National Docent Symposium, St. Louis
October 4, 2011
We believe the mentor is an important element of the docent class. The mentors are someone in whom a future docent can confide and from whom they can learn a great deal of unwritten information.
They help the docent class members transition from classroom to gallery comfortably and knowledgably.
What are the benefits of having a mentoring program?
- The mentee connects with the total docent program.
The relationship that develops between mentor and mentee helps the mentee feel involved with the total docent program, expanding their friendships beyond their classmates.
- The mentor provides balance and perspective, which can get lost in the midst of learning so much new information from lecturers and gallery presentations.
The mentor makes suggestions about how to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
- The mentor provides a comfortable, non-judgmental forum for asking questions and learning the routine
- The regular meetings help the mentee assimilate the art history, contextual information, and touring procedures. The goal is to make their knowledge of art and the museum’s collections manageable once they start giving meaningful and enjoyable museum tours.
- The mentor will encourage the mentee to bring out strengths and overcome weaknesses.
- Having a mentor program will reduce mistakes once the mentee becomes an active docent.
1) Overcoming the natural urge to repeat too much information just because you know it.
2) Remembering to be interested in the visitor.
3) Making the visitor feel welcome.
How is the mentoring program organized?
The assistant docent class chair oversees the mentoring program. She identifies active docents, who would make good mentors. Many of these docents have served as mentors for previous classes.
Six weeks into the docent class, each mentor is assigned one or two mentees. Students and mentors are carefully matched to try to accommodate personalities, shared interests, schedules, and other personal factors.
The assistant class chair maintains ongoing communication with both the students and the mentors to ensure that the relationship is working. And, if not, the mentor and mentee can be switched around.
The mentor and mentees meet for informal sessions.
- The agenda can be as basic as how to sign in for a tour to how to research, organize information, and prepare a tour.
- The mentor is available to answer questions, review class assignments, or problem solve.
- These get-togethers can be as simple as meeting in the museum café for lunch after class.
What makes the mentors important? They supplement the lectures by covering essential docent information that will help the mentee learn the routine and fundamentals of being a docent.
Mentors spend a total of between six to 18 hours on mentoring tasks.
At the end of the docent class, the mentors are asked whether they want to continue in their mentoring role during their mentees’ first year as an active docent.
Docents receive a comprehensive handbook as a guide to mentoring. It includes:
- A list of tasks to schedule with the mentee each month.
- A class roster with photos.
- The class schedule and students’ assignments
- Resources to aid in the mentoring process.
- When necessary, the notebook resources may be supplemented and this information is provided electronically.
Tasks for mentors
Within the handbook, the mentors are given tasks grouped by months. This information is being provided to you as a handout.
Throughout the class the emphasis is on planning and preparing a tour.
- Students choose a spotlight theme tour and then find their way around the museum.
- Mentors follow and assist in finding the objects.
- Mentors discuss the mechanics of preparing for and maneuvering through a tour.
- They also talk about contingency plans, if a piece is not available or another group has stopped at the painting.
- Discuss the tour profile. Docent tour assignments are e-mailed with the tour profile as an attachment.
- How to use the docent computer to sign-in for tours and meetings.
- Discuss the role and responsibilities of the lead docent.
- How to greet the tour group and cover museum rules.
- A key component of the mentoring program is involving the mentee in planning a real tour that the mentor will be giving.
- Plan at least one meeting to discuss the summer project.
Example: Learning another theme tour. Our theme tours are the backbone of our docent program. Each theme tour suggests 12 to 15 pieces that could be used with that particular tour. The docent adapts the tour to his or her personal preferences.
The docent tool bag
- The mentor will work with mentees to identify five objects in each of the permanent collections that they could use on a variety of tours.
Why do this exercise? Part of being a flexible docent is being prepared for the group that has scheduled one tour, but asks for a different tour
upon arriving at the museum.
- Mentors add to the breadth of the tour by discussing other museum objects that connect to the core objects and how to transition to the next piece.
The mentor focuses on how to trim down a wide body of knowledge into a reasonable amount that the average visitor can absorb in a one hour tour.
We don’t want the first assigned tour to be the mentees’ first museum tour. Early in the class schedule, mentors offered opportunities for the mentees to follow their tours and eventually encouraged them to talk about a few pieces to give them practical experience in the galleries.
In the last few months of training, this process expanded until many of the students were executing major planning and touring responsibilities for an entire tour with the careful supervision and guidance of the mentor.
Prepare graduation tour
- The equivalent of a final exam is giving a public tour.
- Each student is asked to create an original theme tour of his choice with six to ten objects linked by their theme. The mentor can assist with preparation and practice of the graduation public tour.
- This final project is a celebration of all of the student’s hard work and an opportunity to put all of the ideas and knowledge together to lead a public tour for family, friends, and the mentor.
What did the new docents think of the mentoring program?
- Year-end evaluations indicated that the practical and frequent experiences in the galleries with the mentors was highly appreciated by the students and helped them feel ready to accept the responsibilities of touring as a universal docent.
- It was apparent from the evaluations that students appreciated having universal docents as mentors. Our universal docents lead all types of touring groups as opposed to docents who specialize in primary grades or another specific age group.
Reward the mentor
We believe the mentor role is critical to the success of the docent training and it was a priority to thank the mentors in a number of ways with recognition, small gifts, notes of thanks, frequent e-mails, a few meetings, and inclusion in the graduation luncheon.
l What was the best advice from mentors?
Relax, smile, and be positive.
l What was the greatest quality they passed on to new docents?
Thank you. l Questions?
l Contact me with any questions.