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Drawing Upon a Useful Model: Lessons Learned from Training Classroom Teachers

Similarities in the roles of classroom teachers and docents suggest that a review of teacher training programs may provide insights into docent training. Perhaps the best known model of teacher training was developed by Bruce R. Joyce and Beverly Showers.

According to these two scholars, staff development programs for teachers should be delivered on more than one occasion over an extended period of time. There are readiness activities as the program begins, and complex new material is presented incrementally, with repeated checking for understanding. The delivery of the program includes a variety of instructional modes and activities (individual and group learning, lecture, discussion, video, and/or role-play, etc.). As part of the program design, participants learn collegially, in cooperative situations, with and from each other. Teachers are given ample opportunity to practice newly acquired skills in relatively controlled and safe environments until a significant degree of confidence and “executive control” is acquired. “Executive control” refers to teachers learning how to learn and how to adjust new strategies as they practice them in real situations. Over succeeding weeks and months, “coaching” by peers and sustained practice ensure that the new approaches take root.

Joyce and Showers’ training model consists of five major components: presentation of theory, modeling and demonstrations, practice in the workshop setting or under simulated conditions, structured feedback, and coaching for classroom application. When used together each component has greater impact than when used alone. While Joyce and Showers’s interest is in training school teachers, their research on teacher training and skill development has produced useful guidelines for helping docents acquire specific teaching skills.

The following discussion of the major components of the Joyce and Showers training model includes examples of how this model has been applied to the docent training program at the Morris Museum of Art.

Located in Augusta, Georgia, the Morris Museum of Art collects, preserves, and exhibits American works of art focusing on, but not United to, the American South. While the museum’s permanent collection is a rich resource for the study of Southern history and culture, the museum also has developed a significant research facility, the Center for the Study of Southern Painting. The educational programs offered to the community by the Morris Museum are created to meet specific local and regional needs. Educational services include pre-service and in-service training, curriculum-based resources, and student programs that emphasize art as a focal point for interdisciplinary studies in the classroom. A corps of forty-five docents is instrumental in the delivery of tour and outreach programs.

Presentation of Theory

According to Joyce and Showers, the first component of successful training is the exploration of the theory of the skill. Theory offers an explanation of the rationale underlying a particular skill. Participants in a training event learn when a given skill should be used and how to use it. Principles governing the use of a skill are explained.

What we often consider docent training corresponds to Joyce and Showers’s presentation of theory component. During a formal training program the theory of docenting is conveyed through lectures, discussions, readings, and other teaching strategies. The Morris Museum’s docent training program, for instance, balances information about its Southern art collection with training in object-based teaching and touring strategies. This approach leads the docent trainees to an understanding of their role and provides them with the basic knowledge and skills required for this important responsibility.


Joyce and Showers identified observation as the second component of successful training. In addition to receiving instruction in the theory behind a particular skill, they stressed that participants in a training event need opportunity to observe the demonstration of the skill or its modeling.

Observation of tours should be a key component of docent training. During tour observations at the Morris Museum, docent trainees are asked to observe specific behaviors exhibited by both the docent and the tour group. After the tours conclude, trainees meet with the docents and trainer to discuss their observations. This collegial exchange benefits both the trainees and the docents. Docent trainees may also be given the opportunity to observe videotaped tours and then to discuss their observations.

Docents need to observe more than a few tours. Joyce and Showers wrote, “Our current rule of thumb is that trainees learning a new teaching strategy probably need 15 to 20 demonstrations over the course of the training sequence.”

Practice and Feedback

Joyce and Showers’s third component of effective training is practice of the skill under simulated conditions. They included “peer-teaching,” or teaching with other teachers, as a form of practice. This strategy provides experience as a student, enables trainees to profit from each other’s ideas and skills, and clarifies mistakes. Also, peer-teaching is a safer setting for skill development than a real-life teaching experience. Immediacy, feedback, and over-learning are essential to this component. Timing is critical to the practice of a new skill because, over time, there is a loss of both understanding and ability. Equally important is the feedback provided to a teacher. The use of such feedback technology as audio or video recordings can help trainees, who have a clear idea of the skills required, critique themselves.

True to the adage of “practice makes perfect,” Joyce and Showers also urged trainers of teachers to provide ample opportunities for the practice of new skills. They referred to this idea as “over-learning.” They make specific recommendations as to the amount of practice required for successful transference of new skills into regular use. For instance, they suggest that to bring a teaching model of medium complexity under control requires twenty or twenty-five trials over a period of about eight to ten weeks.

This concept of practice is critical to the training of docents. At the Morris Museum, docent trainees deliver several practice tours to each other during formal training sessions. These practice tours immediately follow tour observations in the training schedule. Following the practice tours, the trainer facilitates a group discussion about the experience. Some of the items discussed include questioning strategies, voice audibility, and tour format. While the current time allotted for training does not permit the recommended twenty or twenty-five teaching experiences, multiple opportunities for practice tours are scheduled.


Coaching is the fifth component Of Joyce and Showers’s training model. While the title “school coach” conjures up images of a physically fit individual, clad in a sweatshirt or jacket emblazoned with the school logo and wearing a whistle around his or her neck, the term has taken on an entirely different set of meanings in today’s schools. Teachers within a department or small learning community who attend training together can emerge as peer coaches. Thereafter, they are expected to help one another implement new instructional designs.

Administrators or teachers on assignment become instructional coaches, charged with helping others on the faculty to expand their repertoire of teaching strategies. University-based educators, former teachers, and others are hired by the school district to become the change coach for a high school in the process of restructuring. The term “coach” describes an array of different functions, roles, and purposes: coaching can describe a reciprocal relationship (e.g., peer coaching) or an expert-novice one. Follow-up coaching can encourage teachers to use new instructional strategies. Teachers who coach use new strategies more often and with greater skill. Joyce and Showers reported that coached teachers exhibited better long-term retention of knowledge and skills, were more likely to explain new models to students, and had a clearer understanding of the purposes and uses of new strategies.

Coaching, mentoring, and other cooperative teaching strategies encourage docents to work and share ideas with their peers. At the Morris Museum, docent trainees lead their first tours in pairs, choosing as their partner either a docent or a fellow trainee. Peers provide technical feedback to each other and, therefore, extend the learning experience.

The insights into docent training provided by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers’s research into teacher training are instructive and invaluable. Their model for effective training offers a fresh perspective to the structure of docent training programs. By strengthening docent training, we can increase the skill and confidence of our docents who serve as our museums’ primary interface with our visitors. The result is a richer experience for our volunteers and visitors alike.



Joyce, Bruce R., Emily Calhoun, and David Hopkins. (1999). The New Structure of School Improvement: Inquiring Schools and Achieving Students. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Joyce, Bruce R., and Beverly Showers. (1988). Student Achievement through Staff Development. New York: Longman.

Joyce, Bruce R., and Beverly Showers. (1983). Power in Staff Development through Research on Training. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Patricia Moore Shaffer has been Curator of Education at the Morris Museum of Art since 1996. Prior to this, she served as Head of Programs and Interpretation at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (1994- 1996), Public Programs Officer at the Art Gallery St. Thomas-Elgin (1989-1993), and Education Officer at the Chatham Cultural Centre (1988-1989).

Moore Shaffer, Patricia. “Drawing Upon a Useful Model: Lessons Learned from Training Classroom Teachers,” The Docent Educator 11.1 (Autumn 2001): 8-9+.

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