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All’s Well That Ends Well

Recently, I followed a decent who was touring visitors through an historic home site. She was terrific . . . until the end. During the tour, she did everything right, keeping her visitors focused, interested, and engaged. But, when she and her visitors arrived at their last station, she concluded the tour simply by stating, “And that’s our history facility. I’d like to thank you tor coming.” Her conclusion felt totally out of character with the rest of the tour; so much so that the ending seemed abrupt.

While it’s understandable that great personal energy is spent getting started, and that even more emphasis is placed on the content and conduct of the tour, concluding and following up should be considered more than stylistic elements. They provide opportunities to reinforce learning, to conduct evaluations, and to encourage further participation with your institution and its resources.

Reinforcing What Was Learned

Concluding remarks, questions, and/or activities should be consistent with the participants’ age, background, experience, and interests. Childhood is not one, seamless event. It is a series of developmental stages. Children cannot be considered little adults and, conversely, adults are not simply big kids. Every element of a tour should be age-graded and appropriate to its audience. A tour’s conclusion must be no exception.

For very young children, conclusions offer a time for repetition. Since pre-schoolers and kindergartners have limited attention spans and retain little about their visits to museums and other such facilities, repetition is a good way to ensure that some aspects of their visit will be remembered. Questions at the end of a touring experience, such as “What noises did we hear the ducks make?” “What toys did children play with long ago?” and “Which colors did you see in the rose garden?” will help remind youngsters of what they saw, said, and did while on their visit.

Elementary school-aged children are primed for organized learning, but remember best if provided with an opportunity to apply what they explored and discussed. Hands-on projects are particularly useful for this purpose. After examining portraits, have students write out a list of the things that they would want to be surrounded by if they were going to have their portraits painted. Following an exploration of traditional masks, give children pie plates, scissors, crayons, and other art supplies, and supervise them as they make masks of their own. After looking at a time in history, let the children try on clothing or hats from the same period. Or, have students draw the animal, dinosaur, plant, or object they saw on their tour that most interested them.

Adolescents and teens in secondary school can be asked questions that challenge them to summarize their tour experiences or that permit them to express their opinions in a constructive context. For instance, at the conclusion of a tour, these students might be asked, “Of all the things we discussed, which aspect of leaving the East and joining the Westward expansion seems most memorable to you?” or “After looking at his work, in what ways might this artist be thought of as a radical?” or “Is there one thing we looked at today that you found most noteworthy?”

Adult visitors should also be given opportunities to chat about their experiences. Productive concluding conversations might begin with questions such as, “Are there aspects of our tour that you would like to discuss further?” or “Of the things we talked about and looked at, did anything surprise you?” In addition, a docent might use her conclusion to mention the many other resources the institution offers that could not be explored during the time limits of the tour.


The importance of evaluating cannot be overstated. No teaching program should proceed time after time without feedback on delivery, execution, content, and effectiveness. Failing to evaluate is as unfair to the docents who are attempting to teach well and generate interest as it is to the visitors who are participating in the program.

Casual evaluation can take place during the conclusion of a tour and will inform the docent as he strives to make shifts, change emphases, and engage his audience. Asking visitors questions such as, “What is the one thing you will remember most from your visit to our museum?” will give the introspective docent reams of information. If he listens carefully, he will hear what was learned as opposed to what was taught, if peripheral details overtook content, and if the theme of the tour remained pre-eminent.

Regular self-evaluation can take place as a follow-up at the end of a touring day or cycle. Docents might be provided with a written checklist or a list of questions to help them review and reflect. Or, docents could come together to discuss their tours, share their achievements and frustrations, and give each other suggestions for improvement.

Formal evaluations should be conducted periodically as follow-up to multiple touring experiences. Whether evaluated by staff, peers, an outside consultant, or any combination of these resources, formal evaluations based on observation and assessment are an essential follow-up for every program striving to excel.

Furthering Participation and Learning

While many institutions send docents to classrooms and organizations in order to prepare visitors for upcoming tours, few send docents to follow up on touring experiences. Follow-up visits by docents could go along way toward ensuring that information is retained, and would communicate that the museum, zoo, aquarium, park, or garden is truly a “partner” in educating and not just interested in boosting attendance numbers and admission fees.

Post-touring activities such as “junior docents” programs, family days, and displays of student work inspired by visits foster interest in the subject matter and increase involvement with the hosting institution. Offering follow-up to tours has the added benefit of extending an institution’s impact, potentially reaching the visitor’s family, friends, and community.

Concluding Remarks

For most groups, a tour’s conclusion marks the end of their guided visit. If these visitors have an effective docent, they will experience a useful and appropriate tour conclusion that reminds them of what they examined and learned and that tells the docent of his or her effectiveness. Should visitors have additional opportunities to participate in follow-up activities once the tour ends, they can go further — building upon what they learned and increasing their involvement with the subject matter.

The vast majority of visitors on docent-led tours do not see an entire institution, nor do they consider a collection from all possible vantage points. Conclusions and follow-ups offer opportunities to encourage visitors to reflect upon what they have learned while inviting them to return and explore again, in greater depth.

Alan Gartenhaus, Publishing Editor

Gartenhaus, Alan. “All’s Well That Ends Well,” The Docent Educator 10.2 (Winter 2000-01): 2-3.

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