Western Region Hosts Roundtable on Reimagining Docent Training

by Jeanne Heise and Anne Minteer, Western Region Directors

In June 2023, the Western Region hosted a popular virtual roundtable titled, “Reimagining
Docent Training.” Over 50 docents/guides attended representing 21 museums from six out of
seven states within the region.
The post pandemic landscape has resulted in shrinking docent populations at many institutions.
Increased focus on DEIA and social justice issues has required changes in recruitment of
docents, in structure and timing of classes, and in the content and duration of training.
Museums, and their docent organizations, across the region are trying to adapt and replenish
their docent corps. Our topic struck a chord.

To prepare attendees for the discussion, we sent out two questions to think about before the
meeting: 1) What changes, if any, has your museum or docent organization made in training
new docents? and 2) Was training docent initiated and led or museum initiated and led?
Docents came prepared to participate.
Dena Watson-Lambert, Oakland Museum of CA, and Lee Rubinstein, the Getty Museum, kicked
off the meeting by discussing changes in training at their respective museums. Dena spoke of
the complete rebuilding of the program at the Oakland Museum. A pilot program of 25 trainees
were trained to become facilitators for school tours. A gallery activist pilot is being put into
place for another small group for general collection tours. Lee shared that at the Getty, training
is a hybrid of docent and museum run. Planning and administration of training is done by staff,
with more experienced docents getting involved later in training as mentors to trainees. There
is an emphasis on coming from a place of intellectual humility and a focus on fostering dialogue
in the galleries.
Docents from over ten museums joined the lively discussion, while other listened, hoping to
take ideas back to their museums. Several trends emerged:

 Recruitment is aimed at a younger, more diverse group
 Delivery and timing of training must change to accommodate a more diverse
group of trainees: self-guided materials, self-scheduled online training, training
on weekends or in the evenings, shorter training periods
 Docent training is more often initiated by museum staff—a change from the past
where docent organizations were more autonomous
 Training is more inquiry based, with open ended questions technique meant to
produce conversation in the galleries and empower the visitor
 Training programs involve a mentorship component, with more experienced
docents pairing with new trainees for further learning
 Training include important DEIA and anti-racist elements

 In addition to basic skills, museums are giving new trainees opportunities to
specialize in certain aspects of the collections, rather than becoming generalists
about the whole collection

Roundtables like this are intended to keep the conversation among docents going between
Symposiums. By identifying topics that resonate with the docents in our region, we can
continue to support the mission of NDSC to promote the exchange or ideas and information
across museums and docent groups.
Get to know your NDSC Regional Directors here

Contact us if you would like to participate in a future virtul roundtable conversation in your area

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