Docent Educator Logo

For Your Consideration 2.1

Priorities for Docent Training

Representatives from the Bellevue Art Museum, in Bellevue. WA, asked the editors of The Docent Educator to address the following question, “What should be taught in a comprehensive docent training program in order to serve a wide range of audiences?”

Our response, in order of priority, is as follows:

  • The purpose of the institution and of its docent program because all objectives, techniques, methods, and logistical considerations should flow from, and relate directly back to, the established purpose.
  • The institution ‘s expectations of and commitment to. the docent program so that what is required and what is provided are fully understood and reliable.
  • Instructional methodologies, including appropriate techniques for engaging in both inquiry and authoritative instruction. Among the issues addressed should be: active and passive learning; questioning strategies; age-grading lessons; establishing and maintaining discipline; teaching to multi-cultural audiences; teaching audiences with special needs or requirements.
  • Content and background information related to the institution’s collection and subject concerns, as well as appropriate themes, introductions, and conclusions for lessons/tours.
  • Learning styles and methods of stimulating creative thinking so that the effects of personal, cultural, and temporal variables upon receiving, acquiring, and responding to learning situations are understood; and to assure that teaching encourages learners to become intellectually independent, providing them with the means to construct their own ideas, hypotheses, and educated opinions.
  • Communication skills including language use, methods of clarifying and promoting understanding, vocabulary, techniques of public speaking, and appropriate listening skills.
  • Presentation styles and attitude including flexibility, acceptance, humor, body language, and modes of motivating and responding.
  • Evaluative techniques so docents can determine the effectiveness of their teaching, communication skills, style, and so forth, and use the feedback to construct routes for self-improvement.
  • Logistics including timing, gauging how long to explore exhibitions or objects, and moving to facilitate direction and traffic flow.
  • Troubleshooting including ways to manage disruptive behaviors, discourage teachers or parents who dominate student tours, and respond to other problems of concern to docents.
  • Institutional planning and the schedule of future exhibitions so that docents are included and enfranchised. Curators, and occasionally the institutional director, should inform docents of the institution’s evolving policies and direction, the content of changing exhibitions, any special programming, and other activities that may have impact and relevance. 

    Insights: Museums, Visitors, Attitudes, Expectations

    The Getty Center for Education in the Arts has produced a publication and video that encapsulate an extensive study of visitor expectations at art museums. Visitor and staff member focus groups were interviewed in eleven major museums across the United States.

    The overriding concerns of the study were to:

    • identify staff expectations and impressions of public expectations about art museums;
    • evaluate public expectations about art museums and compare them to actual experiences; and
    • explore educational insights of visitors and non-visitors of art museums.

    The publication presents a well organized summary of the report and reactions to it by curators, educators, and administrators presented in a symposium. The video presents edited excepts from the focus group interviews. This publication is a terrific catalyst for discussions about museum visitors.

    The publication and accompanying video are available free of charge, with $5.00 shipping and handling fee required in advance, from:

    The J. Paul Getty Book Distribution Center, GCEA-3 P.O. Box 2122, Santa Monica, CA 90406 (213) 453-5352

    (Resources information provided by Susan Miner and Susan Spero.)

    Excellence and Equity

    The American Association of Museums’ recent report. Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, is the result of a two-year task force. The report offers “a new definition of museums as educational institutions that carry out their public service in the spirit of excellence and equity.” The published report can be ordered for S2.00 from:

    A.A.M. 1225 Eye Street, AW, Washington, DC 20005


“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 2.1 (Autumn 1992): 10-11.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *