Now What? How We Should Be Looking Back and Moving Forward in the Museum Field, 2021 and Beyond

February 25, 2021

     Since we have begun distributing the coronavirus vaccine, we have a new president in the Oval Office, and many changes were made for all of us to adapt to ever changing conditions, I think the question that has been on a lot of our minds is: Now what?

We are not out of the woods yet, and we need to do our part in controlling the pandemic. In the museum field, museum professionals are working on creating experiences for either the virtual platform or limited capacity in-person.

They understand that the plans we originally had for museums have drastically changed course due to the pandemic, and like everyone else we are figuring out how we could keep our places running. Museums around the world are figuring out their next steps if they are not permanently closed. I went through a good number of resources to research what museum associations are sharing with the museum field for keeping the museums running as the pandemic continues and vaccinations are being distributed.

         The American Alliance of Museums released a post on their site called “Should my museum require staff and visitors to wear face masks when we reopen?” to share resources museums could utilize to enforce CDC guidelines. Each piece of information that is shared is not intended as legal, employment/human resources, or health and safety advice but rather they are based on the best available resources at the time the post was published. There are sections used to classify available information museums should seriously consider when re-opening the physical sites. When figuring out how your museum will enforce regulations as the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, these are the types of information you need to take into consideration:

  1. CDC guidance
  2. State/local laws
  3. Legality and the Americans with Disabilities Act for employees and for visitors
  4. Training on proper use of masks
  5. Accessibility
  6. Equity and racial implications
  7. Availability of masks
  8. Tensions over masks, enforcement of policies, and employee training *Information is also available to help figure out how to enforce policies and who will enforce them.
  9. Communication

Once your museum has developed a plan and know how to enforce the policies, it will ease how your museum will move forward throughout the pandemic.

The Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) released a follow up report on the continued impact of COVID-19 on the museum sector, and I have included links below if you would like to read more about it. According to their announcement, NEMO pointed out that:  

Suitable support is needed for museums to build on their digital momentum. Almost all museums offer online activities, but an overwhelming majority admit that they actually need assistance and guidance in their digital transition.

NEMO recommends that museums stay open during these challenging times to offer people a place for rest and emotional recovery. There have been no reported cases of museums being infection hotspots. On the contrary, most museums are very well-equipped to allow for a Covid-19-safe experience for both visitors and employees.

NEMO included a link to their follow up report pdf within their post. Their report follows the initial survey, report, and recommendations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums during the first lockdown. According to their follow-up report, this survey was answered by 600 museums from 48 countries between October 30, 2020 and November 29, 2020, and the majority of the answers came from Europe. They sought to investigate the different themes that emerged in the first survey they released and were discussed within the museum community; the themes were: consequences of income (and other) losses, the increased importance of digital museum offers, and adapted operations and preparedness during and for crises.

          I appreciate that their report had a disclaimer that stated while the results are not guaranteed as representative of current circumstances, it offers a view into the perceived consequences and challenges faced by museums as well as their efforts to overcome them and serve their communities during a pandemic. It is important to address that while there is important information to provide an idea of how museums should move forward it is important to remember that things are not always guaranteed and predictable; new strands of the coronavirus were discovered since the report was released.

The report went into detail about the issues museums face in this pandemic, survey results, and the recommendations that NEMO addresses to stakeholders at all levels. Each issue is split into three sections: Income Losses and Consequences, Development of Digital Services, and Adapted Operations and Crisis Preparedness. In terms of bringing visitor numbers back to normal, the report stated that:

Museums were asked when they estimated visitor numbers could return to their pre-COVID-19 levels. The majority (45%) of 283 responding museums do not estimate a full recovery of visitor numbers until the months between March and September 2021. 15% are prepared to wait until the spring or summer of 2022 before they will welcome the same visitor numbers as before the pandemic.

In addition to looking through these reports, I decided to look at resources outside of the museum field to see what museum professionals could utilize in their own practices for the museums they work for.

I found in my research tips for a successful remote or hybrid curriculum adoption from Amplify, which is an education company that partners with educators to create meaningful learning experiences in schools, whether it is helping to create a professional development plan, working shoulder to shoulder in the classroom, or providing real-time support in a chat window on a teacher’s laptop. Also known as DECIDE, the tips are:

TIP 1 Design the process.

