Melissa Maynard Heritage

How do we keep track of our careers?

This was the topic of a breakfast session that I ran almost a year ago for the Fair Museum Jobs Summit.

The following top tips were gathered from the #FMJSummit ‘Keeping Track of your Career’, the Museums & Resilient Leadership fellows & faculty and Group for Education in Museum Mentors. All of whom are at different stages within their career. Many I wish I’d known about or started doing at the start of my career.

It is very easy to go from task to task, project to project, without taking the time to reflect, record and share our successes and learnings.

So how can we keep track of our careers?

1 Acknowledge and Reflect on what you have done

Who recognises these phrases? “it was a team effort”, “my team achieved this”?

They are phrases that I’ve used throughout my career. It wasn’t until a one to one with my then line manager, when she said to me “you led your team to do that. Be proud of and acknowledge your own role in this success” that I started to verbalise my role within an activity or project. This in no way took away from the success of the team, it recognised mine and each team members individual part within that teamwork.

So how exactly do we acknowledge and reflect on our own role? The dictionary defines reflection as ‘serious and careful thought’; which can make this process seem daunting.

The easiest way to reflect is to ask yourself three questions:

  1. What have you contributed to a project?
  2. What skills does that show?
  3. How did you step outside your comfort zone and try something new to you?


If you want to reflect more deeply Prof. Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in 1988.

This has six stages: Description; Feelings; Evaluation; Analysis; Conclusion; Action Plan.

It provides a framework to help you think about an action or project in more depth while breaking it down into smaller, achievable steps.

More detail about the Reflective Cycle can be found at www.mindtools.com/pages/article/reflective-cycle.htm

2 Record specifics – visitor numbers & increases, feedback, budget planning, impact, etc.

When deciding what you should record, think about potential interview questions – what evidence will you need to answer them?

By recording specifics, you provide evidence to back up your claims and, if you’re looking for a new job, it helps you to stand out.

Don’t just say you’re good at engaging audiences, say you increased audiences by x% by initiating that new programme and y% were new to the organisation.

Did it support development in someone else’s department as well?  For example, a programme that you might have developed that demonstrably increased secondary spend in the café or shop. Or how your facilities department supported the installation of the new exhibition by coming up with and implementing a solution to improve physical visitor access.

Consider the following:

  • capture impact; record and evaluate meaningfully from the start
  • take photographs
  • keep a scrap book of cuttings, marketing materials, etc.
  • use infographics from work for that concise recording of figures/info
  • de-brief everything; the successes and the failures
  • Speak with colleagues. It can really help as they notice and point out the skills you sometimes don’t consider you’re gaining/showing.

You might also look at assessment criteria from vocational museum qualifications or professional membership competency frameworks. Many are available online whether the Group for Education in Museum’s Competency Framework (gem_competency-framework_(Sep15).xlsx) or the National Occupational Standards (www.ukstandards.org.uk).

3 Find a way of recording that works for you

There is no right or wrong way to keep track of your career, everyone has their own way of working.

Some suggestions are:

  • Using different notebooks or have a few pages at the back of a notebook for sudden moments of inspiration or questions that pop up.
  • Jot down bullet points as you go along, you can always come back to reflect later. There is no rule to say that you must do that part straight away.
  • Journaling / blogging
  • Memory books / scrap books – articles, feedback quotes, photographs, etc.
  • Digital note taking – examples provided include:
  • Create a folder (physical or digital) with ‘useful resources’ in it.
  • CPD logs, training and conferences notes, good practice visits – follow up on those notes and action/organise
  • Organise those photos – dates/project/themes
  • Have archive folders in your emails – so you can readily read them!
  • Use your regular 1:1s with your manager as a prompt for reflecting; regularly go through and review these notes and appraisal documents
  • Use a template with guided questions for reflection – either for a piece of work or CPD and keep it in a little binder book.
  • Keep feedback quotes from colleagues, clients and visitors
  • Create a ta-da list of successes big and small

Whether its writing, sketching, collaging, methodical or creative, what matters is that it represents you and your work.

4 Keep updating your CV

Even when you’re not looking for a job it’s worth keeping your CV up to date as it’s much easier to be able to remember your experience, dates, etc. if you keep adding to it. Have a MASTER CV which you can then draw from/adapt for different uses so that each time you send one it is tailored to the role.

As a supporting document keep a list of transferable and technical skills and update this with experiences as bullet points. You will have a list of demonstrable examples of when you learned and used the skills.

Most importantly be honest about what your role really entails, for example an Education Officer in a small independent museum can be part of the senior leadership team with multiple (non-education) roles and responsibilities compared to an EO in a larger museum where they are in more of a specialist role. We all bring our own experiences and meanings to a job title, so showcase what it is you really do.

