, “Meeting Teachers Where They Are”, https://www.aam-us.org/2018/06/13/meeting-teachers-where-they-are/
Julia Kennedy, “The Room Where It Happens: How Policy and Perception are at Play in Museum-School Relationships”, Museum Scholar Theory and Practice, Vol. 1, June 19, 2018. http://articles.themuseumscholar.org/tp_vol1kennedy

 

 

 

Why Self-Care is Important for Museum Educators

Added to Medium, June 7, 2018

Self-care has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in the museum field, and we need to express why museum educators especially need to take the care they need. I recently have been in a situation that I needed self-care to help myself get back to where I need to be as a museum educator. Because of recent events, I began to review information I have about self-care and museums.

One of the posts I came across was Seema Rao’s “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business” in which she summarized a keynote talk Rao gave at the Pennsylvania Museums Association conference in April. I also read her book Objective Lessons: Self Care for Museum Professionals in the past, and I decided to re-read the book in light of recent events. While there are many resources online that have self-care and self-help, it is overwhelming to dedicate time to sit down and read through every material.

Earlier tonight I hosted #MuseumEdChat on Twitter and since I was hosting I decided to come up with the topic about self-care and develop the questions for the topic. I thought that I would learn more about the current status of self-care in museums by asking the questions I had to the Twitter community. After an hour-long discussion, I found so many great responses to these questions and what I found is that we need to continue to promote self-care and the significance of self-care among museum professionals of all levels.

The first question I asked was “How would you describe self-care?” because while everyone needs self-care at some point or another not everyone would have the same definition depending on the circumstances of why they need self-care. One of the first responses I came across that I think perfectly sums up what self-care is in general is:

To me, self-care is having the time and patience to actively care for your overall health (physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual)

We all need time and patience to provide ourselves with the self-care we need to keep ourselves moving forward. The key, however, is finding the time to do so and not many museum professionals have that opportunity because some managers do not see the value of self-care.

A couple of tweets mentioned this dilemma. One tweet pointed out that “Self-care can be hard for staff who don’t have paid time off or vacation.” Another tweet also said,

Self-care is hard in sector w/ so much of the staff working on term-limited/ hourly wages in precarious jobs. Self-care can be seen as a waste by managers, who put pressure on junior staff to be super productive ALL THE TIME.

There are not many job opportunities that are full-time for museum professionals which provide benefits that will help us with self-care. These situations are a part of a bigger issue in the museum field that we continue to work towards so self-care would be acknowledged by managers, directors, and board of directors and trustees.

Rao has also stressed the importance of self-care in her post “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business”, and made an argument for managers to pay attention to this need for not only for their staff but for the managers as well. She stated that burnouts are high in the museum field because of the long hours with little pay and no time to recharge. Her post also directly addressed the managers to set examples for self-care:

Managers need to be honest about their own struggles with burnout and share their strategies to counteract these feelings. Sharing challenges is not a sign of weakness. A good leader is a human who is worth following, flaws and all; a boss is a person who you have to work for.

Our work culture in this society promotes the idea that having challenges are signs of weakness in managers. However, that is not true at all because we are all human and knowing how to deal with challenges and flaws is what makes great leaders a person worth following. A few responses on Twitter also pointed out that they either do not know how to or do not know how to find time to do self-care.

I have said this on Twitter and I will say again here that I don’t think everyone is good at self-care at times because sometimes it is hard to find the time to take care of ourselves. It will take a lot of practice for all of us to practice and promote self-care. Some individuals have shared what we can do to promote the importance of self-care.

One of the tweets talked about promoting workshops and activities for staff with special guests such as individuals from government or higher education agencies. I agree with this suggestion because by having programs like the ones suggested it would start to make discussions about self-care easier for museum professionals and opens up communication about self-care with managers and directors. Another tweet reiterated the sentiments I have about self-care:

All museum professionals, no matter the position, need to foster an environment of caring and understanding. If there is a need to promote self-care at work, professionals need to feel that they can open up and be honest about what they need.

