TAM 2023 Conference Roundtable
For the past few years, the TAM Conference has hosted roundtable sessions where different affinity groups discuss a series of broad questions within the context of their focus. We shared the Collections Roundtable in April's newsletter, and today the Education Roundtable notes provide insight into tour groups and volunteers/docents.
What is the state of school field trips in 2023?
School field trips are on the rise and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, but quite a few museums and sites are finding that bus and travel costs are impacting schools being able to come to their site. Restrictive curriculum has also had an impact on field trip bookings. Some museums have been tapping into different sources to help cover bus/travel costs – e.g. in the past, donors have helped to covers these costs at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and the Abraham Lincoln Library & Museum is working with their local Walmart stores to find ways to cover costs. On the curriculum front, East Tennessee Historical Society now checks on the new standards when they create programming.
What about homeschool groups?
Promise Land has had great luck with homeschool groups visiting their site, and Belle Meade uses the Nashville homeschool calendar to promote their programs to groups in the area. Homeschool groups are great, but it can be a challenge to cater to the wide range of ages and grade levels in these student groups. Dickson Gallery and Gardens uses scavenger hunts that are appropriate for any age, while the Tennessee State Museum (TSM) also has scavenger hunts that can be broken down by grade level.
What are some of the “best practices” for working well with school/kid groups?
TSM noted that they go over the museum rules before starting the scheduled program or tour – that way both kids and adults know what is expected of them up front. Another roundtable participant suggested using “the sparkle technique” to help explain one aspect of museum work. With this technique, the educator has the kids look at their hands to see the sparkle (the oils in their hands) and talks about how that sparkle can get onto artifacts if we touch them. TSM also likes to ask the groups who they think breaks the rules, and especially who tries to touch the artifacts. When kids find out that it is the adults – and that they need to help watch not only their friends but their adults – they like this! One participant also suggested making a rules video that can be played, though it was noted that it should be brief and to the point, probably seven minutes at the most.
Behavior is another area that can come up with student groups. Museum and site staff should reassure teachers that we will work with them to create a welcoming program. Once again, it helps to be clear about the rules and in any instructions that you give, and always be flexible and be able to change and switch gears if needed!
Finally, a participant noted a potentially useful app: KultureCity. Some organizations use this to help visitors who are on the spectrum or that have other disabilities.
What are best practices with senior groups?
It is a good idea to also set expectations for senior groups before the tour or program gets started. You should also consider your visitors’ needs – for instance, portable stools that can be used by guests and taken along as they walk the museum or go on a tour. It is also worth letting guests know that if they need to step away or if they want to break away for any reason, it’s ok to do that.
How do you rebuild declining docent programs?
Docent programs can decline for a variety of reasons, and this decline has a big impact on museums and sites that rely on their docents for tours. One institution noted that they have had issues with docents who don’t want to work with kids, only adults, and therefore, we need to work out the best way to train people to feel comfortable working with school and family groups too. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum has recently begun training interested volunteers as “docent assistants,” which might help with volunteers who don’t want to be the one “in charge” with student groups but want to help in other ways.
What methods do you use for scheduling volunteers and docents?
Dickson Gallery and Gardens uses a Google Doc for volunteers to sign up for shifts; other options include Sign Up Genius and SignUp.com, both of which are free. You could also use an email chain to communicate when changes to scheduling and/or other needs come up last minute.
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TAM 2023 Conference Roundtable