FROM GOOD TO GREAT: PERSONAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT FOR MUSEUM EDUCATORS

A willingness to continue growing and developing is at the heart of our practice as museum educators, teachers and guides.

We are never ‘done’ with learning. There is always a strong desire to keep honing our craft.

Personal development keeps us motivated and pushes us out of our comfort zone. It helps us to keep innovating, experimenting and being creative.

But, what are the best ways that we can grow and develop personally?

Today I’m sharing 8 different ways museum educators can go from good to great…and can reach their full potential.

INTRODUCTION

I’ve just finished teaching a course in my membership programme about developing your personal facilitation style.

We’ve had 4 classes over the last 4 months and we’ve covered a range of subjects in our time together.

We’ve thought about how we would define our personal facilitation style, looked at our strengths and defined areas for growth and come up with an action plan.

We’ve discussed when we’ve been at our best as a facilitator and the ‘hats’ that we were using at that time.

We’ve defined our purpose statements and our core values.

We’ve dipped our toes into our emotional intelligence and discussed how we can find more flow in our work.

And finally we’ve brought it all together and created an action plan for growth, and challenged ourselves to define our personal style in 280 characters or less – a tweet’s worth!

At the end of the course I shared some final tips and thoughts on how to grow and develop further as a facilitator and educator and it got me thinking.

What are our top tips for growing and developing personally? So, today I’m sharing my list of top tips to go from good to great…and sharing a variety of ways that you can continually grow and develop and stay fresh. Thanks to Twitter for the help and inspiration too!

FIND A COACH OR MENTOR

Although coach and mentor are terms that are used interchangeably – they are not the same thing but having someone that will be able to guide you and to help you grow personally and professionally is invaluable.

In general terms a coach will ask you more questions and help you to find the answers within yourself, whilst a mentor will share more from their own experience and knowledge. 

Bear in mind that this is a very quick definition and I know that it can be nuanced than this, but for today’s episode this is a good way to start thinking about it.

If you’re stuck in a rut or want to change something about your practice, then a coach or a mentor can help you to find your way. Similarly, if you’re looking for inspiration, then working with a mentor or a coach will help you too.

Find someone who can inspire you, motivate you to grow and develop your unique or personal facilitator style. There are mentoring programmes with national organisations – for example, the Group for Education in Museums in the UK or GEM has a fab mentoring programme that has been running successfully for a number of years. This mentoring programme also inspired NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations) to create one too in partnership with GEM. See what’s available in your area or come and get some mentoring and coaching with me. I’m currently working 1-2-1 with a few members from my membership programme and will be opening this up more fully later in the year.

WATCH OTHERS AT WORK

Seeing how other educators and facilitators work can be an eye-opener for our own practice.

You can see firsthand how others ask questions, how they connect with their group, how they engage their participants with the artwork or object and how they make everyone feel comfortable enough to participate.

You can watch other educators and facilitators at work easily now by participating in live webinars, group discussions and more online. You can also watch other on YouTube and on social media platforms.

Watching others at work helps to increase your own awareness of your skills and strengths, provides inspiration and new ideas as you get to see others using new or different methods and much more.

As you observe your peers or colleagues or others work, pay attention to how they are doing what they are doing.

Look at how the participants or audience react to them. Make a note of questions that work well. Listen to the language that they use and the way they phrase things. Watch body language and how silence is used (or not used). Jot down things that work and things that don’t work as well.

And as a side note, don’t just watch people in your field, watch people outside your field too – we can always get inspiration from elsewhere too!

CREATE & BE PART OF A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE

This is what we create on my VTMO course and in my membership programme. It’s about bringing together a group of people (facilitators and educators) who are all interested in growing and developing.

Connect with other educators and facilitators and build a network. Share ideas, ask questions and get feedback.

We get together online and do practice sessions together, we share ideas and resources and best practices, we reflect together on what works and what doesn’t.

For my VTMO course practice is the only homework that I assign to the participants. It is an essential element of the course – as it’s the only way that you can start making the method – Visible Thinking in the Museum – your own. Course participants can form practice groups together and try things out. It helps them to get used to using the new thinking routines with collections that are familiar and unfamiliar to them.

In our Coaching sessions in the membership we take it in turns to lead discussions around an object or artwork. We set goals and outcomes for the session and discuss afterwards with the audience. We give and receive feedback together. Participants are always encouraged to watch themselves back on video afterwards to reflect on what went well and what they could differently next time.