After the #MuseumEdChat discussion, I was reassured that I am not alone in my own struggles to find time for self-care and balance work with much needed self-care time. I was also reassured that this is a topic that we all need to continue to discuss as we continue to find ways to improve the museum field. Self-care is different for every individual in the museum field, and it is necessary for every museum professional on all levels to take care of themselves.

I leave you all with a couple of questions that I have asked on Twitter’s #MuseumEdChat discussion that we all need to think about and share with all museum professionals in the field:

If you were going to explain to your manager and/or colleagues about self-care, how would you explain why it is important for all museum professionals, including museum educators? Please share what you and your co-workers do, or would like to do, for self-care. What method is most helpful for you? What can we do to spread more awareness to the need of self-care?

Resource:
http://brilliantideastudio.com/selfcare/focusing-on-self-care-is-good-for-business/

What are the Best Practices for Historic House Museums?

Added to Medium, May 11, 2018

I thought about more recently about my past experiences in the museum field, specifically in historic house museums. Like all museums, historic house museums take a lot of time and resources to run. As museum professionals, we search through various resources and have discussions among colleagues to figure out the best practices for our museums. I am particularly going to discuss best practices in historic house museums.

Each historic house museum has their own unique stories and artifacts to share with its visitors. I worked at a number of historic house museums in the past, and each have not only their own stories and artifacts but they also have slightly different missions from one another. The historic house museums I was a museum educator for are Stanley-Whitman House, Noah Webster House, and Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House.

The Stanley-Whitman is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. This museum facility is centered on a ca. 1720 National Historical Landmark house, furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. In 2004, public service areas of the museum, including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area, were constructed to assist in fulfilling its mission.

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster, the creator of the first American dictionary and “Blue-Backed Speller”, a teacher, lawyer and early abolitionist. Its mission is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding.

Connecticut Landmarks is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. The two historic house museums I worked at were the Butler-McCook House and the Isham-Terry House, located in Hartford.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden, the only 18th-century home still remaining on Hartford’s Main Street, is a time capsule of Hartford’s past and the history of one family. For 189 years the Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century.

Inside the house, Connecticut Landmarks preserves the house with all the changes that took place over time. The house has original furnishings ranging from Connecticut-crafted colonial furniture to Victorian-era toys and paintings to samurai armor acquired during a trip to Japan. These objects were accumulated over the course of almost two centuries by members of this extraordinary clan, which included physicians, industrialists, missionaries, artists, globetrotters and pioneering educators and social reformers.

The Isham-Terry House is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford. Dr. Oliver Isham purchased the 1854 Italianate house for his medical practice and as a home for himself, his parents and his three sisters in 1896. The footprint of the house remains the same as it was when it was built in 1854 with the three-story rectangular tower added in 1883.

This mansion has 15 rooms that are adorned with crown moldings, ceiling medallions, lincrusta wall coverings, hand painted walls and ceilings, gilt mirrors and valances, stained glass windows, elaborate gas-light chandeliers and many original kitchen and bathroom appliances and fixtures. It is filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including but not limited to antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry.

All of the historic house museums I have worked for and visited focus their missions on community and education. While I have not visited all historic house museums in the country, I know that each one not only has a unique narrative but all historic house museums have to consider many factors that effect how they are run.

For instance, historic house museum professionals have to discuss interpretive planning. Interpretive planning, according to the book Museum Administration 2.0, is about deciding which interpretive messages will be carried throughout the organization, via exhibits, educational programs, marketing, and other forms of communication. At the Butler-McCook House, I was part of the team that worked on interpretive planning projects to brainstorm ways we can draw more visitors in while aligning the interpretive plan with the mission.