When something unpredictable happens, in the process or in the educational environment, your plan will function as a framework you can adjust as you move forward.

TIP 2 Experience the programs.

You know you need to evaluate each program, but consider exactly how your committee will do that, and how disagreements will be resolved.

TIP 3 Convene a dream team.

The right team can make a complex adoption easier. Group dynamics are important, but think about how you will solicit individual feedback as well.

TIP 4 Investigate short-term and long-term needs.

Discuss with the committee how well your current instructional philosophy aligns with your short-term and long-term goals.

TIP 5 Develop the right rubric.

Using a rubric not only helps you measure what matters, but also ensures that your entire team measures the same things in the same way.

TIP 6 Establish consensus among your stakeholders.

How you make your final decision is a process unto itself. Determine in advance how you will resolve disagreements together.

These tips could be used for education programs in museums since we are figuring out how to engage with student groups like many educators outside of the museum field. Museum educators need to develop an effective curriculum so they can help other educators supplement their own curricula, and this is true before the pandemic and it is just as true now. Our programs need a framework to fall back on when things do not go to plan, an effective evaluation plan and team to know what is working and what needs to change, and to know the short-term and long-term needs of the program to be able to find out what the students took away from it.

By no means this is a conclusive list of things museums need to do moving forward within the pandemic. I encourage you all to take a closer look at not only the sources I introduced in this post but to also look at museum associations in your area for additional resources.

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts. ☕ https://buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2021/01/30/should-my-museum-require-staff-and-visitors-to-wear-face-masks-when-we-reopen/

https://www.ne-mo.org/news/article/nemo/nemo-follow-up-report-on-the-continued-impact-of-covid-19-on-the-museum-sector.html

NEMO COVID-19 Follow Up Report

DECIDE: 6 tips for a successful remote or hybrid curriculum adoption

Amplify

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/12/22/a-pandemic-time-capsule-and-tools-for-2021/

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/11/25/for-post-pandemic-success-get-creative-with-distributed-museum-models/

Distance Learning with Intention and Purpose

Fostering Academic Discussion Online

Improving Accessibility for All Students

https://achievethecore.org/aligned/tag/remote-learning/

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/

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

What is the Benefit of Museum Partnerships?

Added to Medium, February 9, 2018

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how important it is for museum professionals to collaborate. Museums can also benefit in forming partnerships to work on projects to bring in more visitors and awareness to our organizations. We can learn a lot from each other on how to draw visitors’ attentions. I was inspired to write about museum partnerships based on my recent experience in meeting with another museum professional and planning visits between two museums. Also, I saw various articles written about partnerships formed for greater purposes for the community.

The articles I came across pointed out that partnerships come in different sizes and ways for their community. Seema Rao has talked about different types of museums and how there is potential for museums to create partnerships that will benefit all parties. Also, museums can also come together to promote their programs, lectures, exhibits, and other events to discuss the importance of art and technology. Another article I came across was an article in an early childhood educators’ journal that discussed why museums are beneficial for young children and how early childhood educators can utilize museums’ services.

In her article, called “What Can Museums Learn from Each Other”, Seema Rao pointed out that in order to maintain and increase audience members “museums of all kinds should be looking to others to see what is working.” Rao discussed what art and science museums have to offer, and the benefits of having art and science museums work together. She stated that “Art museums have already seen the power of interactives, and environmental installations. Science museums could learn from art museums on ways to draw adults.” While there is potential for art and science museums to collaborate, there is also potential for history museums can also learn from art and science museums on drawing more visitors into our organizations.

History and historic house museums assimilate art and science topics in their programs especially school programs. When I worked in history and historic house museums, I have taught school programs that talked about what paintings can tell us about what life was like in the 19th century. Also, in historic house museums specifically I have taught students how to cook 18th century recipes by using mugs since there were no measuring cups to accurately measure ingredients for a chemical reaction. Museums can form partnerships to learn from each other about bringing visitors in and sharing knowledge about topics.

As an Education Committee member at the Three Village Historical Society, I joined the rest of the committee to visit a museum in Connecticut to see what they had about volunteering and the exhibits they have in their spaces including a small section about the Culper Spy Ring. We met with the Director of Education who showed us around as well as answered questions we had about volunteers and developing volunteer programs. We continue to make connections with the museum to share with them our resources about the Culper Spy Ring.

