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Post #2: In the Trenches of Training: Some Lessons Learned @nmafateens


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Please note: This is the second post in an on-going series by Alli Hartley who is sharing what it is like to set up a Teen Docent program.  We hope this inspires conversations so please feel free to leave comments or tweet @nmafateens or us at @teensinmuseums

A few weeks ago, I wrote my first guest post for the Teens in Museums blog, outlining my experience coordinating an emerging teen volunteer program at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA). As a refresher, the Teen Ambassador Program at NMAfA is a volunteer program that trains students to be docents. Today, we are two weeks into a six-week training curriculum, and even just two weeks in, the interests of this group of teens and the cohesion of the students is already shaping and changing the program.

Reflection timeOur first session was a general introduction to the museum, along with a curator tour of the Conversations exhibit. We started off with an object-based introduction. This gave us a chance to learn a little bit more about what drives these kids, and followed up with a broad introduction to the museum. After that, our curator gave the students a tour of the exhibit that they will be facilitating tours through, and we ended with a reflection activity. For our second training, we gave the kids a broad introduction to the subject of African Art through a presentation by Deborah Stokes, Curator for Education, and a tour led by an adult docent. We further introduced the students to the museum by having a representative from the editorial department sit down with the students and discuss her department’s role in the museum. Before the session began, we had an optional social media scavenger hunt for women’s history month; the attendance numbers were not as high as I had hoped for this optional event, but as I’ll explain later, the kids who did participate were super engaged and produced awesome work.

There are many “lessons learned” already. The first one may seem obvious: reflection can be a real game-changer in programming. About midway through our first session, I realized that there was not nearly enough time to achieve everything we needed to in a two-hour period. However, since many of the kids were able to stay late the first day, we had time at the end to reflect through writing and then share these reflections. When planning our second session, I took reflection off the schedule, thinking that removing reflection wouldn’t too adversely impact the program. However, leaving the museum the second Saturday, I felt off—I knew that the session had been a success, but I felt that it had ended very openly. It had been a particularly didactic session where the kids had to absorb large chunks of information in a short period of time, and because we didn’t give them a chance to share their thoughts and feelings at the end, I wasn’t able to get a sense of where they were at the end of the day and how they were processing the information. Lessons learned, but luckily we have another session this week—one that WILL end with reflection!

The fact that we have another session this week brings me to another “lesson learned”—program fatigue is real! It was a gallop to the finish line to have our program guidelines and regulations complete, our handbook finished, other speakers from within the museum secured, and our training modules drafted by the first training session. After we had our first training session, I barely had time to breathe before I was finalizing worksheets and materials for the second session, and it has been another marathon week gearing up for the third Saturday in a row spent doing a training. I am not entirely sure how the kids are faring with program fatigue either—attendance has been high session to session, although there are the unavoidable family and school conflicts (and SATS! Don’t forget about SATs if you are doing teen programming, like I did!). I’m thinking about incorporating a check-in on how the kids are doing with the quick pace of the programming into reflection next week. In any case, over the next few weeks, our sessions will be biweekly rather than weekly, which will offer the students a bit of down time and also allow me to catch my breath!

My advice to anyone running similar programs is to give yourself more planning time than you anticipate needing before the program starts, because once it’s up and running, you are going to be more tired than you think. I purposely only wrote out rough outlines of each training session during the program planning stage because I knew my lesson plans would change once I worked with the kids more and got a sense of what works and what doesn’t work with each individual group. It’s a tough balance—my lesson plan for this week’s training session was strongly influenced by the session last week, in ways I couldn’t have anticipated at the start. While this has allowed me to really cater each session to my teens and make sure they are getting the most out of each training, planning training sessions in such close succession to each other has put me behind on other work. How you personally achieve balance is something you will want to keep in mind when doing teen programs.

My third lesson learned so far is that while it is great to research trends with teens, every group of kids is so vastly different and their specific needs must be taken into account when programming. I had anticipated that social media would be a strong component of our program, and designed a “social media scavenger hunt” for International Women’s Day before meeting with the teens. After the first meeting, however, I learned that very few of the kids in my program interacted with social media. I was surprised; I knew kids didn’t use Facebook anymore because we old people had taken overJ, but I had thought they would definitely be on Twitter and Instagram! The students had various reasons for not being on social media; my kids are particularly academic and involved in other after-school programs, which makes them awesome participants, but leaves them little time for socializing online. As I had already spent time developing a social media scavenger hunt, I kept it as an optional event and did the event with three participants.

