Being thorough works for me. I find that the better acquainted I am with a school, the teachers, and the students, the better my teaching and their experiences will be.
At the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, docents (which we call field leaders) take turns being “Leader of the Day” for school visitors. When it is my turn, I phone the school to learn the teachers’ names and titles (for instance, Mrs. Petta and Ms. Dunham). Then, I look at the listing of the California Assessment Program (CAP) test scores published annually in the Los Angeles Times. These tests, which are administered to third, sixth, and eighth graders, give me some information about the visiting school’s performance in both reading and math.
Prior to their visit, I send the teachers a personal letter welcoming them, confirming the date and time of their tour, and reminding them of where we are to meet. They also receive a “group registration form” to present upon their arrival on the tour day. This form informs the Arboretum of the number of adults and students attending and lists information and rules about visiting our facility that teachers should review with their classes prior to arriving.
Before leaving my home on the day of the tour, I type a brief note to give to the teachers at the end of their visit. Enclosed with this note are follow-up materials for classroom activities, several postcards that relate to the areas or plants they and their classes will see, and the names of the field leaders providing their tours.
Teachers and their students often write following their visits. When they do, I answer them. In my letter, I make an effort to recall what we saw and accomplished together, and to review some of the salient facts we learned.
The letters I’ve received over the years provide valuable feedback about my teaching. They let me know which techniques I’ve used are most successful. For instance, recent letters reinforced my belief that it is best to encourage children to explore and learn using all their senses and that, by including a few Spanish words when conducting Spanish-speaking students on a tour, I can help reinforce the students’ self-esteem.
I hope these comments are useful. I am really enjoying my subscription to The Docent Educator.
Maris A. Grannell, Field Leader, Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation
Grannell, Maris A. “It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful,” The Docent Educator 2.2 (Winter 1992): 12.