Museums can also come together for educational purposes such as the relationship between art and technology.

There are fourteen Boston-area arts and culture institutions are teaming together to show how technology has affected our relationship to art. Each of these organizations planned a series of exhibits and panels between now and July. For instance, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has an exhibit called ‘Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960 – 1980’ through March 11th; the exhibit explores color television’s relationship to art of the era and its connection to mind-altering substances and spirituality. In Tufts University’s Art Galleries, artist Jillian Mayer creates furniture specifically designed to support human bodies as they interact with cellphones, tablets and computers.

Museums can be appealing to all ages especially young children, and partnerships between museums and early learning institutions recognize they can help children reach their full potential. The NAEYC, an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research, publishes a journal series called Young Children and one of their editions talked about the importance of creating partnerships with museums.

In the March 2016 edition of Young Children, an article called “Creating Meaningful Partnerships with Museums” discusses why museums are beneficial for both young children and early childhood educators. They argued that museums have much to offer young children, and described in detail how children at various age levels including but not limited to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers benefit from what museums offer.

According to Sarah Erdman, who wrote the article, teachers working with infants have seen firsthand how babies respond to stimulus such as high-contrast objects and bold images. By bringing infants to museums, they would be exposed to museum collections which have a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures, and movement. Also, museum exhibits can help advance language development and teachers are encouraged to talk to babies using rich and varied vocabulary. Finally, museums can be flexible in giving time for infants and their adults to interact with exhibits and because of this they may be explored at a time and pace suitable for infants and often have spaces set aside for baby care.

The article also discussed how toddlers can benefit from interacting with museums exhibits and programs. Museums can speak directly to a toddler’s ability to connect with concrete objects, and the variety of objects can also help toddlers understand that familiar objects such as houses can come in many shapes and sizes. Like infants, toddlers need flexibility and museums are able to accommodate for teachers to create experiences that work for their classes.

As a museum professional who is working in a children’s science museum, Erdman’s arguments are to my knowledge accurate since kids at the Maritime Explorium learn STEM lessons through hands-on activities and events. The Maritime Explorium’s preschool program, Little Sparks, shows children how fun learning can be while they develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.

We should continue to reach out to other museums and organizations to keep our institutions going strong.

What examples of museum partnerships have you experienced or read about? What benefits and challenges have you faced when maintaining partnerships?

Resources:
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/what-can-museums-learn-from-each-other/
www.wbur.org/artery/2018/02/07/art-tech-collaboration-exhibitions
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/creating-meaningful-partnerships-museums

A Closer Look into Museum Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Added to Medium, January 25, 2018

Museum workers are valuable to museums, especially those who volunteer their time to help the museums run. During my experience as a museum educator, I have worked with volunteers as well as participated in professional development programs about volunteers and volunteer programs.

As I am in the middle of helping rewrite the Three Village Historical Society’s docent manual, I thought about my previous experiences and professional development I participated in. In one of my previous blog posts, “Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”, I wrote about my previous experiences working with volunteers and working as a volunteer in my early career. A couple of my most recent experiences working with volunteers were previously managing volunteers for school programs at the Long Island Museum, and writing down records of sailing tour hours at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

At 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 at 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. Based on 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.

To make sure we understand what we should expect from our volunteer programs, it is important to learn from colleagues through professional development programs and written information such as books and articles.

One of the professional development programs I attended was the American Alliance of Museums’ EdComVersation. The EdComVersation I attended was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” with 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. Museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs since evaluations can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers). Also, by evaluating volunteers and volunteer programs it conveys appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivates volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program.

Another resource that is good to learn about managing volunteer programs and working with volunteers is a book Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. In their book, Van Hoven and Wellman discussed what museum volunteers are and the importance of museum volunteers especially today. Van Hoven and Wellman gave solid advice on volunteer recruitment, communication, and retention strategies. They answered various questions about volunteers including: What are new volunteers looking for? How can you develop a successful relationship with potential volunteers? How can your museum support a robust and active volunteer program? How do you reward volunteers and keep them for the long term? How can you meet volunteers’ needs and still benefit from their work?

Their book also provided sample documents for managing volunteer programs. It has a sample of a volunteer job description and a volunteer application. There are also samples of volunteer interview questionnaire, volunteer evaluation forms, recognition letters, and certificate of recognition. I have also found another resource that is helpful with museum volunteer programs.