Remember, this can be roles in other sectors, volunteering, internships … your experience and skills count wherever you gained them.

5 Shout out loud!

Share your successes and learnings widely, whether that is publishing case studies, submitting articles, writing blogs, sharing via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, proposing papers or workshops for conferences.

You might find this difficult, that you fear coming across as arrogant. If you’re worried about that then you won’t, trust us.

Please remember there are plenty of us who really enjoy seeing other’s successes and celebrating with them as well as learning about what is happening in a sector that we are all passionate about.

Using social media has other benefits as well – Facebook might choose one of your heritage projects as that ‘5 years ago …’ reminder that pops up in your feed every now and again. LinkedIn can act as your Master CV and highlight projects, Twitter allows you to network and share through initiatives like #museumhour, #heritagechat or #mused.

Guest blogs, articles and case studies through membership organisations’ platforms and publications can help reach a wider audience, increase your profile and provide evidence of your work.

How you share is a personal choice, the one thing I do know is that the heritage sector is, on the whole, a very sharing and supportive sector. The more we share our successes and potentially those things that might not have gone as well the more we learn and develop our practice.

6 Give yourself the time and permission to do this work

Reflection and recording take time, takes a conscious decision to start this practice, and time is not usually on our side.

The pressure to move from one task to another, from one project to another, from one goal to another is constant.

When asked ‘what do I want to do?’ in breakout rooms in the #FMJSummit workshop the following terms kept coming up:

  • Record more regularly
  • Build it into my routine more
  • Update more regularly
  • Do more … blog writing, thinking, reflection
  • Be more methodical
  • Make time

To help you get started with this process, give yourself permission to reflect. For example, you may look to others that you’re sitting having a coffee in the museum’s café doing nothing; know for yourself that this time is really important to you. It is thinking and processing time – it is reflection. It is time that will help your understanding about where you are, what it is that you’ve achieved, what the next steps are and it’s time that gives you the opportunity to stop and breathe.

Reflection and recording are a habit that you might want to develop. There are 5 simple steps that you can use to do this.

  1. Focus on one thing at a time, you are more likely to be able to make one thing a habit than attempting to turn 3 or 4 things into a habit at once.
  2. Start with one small thing that is easier for you to achieve
  3. Use a habit trigger. This could be a specific time, a place, or an action
  4. Be specific in your intent. You might say that you want to write a blog, it’s quite vague, whereas ‘I’m going to write a blog once a month’ is a more concrete action
  5. Track your progress. Hold yourself to account – record when you’ve done something, and be honest with yourself when you haven’t.

More information about these 5 steps can be found at How to Create a Habit: Your 5 Step Plan (with Bonus Worksheet) (theprudentprofessor.com)

And remember – it’s never too late to start!

Below are some templates that you might like to use to support your reflective practice.

Play or playful?

Wicker basket filled with soft toys and a book

I’m a strong supporter of play and playful experiences in any and all settings. When undertaking my vocational play worker qualification I used my museum experiences of family programming, Forest School and our heritage holiday club as evidence for children’s development and learning through play. In the decade (and more) since then there have been papers and text books written about play in museums – for which I am very grateful for.

“Play is freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behaviour that actively engages the child.”

Davy & Gallagher, New Playwork, 2006

There are many forms of play out there and the scholars will argue amongst themselves the true definition. The types of play that may be of it’s most important to my work can probably classed as playful or play-based learning and guided play.

A few years ago I came across the Regio Emilia Approach and it peaked my interest as there are many similarities with heritage education and how the environment and ability to discover and explore are key.

A summary of the Reggio Emilia Approach by Sprout Schools

“In play it is as though [the child] were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, PLAY contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.”

Lev Vygotsky

Taking a playful approach

My first foray into playful interpretation was at Chiltern Open Air Museum. I’d inherited an amazing learning and event programme where I got to work in a large number of historic buildings (including cooking over an open fire in an 18th century cottage), work with living historians, reenactors and volunteers and there was a dressing up area for the children with traditional games to play.

At the time, the one place I always thought was a waste was the empty back bedroom of the 1940s prefab. We tried display boards, we tried display cases, it was just (dare I say it?) boring. So, with our team of young volunteers, I transformed it into a bedroom.

One of our (older) volunteers donated his childhood bed, my uncle donated his childhood horsehair mattress and we used a combination of replica and original toys. So what made this special and different from all the other period rooms at that museum? Well it was the first one where there wasn’t a chain across the doorway and that visitors were actively encouraged to go in, touch, try on and play.

What did I learn?

A playful approach to museums can have a brilliantly amazing impact on visitor enjoyment and engagement with our collections and stories. It’s something I’ve recently done at Belton House, creating a simple playful environment as part of the Percy the Park Keeper programming this year.