There are a number of steps that need to be taken when museum professionals work on the interpretive plan. According to my experience and in Museum Administration 2.0, a number of museum leaders and educators must collaborate to develop an interpretive plan which allows policy, planning, and process to flow out of the themes and messages the plan presents. I met with other museum educators, the executive director, an interpretive specialist, and site administrator to discuss the framework of the plan as well as the interpretive themes. Also, we discussed geographic and audience demographics from previous years. Museum educators were then asked to pick an interpretive theme to brainstorm ideas of new exhibits and tours using the narrative and objects in the collection related to the chosen theme.

Other considerations include but not limited to house maintenance, accessioning and deaccessioning objects in the collections. Also, historic house museums especially ones I have worked in have to figure out what to do with dangerous objects in its collections. I came across an article written by Jessica Leigh Hester called “The Most Dangerous Things You Can See in Museums” which listed a number of museums from around the world with the specific dangerous objects described underneath each museum mentioned in the article.

When I was working at the Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, there were a number of items in the collection that would be considered too dangerous and each one had a solution to be sure they are not exposed to museum professionals and visitors. For instance, both of the houses had medicines used by members of both families who were physicians. Each of these were placed out of arms reach either in a closet behind glass (at Butler-McCook House) or in a cabinet (at Isham-Terry House).

Museum professionals at historic house museums have numerous things to consider, and would need assistance from colleagues and other resources. Last week I discussed how museum professionals find resources and the significance of these resources to assist in running museums. I discovered a website called Sustaining Places which is a site that has resources for small museums and historic sites which cover everything from administration to collections, and from curatorial and exhibitions to education and programming. Also, in addition to other resources from books and museum organizations, there are professional networks especially through the American Alliance of Museums. The American Alliance of Museums has a historic houses and sites network which was organized to create and maintain a welcoming network of museum professionals dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of important public histories, architecture, and culture.

Not all historic house museums are alike, and it is important for all museum professionals to learn and decide what methods work best for their organizations.

If you work in a historic house museum, what resources have you come across on historic house museums?

Resources:
https://www.ctlandmarks.org/
http://www.stanleywhitman.org/
https://noahwebsterhouse.org/
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/most-dangerous-museum-objects
https://sustainingplaces.com/
https://www.aam-us.org/professional-networks/historic-houses-and-sites-network/

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

Added to Medium, April 19, 2018

I have discussed about school programs in museums in previous blog posts, such as “Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants” and “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, however I thought I would discuss in more detail about how education programs are run in museums. One of the most important things museum educators especially know and emerging museum professionals learn is being able to be flexible. This is important for dealing with school groups visiting museums. In my experience, I have witnessed and found ways to be flexible when working with school groups visiting the museums and historic house museums I have worked and continue to work in.

I recently observed and assisted in a school field trip for the past few days at the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket. The visiting school groups, that came from the same elementary school, participated in a program called Walk Through History with Abraham Woodhull, Farmer and Revolutionary War Spy. It was a living history interdisciplinary program and field trip for students that allows them to explore the nature sanctuary that was once Woodhull’s farm, the Setauket Village Green, Setauket Grist Mill, Patriot’s Rock and historic gravesites. Students also have the opportunity to the woods, fields, ponds and bays which tell the story of Long Island’s colonization and settlement before the American Revolution and during the creation of the new nation. Also, students have the opportunity to analyze Setauket spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s secret codes as well as decode maps and spy letters.

After teachers book school programs with the Three Village Historical Society, they were given pre-visit materials which include lesson plan and curriculum.

During the few days I worked with school groups, there have been a number of instances where flexibility was important. The weather reports, for instance, predicted rain during one of the days I was going to work with the school groups; as a result, a PowerPoint presentation version of the walking tour was created with an invitation to sign up for a public walking tour at a later date, and the analyzing secret codes activity was extended and took place inside as well a room down from the first station.

In another example, on a sunny day, the school groups were divided into two groups with the Three Village Historical Society Historian leading one group and the Director of Education leading the other group in walking tours. After the walking tour, they all gathered indoors to work on the secret code activity which there was not enough time to finish on the premises. After receiving feedback on the program, adjustments were made so that there was enough time for each aspect of the program for the third day school groups were . One group started with a walking tour while the second group started with the secret code activity, and they switched so each group had the opportunity to participate in both.