The resource I found is a technical bulletin called Building a successful museum volunteer services program written by Robbin Davis who is a Volunteer and Marketing Manager at the Oklahoma Museum of History. According to Davis, the questions that volunteers think about when considering volunteering at a museum are: how do they fit into the picture, how can they be useful and how much time will it take? Can they give tours? Can they work with artifacts? Can they interact with the public? Are there social activities? Does it cost?

Davis also went into specific details about how to build volunteer programs. For instance, Robbin discussed incorporating the mission statement in the volunteer program. In the bulletin, it stated that

A mission specific to the Volunteer program should frame the program within the context of the overall museum mission. Make sure it is attainable and a staff decision. If the volunteer program is already established, let the volunteers help create the mission or “freshen” up an existing one.

By incorporating the museum’s mission, potential volunteers will be able to see how they would be able to contribute to the museum and what the museum stands for.

The technical bulletin also discussed the importance of having a volunteer reference manual, marketing materials to promote the volunteer program, and forms for volunteers to fill out. Also, it stated that there are important questions that need to be asked as a volunteer program is being developed such as

Who does your museum serve? What is the volunteer history of the museum? Have there been volunteers before? How were they utilized? What kind of program was it? Was it effective? Why? Why not?

When museum staff figure out the answers to the previously stated questions, they will be able to have an effective and successful volunteer program that will generate dedicated volunteers to help museums fulfill their missions.

Museum volunteers are significant in helping museums function. Volunteers have skills that can be useful in various aspects within the museums’ departments. By focusing on establishing a successful volunteer program, museums are able to not only provide opportunities for positive experiences for volunteers but they will be able to promote your organizations.

What is your relationship with your volunteers like? What ways does your organization recognize its volunteers?

Resources:
Van Hoven, Kristy and Loni Wellman, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
“Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”
Building a successful museum volunteer services program

How Can I Grow in the Museum Education Field

Originally on Medium, November 30, 2017

Museum education has been a passion of mine for a long time, and I continue to find opportunities to develop my career. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my career is to connect with other museum professionals since we learn best about the field when we talk with others who understand the field. After Thanksgiving weekend, I attended a professional development program on museum education career. The program I attended was New York City Museum Education Roundtable’s (NYCMER) Career Growth in Museum Education located at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I was inspired by the NYCMER Career Growth in Museum Education program to think more about my museum education career and how I could move forward in my career.

I reflected on how my museum education career has been going since coming to Long Island, and while it was not easy I learned so much so far from this experience. After I began the next phase of my career on Long Island, I learned that I needed to know more about the administration side of the museum realm in addition to doing well as a museum educator. Since then, I was able to learn more through experience on the job and professional development. It is especially not easy to move forward in the field when there is so much that needs to be improved on to help me and my colleagues stay in the field; I seize opportunities when I can and find ways to utilize my skills to be a better museum professional. We need to find a middle ground in our field that will help us fulfill our personal needs in addition to our professional needs. These were the thoughts I reflected on as I participated in the NYCMER program.

While we were in Brooklyn for the program, participants listened to presentations on what is inspiring museum workers to leave the field and had the opportunity to contribute in small group discussions.

Claudia Ocello, who co-authored the blog post I referenced in one of my previous blog posts called “Leaving the Museum Field”, discussed some of the results Ocello, Sarah Erdman, Dawn Salerno, and Marieke Van Damme found in the survey. Ocello began her presentation with the question: Why are great museum workers leaving the field?

She shared information that was included in the blog post including results from the survey that addressed the question: what could museums do to get you to stay? According to the results, 51 percent of those who participated in the survey said better pay would encourage them to stay while more support (i.e. more staff, budget, and projects) and advancement opportunities tied at 23 percent. Other responses survey participants stated to answer the question included having paid internship opportunities (one percent) and benefits (13 percent). These are very important responses because there are not many opportunities for museum professionals to be able to support themselves during this poor period in our economy.

During the presentation, Ocello pointed out that our field is not alone in wanting to change our current financial situation. She revealed that she found in a national survey on the ladder website that 71 percent of people in our country are actively looking for another job. While we are not able to have immediate results, there are things we need to do and work on now.

