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From Foamers to Feral Docents: We Talk About It All!

Workshop attendees thoughtfully evaluated interactive prototypes at the Homestead Museum.

Engaging with people who do what I do for a living keeps me sane. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I spent two days with a group of museum educators from California, Nevada, and Arizona who gathered at the Homestead Museum to participate in a new AASLH workshop: From Children to Adults: Public Programming in History Organizations. Tim Grove (Chief of Museum Learning at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum) and I facilitated discussions on everything from learning styles to program planning as we talked about everyone from “foamers” (visitors with rabid passion for a particular subject or thing—thank you for this Tim, I love it!) to “feral docents” (guides who march to the beat of their own drum).

Keeping up with day-to-day operations, ongoing programs, and special events keep many of us so busy in our workplaces that we don’t set enough time aside to meet with colleagues from other institutions.  That’s where professional development opportunities come in so handy.  It’s time you conscientiously set aside to not only learn something new or expand your knowledge base, but to interact with colleagues from near and far. Many of us deal with similar challenges. A few that emerged at the workshop included the struggle to convince staff why a particular audience mattered, how to better train staff to be visitor-focused, and how to create more engaging exhibits and interactives.

If you don’t have the budget to go to workshops or annual meetings, blogs, weekly digests, and listservs can provide you with opportunities to keep up on what’s going on in the field, ask for help, and help colleagues in need of resources or advice. Some of my favorites (aside from this blog!) include Engaging Places , Museum 2.0, the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums weekly digest The Uncataloged Museum, Museum Minute, Museum Audience Insight, and the Museum-L listserv.

Essential qualities of a good museum educator as identified by participants in AASLH’s public programing workshop.

A big reason why I volunteer for AASLH is because of all that I have gained as a result of participating in their professional development offerings(workshops, annual meetings , SHA —you name it!). I like the mix of organizations involved with AASLH and the attitude of the staff who strive to assist their members however possible.

Are you setting aside enough time for professional development? And are you finding opportunities that appeal to you? If not, what’s missing?

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