One of the days I observed and assisted with the program a teacher revealed that they did not review the pre-visit materials before arriving for the program. As a result, the Three Village Historical Society Historian and the Director of Education decided to dedicate more time to the introduction to make sure all of the students understood what they were going to be learning about during the program.

My experiences with the Three Village Historical Society made me think about my past experiences dealing with similar and varying situations.

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit. I have experienced these challenges and more while I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Connecticut Landmarks in Hartford, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in West Hartford, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, and or course the Three Village Historical Society.

There are a number of ways museum educators can overcome challenges that will hopefully benefit museums and visiting school groups. For instance, when school buses on the way to the museum arrive late and the groups need to leave the museum early to get back to the school, museum educators can adjust the program so the students can benefit from as much of the experience as possible while fulfilling the guidelines of the program. While I was at museums such as the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, adjustments were made because school groups arrived late and we were informed sometimes ahead of time and sometimes on the day of school groups needed to leave before the allotted end of the program.

It is hard to predict how much time is needed to make sure enough information and activity is utilized by the students. Sometimes museum educators cut introductions short to dedicate more time to the activities and other times spending time during program stations is cut short so teachers, chaperones, and students can either get on the bus early or have lunch on the premises. Museum educators know what the programs are, and are more likely to be able to judge the time and make adjustments. Each program is different from other another within one education programming in a museum, and programs are different from others in other museums, and therefore museum educators need to keep this in mind when attempting to balance the needs of the museum educators and the visiting school groups.

Flexibility is also important to strengthen the partnership between museums and schools. In the end, museums and schools work towards assisting students in becoming well-rounded individuals who contribute to their communities. In my blog post, “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, I pointed out that

Museum programming not only allow students to participate in activities that assist in understanding of academic materials in the classroom but the programming offer ways for students to develop the skills necessary to effectively integrate social, emotional, and academic development.

Since museum educators especially understand the significance of museum programming for students of various ages, we are likely to be flexible enough to make changes that will hopefully benefit the students.

As museum educators, we do all we can to help schools prepare for their visits and typically leave the execution of these preparations to the teachers. We can be flexible to not only make sure students have a positive educational experience but to make sure we maintain partnerships with schools so future visits will be planned. How much flexibility is needed? It depends on the organization, and how much they are able to do due to timing and space available.

What examples have you experienced in being flexible during school programs? Have you had to make adjustments? What were the results?

Resources:
http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/?page_id=2025
Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-j9
Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-4B

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?

Resources:
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.

 

Museums Prove that Education is for Everyone

Added to Medium, March 15, 2018

As museum professionals, we need to help visitors and other individuals outside of the museum field understand the significance of education and the museums’ role in education. I have reiterated its importance in the museum field in previous blog posts but it is an important point that needs to be reiterated especially when we need to show that education is for everyone. The latest edition of American Alliance of Museum’s Museum magazine is dedicated to education by discussing all-ages programming in museums.

In a message from the President and CEO Laura Lott, she stressed that as an Alliance we need to find new ways to engage the education community and share our resources. We need to make sure individuals outside of the museum field are aware of what we can offer to help people of all ages see what museums have to offer especially through educational programs. Also, we need to show that our educational programs are not limited to school field trips. We should show our visitors and other individuals not familiar with museums that our programs are created to engage with all ages. A couple of articles that show examples of programming for all ages include cultivating lifelong appreciation of museums through teen programs, and about early education programs and how they make sense for all types of museums.

There is also an article written by Ericka Huggins and Kevin Jennings, two keynote speakers for the 2018 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in Phoenix, encourage museums and museum professionals to create more inclusive education programs. Huggins is a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther Party leader, and former political prisoner. Jennings is the new president of the Tenement Museum and is the co-founder of LGBT History Month. In their article called “Who Will Tell My Story?”, Huggins and Jennings share some of their thoughts on the power of storytelling, and how important it is to be authentic and inclusive in this work.

