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It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful. 1.2

I was just recently introduced to your magazine and find it not only interesting but helpful. I am always on the alert for new or unproved information and techniques. In that spirit, I would like to share a few that I have found useful.

  • The simple change of a word can make a difference. At the beginning of my tours, during the introduction and explanation of our zcx>”s rules, the change of the word “rules” to “manners” prompts a desire to comply.
  • To get very young visitors, grades K-2, past all the exhibits in our Education building in a timely fashion, I have everyone, myself and other adults included, clasp our hands and hold them out in front of us. I will walk backwards and engage the group in conversation as we go.
  • A wrap-up is useful for the group and to help the docent assess the tout’s effectiveness. 1 tell my visitors that I want each of them to tell me something they learned on the tour that is DIFFERENT from the others in their group. Since each answer must be different, everyone wants to be first. This energizes the group and their ideas become kinetic and flow easily.
  • There are many times when 1 don’t know the answer to questions asked. I always say so, and later look up the answer and mail it to the class.

As an aside, we all enjoy humor, so I’d like to share two things that happened to me while touring. When in front of the flamingo exhibit, I am often asked why the birds stand on one leg. Posing it back to the group, one little boy answered quite scientifically, “Because if they lift up the other one they would fall down.” And, to explain graphically why the ostrich can’t fly, 1 use flight feathers with a demonstration and then bring out ostrich feathers. When 1 asked a group to think about why the ostrich can’t fly, a boy answered “Because you have all its feathers!”

Deana Davis, Docent Sacramento Zoo



Evaluation. Having merely read the word is your stomach now in knots’? While the prospect of instituting an evaluation process often creates an unnatural “us against them” split between docents and paid staff, we — a docent and a docent coordinator — believe that evaluations work, and are beneficial to volunteers and staff alike, and ultimately to the public we serve.

Evaluation is an effective tool for improvement. Routine evaluation of docents* presentations is a means for the docent coordinator to assist the docents in doing their very best. But in order for evaluation to be an effective learning tool, it must be part of a cohesive. well-structured docent program. The museum and its staff have an obligation to provide volunteer docents with the means to succeed at educating the public.

The Brooklyn Museum’s docent program is structured so that evaluation is an integral step in docent training. From the initial interview, evaluation is discussed so that potential docents know what to expect and how to make their relationship with the docent coordinator an educational one. At Brooklyn, the docents receive courses in tour techniques, our permanent collection, art techniques and materials, and art history. Throughout the semester, docents regularly meet with the docent coordinator for assistance with tour preparation. So, by the tune of the first evaluation the docent has had ready access to the raw materials and expertise needed to succeed.

Next, each docent makes an appointment with the docent coordinator to present his/her lesson or tour. This one-on-one session involves the docent presenting a gallery lesson exactly as it would be presented to the public. Both the docent and the docent coordinator may stop the tour at any point to ask for information or clarification. Plainly staled, this is the docent” s chance to learn by doing.

The presentation is followed by a brief meeting with the coordinator to get principal observations and

immediate suggestions. A written evaluation, aimed at providing constructive criticism, is also given to the docents. It covers introductory remarks, content and knowledge of material, organization of information and presentation of theme, presentation style and communication skills, closing remarks and summation, and suggestions. Comments on how docents might further engage their audience are also offered.

Every docent has an individual style that, as long as it doesn’t distract from the objects discussed, is encouraged. At the Brooklyn Museum, we’re not interested in the cookie-cutter approach to teaching. What works for us is a confidential evaluation that offers constructive criticism in a manner that is encouraging in both lone and purpose.

Diana Linden, Museum Educator & Docent Coordinator Maribeth Flynn, Docent Brooklyn Museum

Davis, Deana and Linden, Diana. “It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful.,” Docent Educator 2.1(Autumn 1992):12.

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