Sage and BreAlthough the event wasn’t as well-attended as I would have liked, the kids were super engaged. I was Tweeting and Instagramming (can I call it ‘Instagramming’??) through the program account (@NMAfATeens), although I wasn’t as active as I would have liked (my phone battery overheated halfway through) it was still a really great event. My teens were tagging the program account with wonderful and insightful posts, and (this was what was most exciting part) their friends, who would have never engaged in the museum otherwise, were liking their posts and began following my posts as well. For any future social media scavenger events, I definitely want to expand on this more, and maybe instruct the students to Tweet more questions and other posts that would encourage a response from their friends not participating in the event.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that this whole program was an exercise in “letting go” of authority, and the social media scavenger hunt definitely confirmed that. As a museum educator, it is my reoccurring nightmare that I look up and see kids glued to their phones, and I really had to let go in this program. Visitors in the gallery did give us some judgmental looks, and I found myself explaining to visitors what the kids were doing, to defend the kids. However, I did let go, letting the kids pick items from the scavenger hunt off a sheet I had prepared, and based on the Tweets the kids posted as well as the feedback from the few that attended, the event was a huge success. I’d like to do something similar in the future, but I don’t know if I will with this particular cohort of teens, which brings me to my fourth lesson learned: don’t assume. All my research and all my assumptions had led me to believe that these would be plugged-in kids; however, once I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with these kids, I realized this was not the case at all. As a result, I had to shift my programming

As tired as I am,   I am feeling really pleased with the program so far. The kids seem super engaged, especially as they’re starting to do their own research on artworks in the exhibit that they selected. I am really excited with how the program is shaping itself and how much the kids are learning from us and I am learning from them.


Guest Post: Reasons to be Silly by Angharad Bullward


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can be a serious person, honest. I have had my museum blog for nearly two years and I have written about a wide range of topics including; reviewing historic sites, discussing the latest development in the sector, recording my own archival research and how I would run my fictional castle(Ok the last one was a bit silly).  My most read post to date is about a subject that is very close to heart of many people I know; the state of the job market in the cultural sector. Nearly 150 people completed my survey that illustrated the difficulties in securing employment in a very competitive sector that contradictory offers extraordinary job satisfaction.

In complete contrast, my second most read post to date is one entitled ‘10 things everyone thinks when they go to a museum.’ An entry that consists mainly of photos of things I think at museum and only took a mere fraction of time to write compared to the Career Survey. It features serious questions as ‘Am I too old to dress up?’ and ‘Didn’t they film that show here?’ I have yet to come across anyone that disagrees with this, which is somewhat reassuring.

I don’t know how prevalent the idea that museums are stuffy old buildings filled with boring ancient exhibitions is anymore. It isn’t my area of museum expertise but the post was meant to show the lighter side of the heritage sector. I am not always thinking about that when I visit as there are museums I been to that deal with sensitive subjects where such thoughts never cross my mind. I didn’t also include comments that pop up as someone who works in museums and has a degree in Heritage Management  as they were a bit too niche (they included spotting typos in interpretation and comments on queue managing systems – exciting yes?).

I have really enjoyed the feedback on this and it’s great to have struck a chord. I know I haven’t really explained the ‘Reasons to be silly’, the title of this post but surely the whole point of being silly is not to conform to such traditional expectations.

 So if you see a tallish women with long curly hair in her mid-twenties eyeing up the dressing up clothes in a museum, there is a pretty high likelihood it’s me. Care to join?

Angharad Bullward, can often be found getting overexcited in a variety of heritage sites and museums throughout the United Kingdom. On her blog, she documents her recent trips and musings, attempting to engage people with heritage regardless of whether they regularly go to museums or not.  

Guest Blog: Jeugd en Poëzie Youth and Poetry


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ondertekening-roxWelcome to the living room in your head, where everyone is welcome for some afternoon delight or skyrockets in flight.

Jeugd en Poëzie (youth and poetry) is an organization in the Flemish part of Belgium who is trying to open the doors of imaginary living rooms everywhere.

By using metaphors you can tell your story without giving away everything immediately.

The poet doesn’t always want you to analyze his every word so you can discover the true meaning. Truth of the matter is, the writer wants you to fill the poem with your very own background and life as it is. Read and pour all you have in the poem.

Take for instance, this poem, written by Silke Vanhoof:

You, the undefined purpose of my lingering

You, the unfulfilled labor of my wandering

You, my tend to commit a crime in the cry of my demanding mind

You, my unrevealed rebel of pleasure and pavement in rewind

You, the undivided army of my wrecked out wrists

You, the unconsciousness of my worn out fists

You, the unsayable sourness of forced out smiles

You, my unwillingly running of nights endless miles

You, the unbearable transparency of my shouting skin 

You, the unreadable silence of speaking

You, my undone harm you unchosen road

You the caressing rope around my throat

Who that ‘you’ is, is up to the reader. If you use the poem as a mirror of your own relationships it becomes more then just words. The poem becomes you, or do you become the poem?

Silke is one of the many youngsters we guide in their journey from writing in their real living room, to writing books and performing on stages.

Youth and poetry is the negotiator between poets and their audience and developed a poetic collective called Brandmerk, especially for poets between the ages of fifteen and thirty years old.

If you consider writing your own poem after reading this, don’t think it’s only for the smartest ones among us, or the most literate. Poetry is in fact, fairly easy to get written down on paper. All you need is a pen, some paper, a dictionary and something to say. A secret (a white lie or a real lie) is always a good start. And don’t forget about metaphors. Look for inspiration in as many different shapes as you can find. Poetry is everywhere, you just need to get your poetry-goggles on. Good luck!

While we set up skyscrapers of language wherein junkies sided by judges mirror mirror themselves and finally find

all of our own worn-out appearances and so-called conducting make-believe constructions to be

(A fragment of another poem by Silke Vanhoof.)

If you would like a professional eye to read your poetry, don’t hesitate to mail us at