Both of them shared their experiences through storytelling and shared important facts that museums should think about moving forward in education. Huggins pointed out that we can learn to be global citizens by making sure museums support the larger community in thinking beyond nation-states. Jennings stated that he believed museum professionals should take a hard look at what stories we tell and don’t tell, and consider what that says about whose lives we feel matter. Huggins’ and Jennings’ statements are important considerations because we all need to remember we have a significant impact within our communities and we should work together to be more inclusive.

Conversations about museums proving education is for everyone, and inclusion, has recently been taking place though online discussions such as today’s EdComVersation through the American Alliance of Museums and the Twitter discussion #MuseumEdChat. Both of these online platforms have discussed social justice and museums by discussing the importance of inclusion and diversity within our museum community from the staff to the visitors.

Today, I participated in an EdComVersation discussion about engaging audiences as socially responsive museums. It was hosted by Rebekah Harding, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement at the Ronald Regan Presidential Foundation and Institute, and Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Chair for Professional Development for AAM’s Education Committee (EdCom). The guest speaker was Monica O. Montgomery Nyathi who is the founding director and curator of Museum of Impact the world’s first mobile social justice museum, inspiring action at the intersection of art, activism, self and society.

According to the EdComversation event webpage, Monica believes that museums can best engage their audiences when they catalyze socially responsive practice, acting as conveners, sites of conscience and spaces that welcome difference. To prepare for the discussion, we were given links for pre-reading material including my blog post “Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that ‘promote humanity’” which made me glad because I am always happy to see how individuals especially museum professionals benefit from continuing important discussions using resources such as the ones I provide.

During this program, we discussed how to embrace the needs and nuance of modern audiences, and how educators and front line staff can fuse informal educational with the wave of social activism the world is experiencing, to create space for awareness, inspiration and understanding of social movements. We used a new format called Zoom, which allowed all participants to not just type in their questions and responses, but they could also use their computers’ microphone and video camera to participate in discussions.

Zoom also had a feature that allowed us to form smaller groups to chat with each other to address questions such as:

How does your institution incorporating current events or social activism into the lesson, tour or discussion? How might you incorporate more of this?

What forms can socially responsive museum practice take? How have you observed it in local and national museums in the field? How have you observed it in your own?

What are the possibilities of celebrating and explore issues around material culture, power and untold stories, to honor visitor voices, challenging apathy and illuminating ideas?

I enjoyed this format because it allowed me to get to know other museum professionals I would not have been able to with the old format of listening to speakers and typing questions into a chat feature. The old format seemed to lead to passive participation. While this is a new feature and it would take some getting used to, I see the potential in having a more interactive experience in these discussions.

One of the statements that stuck with me was when said “museums are a partner for learning and enrichment but shouldn’t be overshadowing- if you want to know what audiences want- ask them and involve them”. We need to establish and maintain our relationships between museums and our audiences to understand what we all want from our experience in educating ourselves about social justice and social movements.

This discussion was continued during tonight’s #MuseumEdChat on Twitter. Participants answered a number of questions about social movements, and continued to discuss these questions within the hour and beyond the hour discussion. One of the questions asked was: Why should museums connect with visitors through social movements?

I believe that museums should not only remain relevant in today’s community by connecting with visitors through social movements but museums can provide resources that will help visitors get educated about the issues social movements address. I have also read other responses to this question, and one of the responses that stood out to me was:

Because social movements are an important part of the human experience! They are part of what drives change in societies across time, cultures, etc. By engaging w/current social movements we can teach empathy and appreciation for movements of the past.

This response stood out to me because it is true that all social movements, in the past and present, are part of the human experience. Many changes within our society were made because of the social movements that occurred. Social movements today are getting a lot of attention and inspiring more discussion on what changes we need to make in our community and in our government.

