RE: Docent Transitions

 
From: "Andrew Palamara [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org]" <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: Docent Transitions
Date: June 11th 2019

There have been a lot of good points raised here so far.  I agree with what’s been shared so far.

 

For the most part, I think docents are less concerned with things changing and more afraid about how changes will affect their sense of self and belonging at the museum.  The last thing a docent wants is for someone to tell them that they’re irrelevant or over the hill, and sometimes we make changes that suggest that (even if we don’t explicitly say something like that to them.)  To Jill’s point, use the strengths they already have as a way to emphasize the ways that they can improve the things that don’t come as naturally.  When I came on at the CAM, I knew I couldn’t match their experience or their knowledge base, but I could help them improve their gallery teaching practices on the pedagogical side of things.  I try to be as honest about that as I can and keep an open dialogue with our docents. 

 

The same applies to less active docents, but in a slightly different way.  I’ve had some tough situations like that at the CAM.  Nine times out of ten, the most effective way of clarifying roles with those docents is to meet with them one on one and get a better sense of what they want to get out of the museum and their docent corps at this stage in their tenure.  When they feel comfortable to share that with you, you have a better idea of what’s important to them and whether or not that lines up with your goals for the docent program, and you can have more thoughtful dialogue that gives you a healthy kind of leverage to either find opportunities for limited participation or ask them to leave the docent program.  It’s not always easy, but we have to acknowledge that they’re people with feelings, too.

 

Feel free to email me directly anytime if you want to talk more about it.

 

 

Andrew Palamara

Assistant Director of Docent Learning

 

[email protected] | 513-639-2997

953 Eden Park Drive | Cincinnati, OH 45202

cincinnatiartmuseum.org

 

Cincinnati Art Museum   through the power of art,

we contribute to a more vibrant Cincinnati by inspiring

its people and connecting our communities

 

From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 1:34 PM
To: talk at museum-ed.org <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: [talk] Docent Transitions

 

As Sean said, so much could be said. 

Also, make changes gradually to avoid mutiny.

 

Candie, you specifically asked about seasonal docents. Our bread and butter docent program is for K-12 schools  so there is a natural slow down in the summer and we don't have meetings then. Recently we have added programs for university bridge programs, however, and we have a dedicated group of docents who want to tour these high school students who need some extra prep for university. Most of our docents would fall into your category of seasonal, they travel in summer, but some do extra, yet different, work in the summer. 

 

As to docent tenure, we offer emeriti status after 5 years. Reaching that point gives docents who have worked only on school tours an opportunity to move to other programs (we have public tours on Sundays for adults, a memory loss program, helping with family days). Many docents are active touring docents for decades but there is some fluidity between the programs they participate in. 

 

We do have a mechanism in place to move docents off the active touring list. It we have reports that a docent is not tracking, is having mobility issues, has hearing or vision problems, or is inappropriate, we take it to the docent council/board and, if necessary, ask them to retire from active touring.

 

For non-touring docents, we offer continuing education--usually taught by curators so docents are outranked 😉, and social events. It is great to see veteran docents at social events but they are, just that, social so there is no business to disrupt.

 

Thanks for posting. Interesting to see how others handle these issues.

Pam

 

 

On Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 12:26 PM Sean Mobley [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org] <[email protected]> wrote:

So much I could say, and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of pointers from folks, but for now I’ll keep it simple and perhaps follow up with more later.

 

The key: Don’t try to change too much too fast. If you slowly turn the boat over a year or two, the passengers won’t notice. If you make a sharp turn right away, as I think many people in our shoes attempt, you get Docents forcing brand-new, dynamic, qualified presidents to resign.

 

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Sean Mobley | Volunteer Coordinator
The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way S
Seattle, WA 98108
Work: +1 (206) 768-7151
www.museumofflight.org

 

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From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 8:19 AM
To: talk at museum-ed.org <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: [talk] Docent Transitions

 

Oh, the ever-present docent predicament. They’re so wonderful, and so necessary, but some can be very resistant to change. I remember dealing with some docents who were so angry over really necessary changes that they forced a brand-new, dynamic, and qualified president to resign.

 

One tactic I’ve successfully used is to co-opt them as experts. Flattery gets you everywhere, especially with volunteers who often feel unappreciated and so assert power wherever they can. One way to do this is to hold a meeting-including a virtual meeting option—in which I’ve something like:

 

“Docents like you are often the most valuable team members at our site/museum/archive because you often deal with the public much more often than administration. As we all know, institutions like ours are under threat from new technology, so we would like to think about moving toward ways to create more interactive uses of museum space. You’re the experts here; we need your knowledge. I’ve got a questionnaire here in which I’d like you to share some of your perceptions about how our visitors already interact with our site, with each other, and with staff. With all your years of experience and knowledge, I’m sure you’ve got some significant insight on this. We can then use this as a building block from which to brainstorm some dynamic and innovative programs.”

Then you can break them up into project teams, etc. I would add something along the lines of: “Finally, as people’s schedules change, as seasonal needs change, we’d like to come up with some more ways to keep people involved even when there may not be opportunities to be onsite. If we can’t have you here as much as we’d like, we still value and need your expertise.” 

 

This can be an easy way to transition docents off-site, not to mention allow older, less-or non-mobile docents and community residents to participate in museum activities. One example: Sponsor a moderated-chatroom scavenger hunt that uses the National Archives or other archives around the world to find items connected to your own site. 

 

The online world offers enormous opportunities to keep docents feeling included and valuable, even while you may have to make hard decisions about some docents. 

 

Thanks,

Jill

 

 

Sent from my iPhone


On Jun 11, 2019, at 10:43 AM, Candie Waterloo [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org] <[email protected]> wrote:

Hello all -

 

I am in the process - as I'm sure many of you are - of reforming my docent program. I inherited the program from a predecessor who had been at the institution for 41 years, which means that I also inherited a lot of history and some docents who have been around just as long. As I'm at an academic museum, many in my group have been trained as "art historians", and I am shifting us towards a more visitor-centric pedagogy.

 

I am wondering if any of you can shed light/insights to the following concerns and/or best practices (if you implemented such changes at your respective institutions)

 

  1. Seasonal docents - do you have docents who only tour/attend meetings seasonally? If so, how do you justify this compared to docents who tour/participate all year long?
  2. Docent tenures - do you have limits on how long one can be a docent at your Museum? If so, what is the criteria for making this decision?
  3. Phasing out docents - I have many docents who no longer tour, but still attend meetings. This is leftover from my predecessor who was trying to find a way to keep them engaged with the Museum. My concern is that these docents are actually interfering with my docent training as there are too many of them and it disrupts the numbers - and my ability to good group work. Have you had to phase out docents? If so, what was your criteria? How was this managed?

 

I appreciate any advice and thank you in advance!

 

 

Best,

Candie Waterloo, Curator of Education

Chazen Museum of Art

800 University Avenue

Madison, WI 53706

E: [email protected] / P: (608) 263-4421

 


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--



Pamela Reister
Curator for Museum Teaching & Learning
University of Michigan Museum of Art
+1 734 615-6247 phone
+1 734 764 2540 fax

525 South State Street
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