Ocello stated that we need to as individuals and what museums as institutions need to do to maintain a healthy work environment. As individuals, we need to take care of ourselves, be realistic, and give ourselves credit for the work we do. This is really good advice since we do have a hard time remembering that. I especially sometimes forget about this advice. I get involved in so much that a lot of times I wonder how exactly I am going through my day and getting things done.

Our institutions should also encourage its museum professionals to take advantage of professional development opportunities and mentorships for all levels in the field. We can learn so much from these opportunities not just for the museum professionals’ benefit but can also help museums get inspired to revitalize programs, exhibits, and well-being of the collections. It is also important for museums to look critically at benefits, pay, and work/life balance as well as committing to diverse hiring. Museums need to find a way to keep their professionals in a healthy work environment that will assist them in their well-being since if we keep overworking with less support from our institutions it will be harder to encourage us to stay working in the museum field. Also, museums should reflect on the fact we live in diverse communities and our institutions should be able to represent our communities by bringing in more diverse museum professionals onto our staff and board.

After the presentation, we participated in a small exercise to see what position title is based on the bullet points in the job descriptions. We were also given the opportunity to meet with one or more of the group facilitators to talk more about career growth and sought advice. I had the opportunity to participate in a group discussion facilitated by Daniel Zeiger who is the Assistant Director for Children and Family Learning at the American Museum of Natural History. While we asked questions and shared our experiences Zeiger told us about how he ended up in his position, and gave us some advice on career growth.

Some of the advice we heard include being able to understand museum operations such as finances and strategic planning. Another bit of advice is to seize for opportunities. Since taking on more responsibilities at the Maritime Explorium including financial operations, I thought it was great advice because by working on museum operations in addition to on education I became more aware of how my work as an educator contributes to the larger operation of the museum. Also, by being able to have a number of additional skills more opportunities will open for us to show ourselves and our museums what we are capable of. We should be able to learn from each other and help each other move our field, as well as our personal wellbeing, forward.

What do you do to help your career grow? What professional development programs do you participate in? How do you feel about your own career growth?
*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

Resources:
http://labs.aam-us.org/blog/leaving-the-museum-field/
https://www.theladders.com/p/25789/majority-unhappy-at-work

What Do You See? The Importance of the Visitors’ Perspectives

Added to Medium, November 2, 2017

Museums continue to work to make educational programs, events, and exhibits more visitor-centered. One of the first things museum professionals should consider is to understand the visitors perspective. It is sometimes easy to forget what it is like to see the museum one works for with a fresh perspective. When we learn from the visitors, we are able to appeal to visitors and potential visitors.

I previously wrote about visitors in past blog posts, and by developing this topic now we see that it is still relevant in the museum field. To best understand our visitors, we should observe as well as talk with our visitors.

When we are able to observe visitors during their experiences, museum educators especially can learn how to make programming more engaging, fun, and educational for participants.

In the Museum Notes blog, visitor observation and perspective discussion was developed in the post “Observation: Seeing, Un-seeing, Re-seeing”. According to the blog post, it stated “Without thoughtful observation, what can we know and understand about what is happening around us in our museums, in the experiences we create, and the connections we hope to foster?” They brought up a good point since we need to learn what our visitors want or need from their experiences, and if we do not observe how visitors react to our programming our field cannot move forward and would not be relevant within our community.

To find out how we can observe visitors effectively, museum educators should find the best methods that would be the most appropriate and effective for their institution. Museum Notes stated that “we engage in both formal and informal observation in research and evaluation, during prototyping, and sharing visitor comments.” When we find out how we observe visitors, we follow through with the method, and hopefully gather results that will make our services better for visitors and potential visitors.

We also need to keep in mind when we observe we do not exclude our own actions within the museum. Museum Notes points out that,

“As good observers, we must also be observers of ourselves, studying our attention, checking our assumptions, and registering our focus. Questioning ourselves as we observe reminds us that we arrive at subjective interpretations, partial findings, and, hopefully, new questions.”

When we observe ourselves, we learn what we are currently doing to provide what the visitors want or need from our museums programming, events, and exhibits.

As we learn more about our visitors and ourselves, we should keep in mind what visitors’ rights are while they are participating in museums activities and interacting with the exhibits. In this month’s Brilliant Idea Studio blog, Seema Rao wrote about visitors in the short blog “Bill of Rights for Museum Visitors” which lists a number of certain rights museum visitors have while they are inside the museum. Some of the rights she listed are

“They have the right to just listen, to ask, to share, to question.
Again, they have the right to question.
They have the right to ask and question when their story isn’t included.
They have the right to notice when museums are doing it wrong.”