Another example of the questions asked during the #MuseumEdChat discussion was: What makes a good partnership with an audience successful? I believe successful partnerships with an audience need to have open communication and build the trust between museums and its audiences so visitors are more likely to turn to museums to learn about the issues and the past to understand the present social movements.

What we should all take away from reading the latest edition of Museum magazine, and from what participants in the discussions talked about, is museum professionals and people outside of the museum field need to work together to find out how we can show them educational programs can be for all ages. We can also show them that not only our educational programs can be for all ages but we can also reveal that we are safe spaces to discuss social justice.

Do you have examples of educational programs in museums that are geared towards all-ages? How does your organization discuss social justice among the staff and/or visitors?

 

 

How to Handle Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites

Added to Medium, February 15, 2018

This week I received Museum Education Roundtable’s March edition of Journal of Museum Education and the theme of this edition is “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites”. When I received the Journal in the field, it made me think about the experiences I have had in professional development and in the museum field with dealing with tough subject matter. It is important for all museum professionals, whether or not they directly work with narratives about traumatic events, understand how to interpret trauma, memory, and lived experience for the visitors.

The March edition of Journal of Museum Education have a few articles that delved into this subject matter.

For instance, Lauren Zalut’s, guest editor of this edition, “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites” introduces the subject of handling topics of trauma, memory, and lived experience. Zalut stated that,

Our field typically tells stories of trauma and complex issues through museum educators, tour guides, or docents who are generations or decades removed from the topic or event. This approach utilizes historical empathy, defined as developing “…understanding for how people from the past thought, felt, made decisions, acted, and faced consequences within a specific historical and social context.” Research reveals that this approach humanizes historic figures, but is applied inconsistently by educators.

We have the skills to convey the significance of these stories, however we need to commit to what consistent approach is needed.

Not many museums and organizations have a narrative that includes traumatic issues. There are museums such as U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National 9/11 Museum that discuss emotional and traumatic situations on a regular basis. Meanwhile, there are museums and organizations that share a part of its overall narrative dealing with traumatic, emotional, or lived experience.

One of my first experiences with interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience was when I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. The Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through its collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington.

At the Stanley-Whitman House, I taught school programs that also discussed Native Americans and African Americans who lived in the early American Farmington. One of the students did ask if the house owners had slaves, and while at the time I was not entirely sure what the answer was I delicately explained that there were slaves in Farmington during the 17th century but slavery in the New England area was no longer accepted by the 1800s.

While I was in graduate school, I decided to work with the Stanley-Whitman House on a project that addressed slavery in Connecticut. I had a couple of classmates and colleagues join me in the team to work on this project for a Curatorship class requirement. We researched former slaves who worked and lived in Connecticut before the 1790 Census to present the research results about what slavery was like for slaves in Farmington to colleagues who attended the In Plain Sight symposium presentations and discussion.

Since working on this project and the symposium, there have been more developments on discussing slavery in Connecticut. One of my teammates collaborated with the Stanley-Whitman House to create a database on the information about slaves in Farmington. Also, more recently a new exhibit is opening this Saturday (February 17th) called “Slavery, Resistance & Freedom in Connecticut”; one of the students from the Public History program I graduated from at Central Connecticut State University researched, wrote, and designed the exhibit.

By being able to discuss slavery in Connecticut more, we are able to address what life had been like for enslaved individuals and draw more attention to their lived experiences.

I believe that with what the Stanley-Whitman House is doing now we are working towards helping visitors understand these lived experiences. Zalut pointed out the importance of encouraging visitors to ask questions and how museum educators have the skills to assist visitors in understanding and learning from the past:

Asking questions and spending time reflecting are critical parts of transforming the work of museum educators. If our field is genuine about its will to make space for visitors to process emotionally complex topics, spark social change, and learn from the past to make a more equitable present and future then museum educators are the ones to make it happen. We can create job opportunities for disenfranchised populations and draw in new audiences, but this work is resource intensive, and requires major internal work – both personally and institutionally. If taken on with great care, collaboration and gratitude, creating platforms for marginalized voices and narratives will be transformative for you, your visitors, your co-workers, your museum, and the field at large.

