Recently I was asked to lead a webinar on connecting with educators for Ohio History Connection’s Creative Learning Factory. (They have a whole series of webinars for museum educators.) My second point in the webinar, which I will talk about here, related to the importance soliciting audience input in creating effective programs for school audiences. Like with the last, nothing in this post is ground-breaking or innovative, but it is a good refresher.
I am a little ashamed to admit that I have spent time and energy creating school field trips or classroom resources that haven’t been used by teachers. At first I was a bit baffled as to why, but soon it dawned on me: what I thought was an awesome program wasn’t a fit for educators needs. From this I learned that I could not create programs in a vacuum. I needed to engage teachers in the concept and planning phases to ensure that I was a) meeting their needs, and b) creating buy-in.
I engage teachers in two different ways: first, using focus groups and, second, with a standing teacher advisory board.
I use focus groups when I have a short term or “one-off” program development need. My focus groups typically have 5-10 teachers. I’ve used focus groups to brainstorming new ideas and as sounding boards for a project that is already in development. When I can build them into a grant budget and provide a stipend (or at least food at the meetings), it helps me recruit teachers.
When I first started out, I simply asked teachers who already love the museum to join. In time, they have recommend other educators and I have built a solid network that makes it easy to gather focus groups for all grade levels, subjects, etc., as needed.
I also developed a Teacher Advisory Board as a standing committee that I can call on throughout the year with questions. My goal was to recruit about 20 teachers that represented all grade levels, public/private/parochial schools, urban and suburban, so we could benefit from diverse perspectives.
Because this type of committee requires a commitment, I found it was easier to recruit teachers when I had all the expectations clearly stated. For me, this meant developing “by-laws” for the committee. It is a simple, 2-page document that states the purpose, objectives, and organization of the board, membership specifics, term of membership, and the responsibilities of the board.
Using the by-laws, I also drafted a letter of agreement that basically restates the responsibilities of the teacher and the responsibilities of my organization. The signing of the letter marks the official “start of term” for a board member. I am more than willing to share my by-laws and LoA with anyone who is interested. You can email me at: [email protected].
Our board meets in person twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. They also help occasionally during the year as needed, mainly by email and phone calls. They all seem more than willing to serve on focus groups as well, so that’s a bonus. In regards to “compensation” for their time, we give every member a free individual membership to the institution during their term of office.
Whether it is with focus groups or a standing advisory board, gathering teacher input in the planning stages of program development is critical to ensuring your end product is useful, relevant and FUN!