Guided play takes two forms

One of my favourite forms of play in heritage learning is guided play, which takes two principles:

  • Providing objects or experiences that enrich the environment and promote aspects of the curriculum/collections/site/heritage. In Reggio Emilia terms this is the third teacher.
  • Scaffolding the play experience by adults becoming a co-player who asks thoughtful questions, comments on discoveries or encourages further exploration.

Do remember that play is child-led, once you provide instruction on how to use an object or equipment provided it changes from play into an activity.

My top tips for playful experiences

Blankets, books and knitted mushroom rattles provide a soft, safe space for babies and toddlers to explore.

  1. Identify a safe space for play.

This is the children’s space, it has some stuff in it and they can use it, or not, in imaginative ways.

It also needs to be large enough for exploration and physical movement – how many children might be using the space at any one time?

2. Choose objects and equipment with a high play value.

Can they be used in multiple ways? Imagination is your only limit!

Tables with different activities provided, on the left miniature world play with loose parts and on the right different puzzles.

3. Play is child-led.

Don’t worry if the space and ‘stuff’ isn’t used as you planned it because they probably won’t – that’s fine as the children are playing and learning (of course if there is a danger to safety you would step in).

4. Have a team member available that the children can invite into their play – and remember to observe the playful nature of the space.

A wheelbarrow full of Percy the Park Keeper’s friends and info sheets – the friends join in the miniature world, climb shelves, hide in plant pots … the wheelbarrow travels as it’s wheeled around the space.

Final thoughts

I remember creating a trail around the house a few years ago and I put out a wig and asked if visitors could “strike the pose” of one of our flashiest portrait subjects. A few weeks in and I was chatting to a volunteer who told me that they had to keep telling adults that it was for the children to do. So remember play or playful, whatever we call it, isn’t just for the children – everyone can have fun!

“Playful (adjective) is done as a form of play rather than intended seriously, or wanting to have a good time and not feeling serious”

Cambridge Dictionary

(c) Melissa Kate Maynard

New beginnings

I’ve been doing some thinking about what learning might look like after the current lockdown in museums, galleries, community gardens and other charities. Although there are a lot of reports and guidance out there, practically and personally the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease in the early 2000s is the only basis that I have to go on. After months of closures then part closure before re-opening, the independent museum I worked for at the time barely made it through. We were left to re-build the audiences and the coffers – and I know that we were extremely lucky to have support from volunteers, trustees, the Friends, local businesses and grant funders to support the hard work and see us through to what is a now thriving charity, and will continue to be through the continued support of the aforementioned.

With this experience plus the support and reports already coming through and the networks that we all have, I know that things will be just as tough in the coming months and years as they were then, however we will grow and thrive again.

An artwork from Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, August 2019, that’s still giving me a feeling hope through this time.

With the new tax year beginning and currently being furloughed, it means that I have time to start thinking and planning seriously for the future. I started a sideline last July as a heritage education consultant and I believe that now is perfect for considering business cases and future planning. So I’ve been considering Paul’s “takeaway” that he passed to me a month ago on our last MRL programme’s residential together.

“If you can help someone, why wouldn’t you?”

Paul Khan

Why do I do what I do?

I truly believe that everyone should have access to the arts, heritage and nature. That, as a medium to help make meaning for ourselves and our society, inspire creativity and critical thinking skills these elements and how we interact with them make a huge difference through small interactions. After this period in our history, they will have an immense importance even more so than before, however what this looks like and our audiences needs will have changed.

Narrow boating on the canal near Skipton.

The collections, narratives and spaces that we are guardians of provide a multitude of ways to engage and support people of all ages and abilities, whether that is in Early Years development, service learning opportunities for young people, lifelong learning or just space to breath and enjoy. They make a small difference in someone’s life that can lead to – well wherever that person goes.

So why do I do this?

To make a difference, no matter how big or small, in someone’s life. A safe space for a family to create special memories, a place where that 14 year old volunteer finds that they’re not the only one who cares about history or art, an opportunity to look at a piece of art in a new way and discover something new or planting wildflower seeds to encourage bees into your garden.

so what do I want to do?

I want to help.

I want to help that independent museum, that community garden, that charity to do what they do best – engage their audiences through experiences and learning opportunities that provide high quality learning environments and engagement with the arts, heritage and nature for everyone.

Through helping to train volunteers, developing learning plans and tours, looking at risk assessments for learning projects, and so much more I know I can help small, independent museums and charities to become resilient and sustainable, rebuild their audiences and continue to provide amazing opportunities for their visitors and learners.

So how can I help you?

(c) Melissa Kate Maynard

What a year …

OK it’s been a while since my first (and last) blog post – ‘flu, Christmas and lots of work has meant that I haven’t prioritised this. That will change!