We have to dedicate our time and efforts as museum educators to create places marginalized voices and narratives can be heard and understood. Emphasis on spaces is especially important for visitors to feel they can go through the process of understanding untold stories.

Mark Katrikh’s “Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs” discusses visitors’ expectations of their museum experience. Visitors do not necessarily come to museums to have an emotional response, and it can be hard for them to be accustomed to this response especially when they are not prepared for it. Our responsibilities as museum educators include guiding visitors by helping them process their emotions with engaging dialogue between the museum educators and visitors. Katrikh discussed the Museum of Tolerance’s approach to having safe and responsible conversations through a framework for understanding and managing key issues when easing challenging conversations. Their framework points out there are many needs and interests participants have involved in conversations, and museum educators are responsible for approaching them with compassion, mindfulness, and skilled responses.

As museum educators, we do acknowledge that we always have the responsibility to engage with the visitors in a way that will allow them to take away with them the lessons our past have to offer. We are all responsible for figuring out what to do with these lessons to make our world a better place for us in the future. According to Katrikh,

At museums whose focus is discussing and presenting trauma, emotional responses are the norm. Visitors unprepared for such a personal experience can react in a multitude of ways along the spectrum that includes confusion, denial, inappropriate comments or questions, and anger. Anticipating such reactions, museums have a responsibility to build into their programming opportunities to promote dialogue, to process emotions and ultimately to allow visitors to reach a place of equilibrium.

We maintain balance within our museums, and by creating opportunities for visitors to process their emotions and reach a balance they would be able to take that lesson museum educators gave them to create a better community.

To be able to fulfill our responsibilities as museum educators, we should start with our training so we are prepared for the challenging conversations. Noah Rauch’s “A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum” discussed the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s docent program and the challenges it presented. When the program was launched, it raised many questions including those on how to balance and convey strongly held, often traumatic, and sometimes conflicting experiences with a newly constructed institutional narrative. Since then the museum negotiated on specific issues and dealt with ongoing questions and challenges.

The more we work together, the more we learn and understand how our museums deal with fact-checking progresses, the more we are able to feel responsibility of our expertise in the events and life experiences. When we include more of our staff and volunteers in the training process, we would be able to connect to our missions and effectively help our visitors understand the narrative they learn.

When I participated in last year’s New York City Museum Education Roundtable’s (NYCMER) conference, I attended a session presented by the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum called The Challenges of Confronting Difficult Content. Rauch’s article reminded me of this session because both dealt with the challenges. While Rauch discussed mainly the docent perspective of the dealing with the subject matter, this NYCMER session discussed the school programs they developed and explained how their lessons approached difficult content.

In my blog post about the conference, Reflections on the NYCMER 2017 Conference, I revealed that I thought this session was interesting because these programs provided a way for students from third grade to seniors to express their thoughts on the events through art and discussion. The takeaways from the session are to address the common question: How to translate difficult content in ways that allow all visitors to correct with sensitive subject matter? And the second takeaway was as a differentiated and inclusive practice, strategy transcends content by incorporating storytelling and historical contents and current resonances/present day connections.

It is important to understand both perspectives of museum professionals and visitors so we can work on strengthening the relationship between the two. When we do, both museum staff and visitors will have the understanding and space to confront difficult content and learn the lessons they have to offer.

How has your museum or organization dealt with educating difficult content? What challenges have you faced when interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience?

Resources:
Mark Katrikh (2018) Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 7-15
Noah Rauch (2018) A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 16-21
Lauren Zalut (2018) Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 4-6
If interested in exhibit opening I mentioned, register for the Stanley-Whitman House’s exhibit opening here: http://www.stanleywhitman.org/Calendar.Details.asp?ID=743&Cat=Visit