Docent Review: Coaching for Success

Peer review has been an integral part of the Phoenix Art Museum Docent program for over 50 years. Today, with more than 250 active touring and outreach docents, we continue to evaluate and update our review process to ensure full participation and foster best practices. Our interactive coaching style prompted one recently reviewed docent to say, "We always learn from each other. That's what makes the process so rewarding."

From the training of a new docent, to ongoing education and development, docents adhere to a set of standards that allows us to successfully support Phoenix Art Museum's mission to connect people with art. These standards, articulated on a review form along with supporting criteria, serve as a preparation tool for docents as they create and present their tours and community talks. The form is used again as a reference during the docent review, with strengths and areas for refinement noted in writing for the docent's future use. The original practice of numerical "grading" has given way to a system that allows for more discussion and positive reinforcement.

By removing a quantitative measure of performance, docents are more comfortable hearing constructive criticism shared in a thoughtful, practical and supportive manner. Observed strengths are also recognized and celebrated. The review program, including oral evaluation and written review, has been designed to help docents strengthen and expand their skills, and inspire them to reach new heights as they engage museum and community audiences.

A docent-led review committee is established each year that administers the peer review program. Docents are required to be reviewed every three years in their area of service -- tours and/or outreach talks – and may select the specific tour or talk for their review. Reviewers, who have been trained by the committee chair, are notified of upcoming reviews and respond with their availability. The chair selects the two reviewers for a particular tour or talk based on experience as a reviewer (pairing a new reviewer with a seasoned one) and a docent's expertise regarding the type/theme of tour. Once assigned, the reviewers contact the docent to solicit questions they may have and to discuss any changes in the review criteria since their last review.

The reviewers shadow the docent during the tour or talk, observing closely and taking notes. Afterwards, the reviewers meet for approximately 20-25 minutes to gather their impressions and thoughts concerning the tour or talk they have just experienced, based upon the Phoenix Art Museum's touring and outreach criteria. The reviewers are partners, participating equally during the review and achieving general consensus before inviting the docent into the room. The docent joins them, and a conversation of strengths and refinements takes place. This is an opportunity for colleagues to affirm the excellence of touring practices and techniques, and, when necessary, to provide insightful suggestions for improvements based on their own touring and mentoring experiences. Complementing the verbal review is written feedback, which has proven to build effective and clear docent-to-docent communication. An added, unanticipated benefit of this new evaluation tool has been its use in the Docent Training Program, allowing the training team to give feedback on skills and presentation techniques throughout the year.

Docents have expressed that this coaching technique has enabled them to gain concrete ideas and inspiration resulting in a productive and positive review experience. Reviewed docents are asked to add any comments they wish to their review form. A testament to this approach is the following: "I'm very impressed with all the time my reviewers took to give such a thorough written review, with so much detail about my tour and also their helpful suggestions. It was an extremely positive experience with a sense of comradeship in our mutual love for the docent program."

For more information, download the Phoenix Art Museum Coaching for Success On Site Tour Review Form . 

Camilla Pettibone and Michelle Carpenter, Phoenix Art Museum Master Docents


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