Re-think, Adapt, and Change

family-vacations-the-national-underground-railroad-freedom-center-1How many teachers attend your teacher workshops?  Do you have the same teachers & schools attending each workshop?  How can you adapt, change, or even re-think your workshops to include more participation?

It always surprises me how much time we take to prepare outstanding teacher workshops, but they don’t always meet our desired attendance goals. Why does this happen? There are multiple reasons from school funding to multiple other opportunities for teachers to attend in our communities. Does this mean we should stop offering teacher workshops?  No!!! But we do need to start to adapt, re-think, or even change our approach all together when it comes to teacher workshops.

In the Fall of 2011, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati underwent this process. We began to re-think, adapt, and change the way we approached our teacher workshops. The first step was to create multiple community partnerships around our workshops. This included colleges & universities, other museums, community organizations, and other educational affiliations. This enabled us to have a focused approach around the theme (or themes) of the workshop, but also opened the door for new audiences. The community partners are now inviting their list of teacher contacts to the workshop as well.

These partnerships also made us re-think who we were inviting to the workshops. We decided to broaden the reach and include more voices in order to add to the overall strength the workshops. We did this by inviting not only more teachers, but we also started to invite pre-service teachers (ensuring commitment from future generations of teachers), college & university faculty & professors, and even local students to the workshops. This new approach significantly changed the dynamic of the workshops. The participation in each workshop has exceeded our goals and expectations. We have not only witnessed more involvement from teachers in the community, but we have also witnessed an increase in the overall attendance in the workshops.

The other crucial change we made with the workshops was moving them out of the traditional classroom. We wanted participants to use the exhibition spaces as the “new” classroom. This approach allows for smaller group discussion and more interaction with individual groups. It also allows for groups to constantly make direct connections back to the museum mission and exhibits. It is also important to remember that it is still beneficial to have an entire group introduction and wrap up in a larger museum space.

Other Ideas to think about:

  1. Add Service Learning Projects into workshops.
  2. Touch on difficult history, or subjects that are affecting the community: race, gender, immigration, gun laws, etc. then relate this information back to the historical perspective.
  3. Utilize social media during the program to promote & encourage outside perspectives about the themes of the workshops.

I understand that these approaches will not work for everyone. However, I think it is always important for us to evaluate our workshops and even re-think, adapt, and change our workshops to keep them vibrant, engaging, and meaningful for workshop attendees in our communities.

2 Responses to “Re-think, Adapt, and Change”

  1. July 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm, Emily H. said:

    We found this post particularly timely as we are facing a particularly low-turn out for a teacher workshop we plan to hold this August. The Revere House has a long history of offering well-respected and popular professional development opportunities, in conjunction with a local university (who offers grad credit) and always in partnership with at least one other local institution. We have certainly found that getting our partner sites to help advertise through their list of teachers brings in “fresh blood” and that having a mix of teachers from different grades and sometimes other museum professionals attend makes for livelier discussions.

    What I would love to hear about from other sites is suggestions for making contact with the administrators who are disseminating information about professional development opportunities directly to teachers. We definitely see the same teachers who attend our programs coming to our workshops and we’d love to get our content (and advertisements for programs) out to others who aren’t yet familiar with our site. Old friends are grand but we like to make new friends too!

    On a potentially related note, I’ve heard anecdotally from young part-time staff that their teacher friends do not want to commit to a two-day (forget five-day) workshop even if it earns them 12 professional development points (or 1 grad credit for more work and $). Are you successfully offering shorter workshops for smaller chunks of credit? I inherited this model when I took this position so I am curious to know what models other sites use…

    Thanks for any insights you or your readers might offer!

    ~Emily Holmes
    Education Director
    Paul Revere House
    Boston, MA


  2. August 01, 2013 at 4:46 pm, TobiV said:

    Hi Emily!

    In regards to contacting administrators, there has been one thing here in Detroit that has worked wonderfully for me, but I am not sure what the equivalent is in Mass. But here’s the scoop: In Michigan, each county has an Intermediate School District that provides curriculum support, professional development, special education services, etc. for all the school districts in its county. I reached out to the Social Studies Consultant at the county ISD. Fortunately for me, a key role for him is creating and hosting professional development for teachers and sharing resources. And he loves history museums. I asked him to help me promote my teacher advisory board when I first started here, and he put it on his listservs. The response was so big that I had to turn people away. He and I have also partnered on a few PD workshops (all one or half-day, mostly in the summer) that have been well attended.

    So, I guess what I am saying is, if you have a like institution that provides services for many districts, it may help to reach out to them. In general (and as you undoubtedly already know), I have found that the key to getting teachers engaged is getting the administration to buy in and support their participation, In this case, I went to the top, skipping over school principals and district superintendents to align with the key district support agency. And it seems to be working.

    Good luck!!!



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