You can create your own community of practice by getting a group of like-minded educators or facilitators or guides together and having regular meet ups in the museum. Everyone takes turns in leading a discussion about an artwork or an object and then share feedback afterwards .

DEVELOP A REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

I talked about how to develop a reflective practice in Episode 29.

A reflective practice is simply the art of thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It’s the ability to reflect on your actions so that you can learn from them and continue to learn from them.

It helps us to be more self-aware, more creative and innovative. It gives us more of an understanding of where our strengths and weaknesses lie. It also helps us to learn from those experiences that don’t go according to plan and to reframe them as a learning opportunity.

So, in essence, having a reflective practice is about learning from everything we do. And having a reflective practice helps us to do that on a moment by moment basis.

With a reflective practice, as opposed to doing reflection (they are not the same thing), we record our reflections in a systematic way. There are many ways you can develop a reflective practice – for example with journaling, free or reflective writing, or talking and sharing regularly with others (in a community of practice)

For example, I ask all new participants on my VTMO course to start a new notebook and in most live classes I’ll ask questions for their ‘journals’. These can be questions about how their thinking has developed about Visible Thinking in the Museum over time (from the start of the course to the midpoint for example) to what they want to work on next. These journal entries are intended as a reference point that course participants can refer back to note their progress, spot any patterns and use to inspire new thinking too.

By adopting a reflective practice, you will develop a questioning approach to your work. You will stop and pause to think about why things are as they are, and how they might be in the future. You will consider the strengths and areas of development in your own practice, questioning why learning experiences might be this way and considering how to develop them.

If you want to do a deep dive on this subject then do go and listen to Episode 29 for much more info.

TAKE STOCK OF YOUR ‘BEST BITS’ REGULARLY

Thanks to Alice Le Page for coining this phrase on Twitter – it’s a phrase that has stuck with me. She says:

“Having learnt from various organisations through freelancing  I compiled the ‘best bits’ within my practice.”

And I think that this is a wonderful suggestion.

Take time to regularly take stock of your strengths and what you’re good at.

In the course I mentioned at the beginning all about Finding your Personal Facilitator Style we filled out a Strengths Wheel at the beginning of the course that asked participants to rate themselves on a scale from ‘first steps’ to ‘super strong’ on a range of skills that they use regularly in their practice – from their toolbox of techniques, to their engagement skills, to how confident they feel.

We then dissected why they had rated themselves the score they did and came up with actions that they could take to  move forward and grow.

You can use this as a way of looking at where your strengths lie as an educator and facilitator and think about how you can bring your ‘best bits’ into your personal style as a facilitator. 

CONTINUE LEARNING

A willingness to continue learning should be at the heart of going from good to great and continuing to grow and develop in your practice.

We are never ‘done’, there should be a desire to keep honing your craft.

You can do this in all sorts of ways – reading widely and joining a book club with peers like we have in the membership, taking courses on specific topics that you’d like to learn more about or ones that are outside your comfort zone or things that will add to your toolbox of techniques. Learn from others by watching them work and stay open to ideas and to change.

HAVE A STRONG FOUNDATION

It’s good to be learning continuously and influenced by new ideas, techniques and tools. It’s great to experiment without fear.

But it’s always good to have a bedrock or a solid foundation to come back to. This is what underpins your work and is something that you can return to time after time.

The best facilitators and educators have a solid foundation that they can rely on . For me, this is the VTM method that I’ve been developing over the last 10+ years. This is my foundation. The thinking routines, the questioning skills, and facilitation techniques, the close looking and collaborative learning. This is where everything comes from in my work. These are the tried and tested techniques that I know will have the most meaning with the groups I work with.

HAVE A PLAN BUT BE FLEXIBLE

It’s good to have a plan, but the way we grow is by being flexible too. Life is unpredictable and all sorts of things can happen when we facilitate with groups and, chances are, we’ll learn something new in the process.

Be prepared for changes too and embrace them. Sometime you  just need to go with the flow. Accepting this could be the best advice for going from good to great!

So there you have it 8 ideas for how to go from good to great and how to grow and develop PERSONALLY in your practice.  

And if you’d like to join a community of practice, don’t forget our new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club.

SLOW LOOKING CLUB

And don’t forget my FREE new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club created especially for podcast listeners. It’s a place for conversation and discussion about engaging with art, objects and life slowly. I’ll share resources, ideas and tips for anyone interested in looking at art – whether it’s for your personal enjoyment or your practice as a cultural educator. And we’ll have regular slow looking moments together too!

THE SLOW LOOKING CLUB