When I was choosing a graduate school, there was a lot of compromise on the table: financial cost vs. program opportunities, whether to attend a general studies program or one with a strict focus, and on a more personal note where my husband was willing to move to fulfill his own educational interests. We ended up finding an excellent mix of all our needs, and it’s served me well over the last 3 years. But if I’m going to be completely honest with myself, there’s a tiny twinge of regret that I wasn’t able to seriously consider today’s featured program – Bank Street College of Education. Laurel Fehrenbach, Public Programs Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, brings us a detailed post about her time at Bank Street. For more on the student perspective on Bank Street, you can check out their tumblr page.
Also, a quick reminder that if you haven’t voted for your favorite AAM sessions yet, today’s your last day to do so!
School: Bank Street College of Education
Degree: Leadership in Museum Education
Location: New York, New York, USA
Program Emphasis: the program combines educational theory and practice while developing leadership skills and an understanding of organizational structure to show how “museum education” can be a pervasive and crucial part of a museum’s function at every level.
There are two Museum Education degrees offered at Bank Street, but I’ll be specifically talking about the Leadership program. I applied to this program because I wanted my master’s degree to be prepared for future jobs, but I didn’t want to leave my current job as the Public Programs Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This degree is a two-year intensive course designed specifically for people working in the field. The Leadership program students meet just once a month in New York for a Friday evening and a full-day on Saturday. Each month is a new class, so you are focusing on just one topic at a time. The rest of the month, between classes, is your time to complete assignments for the previous class or do the prep work and reading for the upcoming class. The best part of this is, deadlines and due dates notwithstanding, you can do the work based on your work and personal schedule. You do have to be a fairly self-directed student in order to make sure you don’t fall behind; however, a helpful advisor, teacher or classmate is never out of reach. The weekends in New York are mandatory, but I think many of my classmates would agree that it was far easier to dedicate two days a month, rather than two or three evenings a week to attend regular classes at a local program. Finally, in June there is a weeklong Institute that is full of site-visits to various institutions, presentations, conversations… and a party, or two, of course!
In terms of content, one year focuses on the foundation of education theory, human development, collaborations and exhibition and interpretive planning, etc. The other year is centered on museum management and leadership, including marketing, strategic planning, finance, grant writing and fundraising. These courses prepare students to take on leadership roles and challenge you to see how education and audience fit within the structure and mission of an organization. Because the classes are only a weekend (and not a full semester) it attracts some of the best and brightest professionals in the field to come and teach. We had the Undersecretary of Education for the Smithsonian, a director of an art museum, the head of education from an international museum and a myriad of well known and respected experts, consultants, scholars and innovators at our disposal to learn from them directly.
The structure and content of the program reflects the deeply ingrained “theory and practice” philosophy of Bank Street. After each class, students go back to their home institutions with new ideas, interesting conversations and complex reflections that breathe new life into their colleagues and their work. The flip-side to this can also be a sense of dismay and frustration when our places of work don’t jump at the chance to adopt the same philosophy, or would prefer to not make any changes. Rather than find this discouraging, the program helps you to think strategically about what ideas you think are important, articulate outcomes that could serve the mission of your institution, create buy-in and ultimately make a difference for your museum, your audience and yourself.
First and second year students are in the same classes together, so veteran students can offer a type of mentoring to new classmates, but the first year students also provide fresh perspectives and a new dynamic in the classroom. The class of 16-20 students is divided into groups of 4 or 5 (a mix of first and second years) called a conference group, which are assigned to one of the four faculty advisors. Conference groups meet during lunch on Saturdays to discuss any topic of relevance or just check in with one another as colleagues. Sometime before class on Friday night, each student will meet privately with their advisor to talk about any personal issues with class works, jobs, interviews, life etc. It is an open time to for student and advisor to cover what they decide is important. Advising sessions and conference group meetings are almost sacred elements to the Leadership program.
Your conference group becomes an instant community and resource, and your advisor becomes a “go-to” confidante who has an incredibly deep understanding about you as a whole person, not just a student or just an employee. I think, advising and conference groups are the part that I miss the most, post-graduation. In the second year, students will being to compile what is affectionately known as the Arc of Understanding and build a portfolio of all your work from both years. The purpose of the Arc and portfolio is to assess and reflect on your time at Bank Street. How have you changed as a learner and educator, student and employee? How has your thinking changed? What have you taken from your classes and directly applied to your work? You will summarize all this in a 20 minute presentation to faculty and students at the end of the weeklong June Institute, and then answer approximately 10 minutes of questions. It is a difficult and challenging, but ultimately rewarding, exercise that forces you to truly evaluate your accomplishments and how you will carry what you’ve learned forward in your career.
The program is reflection heavy, in that it is a constant theme on many levels. The Arc is a very large- scale, big-picture reflection. However, each month you have to submit a small reflection on the previous class and think about how the content of the class has implications for you personally, for your institution, and for the field. There is a constant emphasis on how leadership inherently requires thinking beyond you and beyond the present. Leadership requires vision and direction, but also learning from past experiences in order to shape that vision. My absolute favorite part of the program is that students come from a large variety of cultural institutions all around the country. I come from an art museum background, and a large and old institution. However, the program brings us all together to find a common language amongst our colleagues at small art centers, botanical gardens, children’s museums and natural history museums, just to name a few. Even better, I have a network of classmates and friends in rural Texas, Boston, Milwaukee, Memphis, Atlanta, New York, and right here in DC, and more. It is an extensive and close-knit group that has never failed to lend a helping hand, encouragement, or a new perspective that furthers your thinking and deepens our commitment to our work in this field.