Visitors have various levels of interest in the material museums present depending on their reasons for visiting the museums in the first place. Sometimes they want to spend hours in the exhibits, and sometimes they want to walk through the exhibits to briefly see the exhibits. There are other times that visitors want to only attend programs such as a seminar, a family program, and an exhibit opening then leave.

Also, visitors should know how they can feel connected to the stories museums present as well as why they are significant within the community. If they feel they cannot relate to the museum and what it has to offer, then there would be no point from their perspective to go in.

Most importantly visitors need to feel that they can trust museums to allow them to express their desires for attending museum programs/exhibits/events, and for museums to trusts its visitors. They have many reasons for why they visit a museum, and if they feel the museum can provide a safe place or simply a place for them to relax visitors are more likely to continue their patronage to the museum. Visitors should also be able to provide feedback not only because it will help the museum continue to be relevant to its patrons but visitors also have a way to express what they enjoyed and what can be improved upon for future visits.

How does your museum or institution learn about its visitors? What feedback have you received from visitors that surprised (or not surprised) you the most?

Resources:
https://museumnotes.blogspot.com/2017/10/observation-from-seeing-to-un-seeing-to.html
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/bill-of-rights-for-museum-visitors/

*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

Planning Education Programs: The Significance of School Program Registrations

Added to Medium, October 12, 2017

One of the important parts of planning education programming in museums is the school group registrations. Early in my career, I had limited knowledge of the registration process since I was still learning more about the education part of my role. I always understood the significance of managing registrations for school programming, and continue to learn more about the registration process as I move forward in my career. We determine how many materials are needed for school programs, how many staff or volunteers are needed for each program, and when the space is needed for school programs by using the number of registrations we have in the school year. Before the discussion of registration is addressed, there are also many steps education departments in museums take when booking programs for the year.

To effectively have a smoothly run educational department, an organized system has to be in place for every step in the process from conception of programs to the delivery of the programs. I especially learned more about the significance of each step while I was the Long Island Museum, and learned their process. Each museum have similar and different processes depending on the size of the museum and funding, however I am more familiar with the processes of the museums I have worked and currently work in so I am able to explain the process based on my experiences.

When museums plan for educational programs (public school, private school, homeschool, camps, etc.), education departments use educational standards teachers use for their own classrooms as well as materials available from their museums. Once the programs are planned, a marketing plan is organized and executed to be sure local schools and other schools within the region are familiar with programs museums can offer.

Collaborations between the education department and communications department is vital in delivering the museum’s options in educational programming. The layout of the programs not only has to be visually appealing but communicate accurate information about the programs. Once the final decisions are made, the brochures are distributed and other promotions are shared on the museum’s website and social media outlets.

As the calls start coming in for registrations, an organized system is very significant to keep track of school groups. Documents are filled out with information on what schools are interested in visiting, the name of the teacher signing up for the program(s) as well as contact information such as phone number and email, the approximate number of students participating, and the program(s) he or she is signing up for. Teachers and other leaders are most likely to register months in advance whenever they have the time to register so museum education departments need to keep this in mind when completing the registration process and sending out reminders.

Also, an arrangement for payments is made ahead of time so the education department knows how the school is paying for the deposit and/or program fees. Education departments a lot of times know beforehand which payment method schools prefer especially if the schools have signed up for programs in the past.

Once the information is written down and saved in a Word document, the information is indicated on the calendar so the entire museum staff knows what is expected. Education staff also make sure that reminders and special instructions (directions and expectations for the programs) are sent to the teacher, or whoever is the main contact for the registration process. When the day arrives, museum education staff arrange to run the check-in process as smoothly as possible to have the students participate in the allotted time for the program(s). It is also important to be as flexible as possible since things do happen that may prevent school groups from arriving on time so having an efficient check-in process is especially helpful in these cases. I have personally went through this process a number of times as a museum educator.

The process I am most familiar with is using the G Suite, also known as the Google Apps, and keeping track of the information on Microsoft Office documents. G Suite has a couple of items such as Gmail and Calendar for communication; Drive for storage; and Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Sites for collaboration. When I was at the Long Island Museum, I used the Google Calendar to not only make note of what dates schools are interested in coming but also learn about what is going on in other departments at the museum since it is shared by the whole museum staff. Once I received the required information, I made a notation on the Google Calendar to show the school, number of students and the grade level, and the program they are interested in. Also, I make sure all of the information is filled out in the form created on Microsoft Word including contact information of the main teacher who signed up for the program or programs.

Meanwhile at the Maritime Explorium, I continue to learn about how the G Suite is used among the rest of the staff. The G Suite is used for more that registrations for school programs and other programs such as birthday parties and workshops. It is used to send emails and keep track of instructions for programs such as set up and the constructivist lesson plan.

While learning and recalling the registration processes used, I did a little research on my own about other software available to assist in organizing reservations.

There is a company, Double Knot, which creates software that provides online solutions for various administrative tasks especially online management of events, programs, memberships, ticketing and admissions, facility reservations and online fundraising. Their focus is to make sure museums and other non-profit organizations spend more time on delivering their missions.

Double Knot has a field trips and mobile classroom reservations online booking software designed to create an availability calendar that reflects even the most complex schedules in addition to support for blackout periods and flexible scheduling by day, week or month. It also displays a searchable reservations calendar that lets individuals begin the booking process with a single click. The software provides a way for museums to accept both online and offline payments for programs. Also, this software provides a simpler school group check in process by scanning a single group ticket.

When teachers book with museums that use this software, each reservation can trigger an email to the education department staff so they can call to touch base, learn more about the group, and answer any questions. Then those who complete the reservation would receive an automatic confirmation with all of the information needed especially museum staff contact information and any special instructions for them to follow prior to the trip.

By figuring out the best way for one’s museum to run the registration process, the education departments will be able to effectively fulfil the educational component of their museums’ missions.

What software or process do you find works best for your museum or organization? Has there been significant changes in how the registration process is done when and if your organization switched?
Resources:
https://gsuite.google.com/
http://www.doubleknot.com

Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education

Added to Medium, September 21, 2017

To provide educational opportunities for students of all grade levels and abilities, museums and schools can benefit from forming a partnership with each other. As museum professionals know well, museums provide various resources for individuals of all ages. This is true for P-12 students who attend public, private, and home schools.

When museums and schools form a partnership, they will be able to help each other fulfil their goals and needs in education. Schools can benefit from this partnership since museums provide examples of how schools can broaden their approach beyond the narrow focus on academic work.

According to Evie Blad in her article “Scientists to Schools: Social, Emotional Development Crucial for Learning”, the social, emotional, and academic development are significant and central to students’ learning. Students must develop various skills that will be useful for the world outside of the classroom. For instance, the skills students need to be successful in the classroom and in life can be grouped into three areas: cognitive skills (beliefs and attitudes that guide one’s sense of self and approaches to learning and growth), emotional competencies (enables them to manage emotions and understand others’ emotions and perspectives), and social and interpersonal skills (enable them to read social cues, navigate social situations, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and to demonstrate compassion and empathy toward others).

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. In the museum programs, especially in historic house museums and museums I have worked and currently work for, they encourage students to understand their own capabilities and develop those skills to improve their knowledge.

Also, museum programs can show students opportunities to make emotional connections to narratives presented in exhibits. In historic house museums, for instance, museum educators share relatable stories of the people who lived in these houses through programming they will be able to identify with them. Museums can also educate students on making emotional connections through the programs that help them serve the community.

Maritime Explorium, for instance, has a program that not only teaches students how to build catapults to launch items (to measure distance) educators encourage their students to bring home their catapults as well as clay balls with native plant seeds inside to launch them into the dirt. By launching the seeds, they will help keep their environments healthier.

Educational programs in museums also encourage students participate in activities that encourage them to use and develop social as well as interpersonal skills. Students are encouraged to gather into groups to use teamwork to accomplish activities in the programs. Museums and schools can benefit from a partnership by creating opportunities for students to be inspired.

Students have opportunities to develop a lasting interest in museums. It is especially important to encourage young students to appreciate what museums have to offer. Anne Forgerson Hindley’s contribution to Alliance Labs, “Why Museums Should Care About Young Children”, went into details about why museums are focusing more on attracting early learners to these institutions. For instance, museums allow children to explore their interests through outlets including authentic objects, hands-on exhibits, and activities.

When the students explore their interests, they are able to express their creativity and their generous willingness to share their ideas. Museums offer programs that create these opportunities to express their creativity. As educators encourage their students to visit more museums, museums subsequently have an increase in serving their communities better and create more robust experiences for visitors of all ages.

The more times students visit museums for their programming, the more they are likely to develop their education that will make them more informed as well as well-rounded individuals making their communities better for the future.

For parents, guardians, and chaperones, how have your children’s experiences in museums made an impact on them as individuals? What examples can you share about museum-school partnerships that worked in your institutions? Please share your thoughts on museum-school partnerships.

Referred to in the Blog:
http://labs.aam-us.org/blog/why-museums-should-care-about-young-children/
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2017/09/scientists_to_schools_social_emotional_development_crucial_for_learning.html

How Education Supplies Are Significant in Museum Programming

Added to Medium, September 14, 2017.

Supplies for programming in museums are endless and are selected based on the needs of each program. There are various ideas for museums to create school and public programs from, and they are based on each institution’s missions and educational goals. Since there are different ways educators can plan their school and public programs within their missions, we have to plan what supplies and how much supplies are needed as they plan the programs.

For instance, if a historic house museum focuses not only on its history and the family that lived there but also focus on serving the community, programs are planned to support the study of history and connect with members in the community to be relevant in its community.

School program supplies include but are not limited to paper, pencils, markers, crayons, paint, scissors, color pencils, and ink. Public program supplies include but are not limited to supplies used in school programs (depending on what program is planned for what audience), food, drinks, cups, and plates. The previous examples are supplies I have personally used, and have been in charge of the supply inventory in my career as a museum educator.

Depending on what an education department needs, many stores provide the typical supplies needed. If the programs require specific items not found in stores, there are places that museums partner with to provide materials needed. At the Long Island Museum, for instance, they had school and other children’s programming that allow them to pretend to turn over hay outside the barn on the Museum’s campus; the education staff travel to a farm stand that sells hay, and makes a purchase that should last throughout the school year.

An important issue in education programming museums have to address each year is funding for these programs. It is also an issue that educators faces in the school system.

I came across an article from Education Week called “Teachers Spend Hundreds of Dollars a Year on School Supplies. That’s a Problem.” Written by Ann Ness (executive director of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org), the article discussed how teachers have spent a lot of their own money to provide the supplies needed for their classrooms. According to Ness’ article, a survey of more than 1,800 public and private school teachers conducted in the 2015-16 school year stated that the average American educator spends $600 of their own money every year on basic supplies and they not only cover typical staples such as copier paper or colored pencils, but also go toward clothing and personal hygiene necessities for students who need them. Ness argued that educators need to have a better way to be able to have plenty of supplies for their students, and the students and parents need to urge their local school districts and state legislatures to adequately fund education that is able to provide supplies for students in need.

This article made me think about how this fact also applies to museum educators who need to purchase items for their programs. For each year, education departments in each museum have to figure out funding for education supplies.

Like educators in public and private schools, many museum educators use the money out of their own pockets to support the programs. At Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, one of my former co-workers would purchase food such as cookies and vegetables for the Cultural Cocktail Hour program that promotes local artists’ works. It is also possible for museum educators could be reimbursed for their purchases especially when there is room in the budget to reimburse them.

Whenever a museum educator purchases items for the program or programs, a receipt is saved so the director of the education department or executive director would sign off on the purchase and provide a check to give to the museum educator. To provide the funds to reimburse the education staff, the education budget includes an amount that has to be spent on supplies and should be enough to provide a part in the budget to give money to educators that purchase items for the museum.

The majority of the funds that support museum programming, and on a larger scale to keep museums running, come from grants that museums have to apply for each year. In each grant application, museums have to address what they hope to accomplish when they receive the funds. When they applied for grants they have previously received funds from, museums must address how much they have accomplished with the grant in the previous year(s) and how the grant would be essential for the upcoming year. This is an understanding that was reaffirmed while I was assisting the executive director at the Maritime Explorium on part of a grant application to keep the museum running programs for visiting children.

To be able to successfully run programs that make an impact on our audiences, we need to be able to get access to supplies.
What supplies do your institutions use for your programming? Are there other ways your organization or institution find funding for programs?

Here is the link to the article I referenced in this post:
http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/08/02/teachers-spend-hundreds-of-dollars-a-year.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2