So I thought that a bit of a reflective piece on my journey over the last year might be in order …

I think that place to really start is with an amazing programme that I’ve had the honour to have been a part of throughout 2019 and the first part of this year – the Museum Resilience and Leadership programme led by Black Country Living Museum and funded by Arts Council England. It was a bit of a surprise that I was even part of it this year as I had been offered a deferred placement and a few days before it was due to start I received a phone call to say that someone had pulled out and I was next on the waitlist – you have 30 minutes to decide. I didn’t even need 1 minute before I said yes.

3 days later it started, an intense residential to kick start the programme meeting the ‘faculty’ and 14 other cohort members. Whilst completely scary to meet that many people, present a 2 minute TED style talk on leadership and amazingly long, thought provoking days it was the perfect way to start our journey. Monthly workshops and an overseas study visit have, I believe, made me think more holistically about museums not just my specialism of learning, visitor engagement & participation but also ‘knowing the numbers’ and how commercial operations work and support the whole. Each month there has been a different venue to visit and inspirational leaders to meet, with something that resonates with my work. Some of my highlights have been the conversations and support from every member of the faculty and cohort who have given support and been a sounding board through challenges, ideas and in setting up as a consultant as well as meeting lots of inspirational and amazing leaders like Elaine Gurian, discussing our ethics, role and limits, and the colleagues I met in Chicago.

For me Winnie the Pooh sums up MRL for me with – “It isn’t about who you’ve known the longest. It’s about who walked into your life, said I’m here for you and proved it.”

OK – I started this blog post a few weeks ago and then everything changed and I mean everything!  

I was going to talk about some of the learnings in particular from my MRL journey, I’d planned different blog topics around different subjects – and then Covid-19 hit us all.

Through the last year I found the confidence in myself and my business knowledge and I registered as a heritage consultant. I made the decision to continue in my full time role as a Learning & Community Officer with the National Trust while I found my feet as a consultant. Thank goodness I did – now hands up who’s been furloughed. Yep me too!

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest, from thinking that we had a couple of weeks to plan – no one watching the unfolding pandemic could deny that at some point we would close – however I mistakenly thought that we had time. A few days later, we’re going to close in this way and coming up with creative and new (for us anyway) ways to engage with our visitors on the webpages and our social media platforms, to you’re going to be furloughed. It’s for the best for the charity and we can always use the ideas that we came up with in the future in new and exciting ways.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the #museumathome and all the options for engaging with the arts in all forms online. I’m also looking to the future thinking through what I love about heritage education and how I want to make a in difference in people’s lives. There’s also the love and support from the @GEM_heritage and @MRLprogramme communities as well as many others that’s keeping us all going.

Truly, they are strange times that we’re living through.

(c) Melissa Kate Maynard

Musings from the Group for Education in Museums conference 2019

Hi all,

After a few days at the GEM Conference chatting with colleagues and discussing good practice and listening to inspiring key note speeches and hearing about some amazing projects in the sector I thought that I’d share some key takeaways for me and some twitter links.

What better way to start a new blog?

Deconstructing the conference title by keynote speaker Piotr Bienkowski

So the theme this year was forging dynamic and lasting partnerships with communities and please note some of these takeaways are more of a reminder than a light-bulb moment!

  1. Should we start using the term communities not community to reflect the multiplicity of the community?
  2. We should constantly challenge what communities mean
  3. Who is not in the room and why?
    1. The who means both audiences and team members.
    2. Usually the answer to the why is that the museum/gallery/historic site isn’t doing enough.
  4. Start from zero and be open to other approaches and agendas
  5. Working withby, for our communities should never be an optional add on – they are key
  6. Build reflective practice into everyday working
  7. Always call on your critical friends and use them wisely and in a timely manner throughout your daily work – they’re out there within and outside the Trust
  8. Ensure that our work is not tokenistic and that we build long lasting relationships with trust – it’s not a tick box exercise
  9. The money is the means not the end!
  10. Access preferences are key to meeting audience’s needs not their illness/disability – find out more about the EU funded research behind this at https://www.arches-project.eu/
  11. Grow interdisciplinary practice – bring in external skills – actively listen to, respect and learn from them
  12. Working together:
    1. Invest time at the start to understand US
    2. Map the assets and resources that we HAVE
    3. Find the balance between what WE want and what the GROUP wants – we need to stop hijacking the projects!
    4. Be transparent about budget and outputs
    5. Manage expectations
  13. If it goes pear-shaped –
    1. Be honest
    2. admit what went wrong
    3. hold our hands up and say we will do better next time

The GEM roundups for each day can be found here:

Day 1: https://twitter.com/gem_heritage/status/1171850500494561281

Day 2: https://twitter.com/gem_heritage/status/1172239539785601027

Day 3: https://twitter.com/gem_heritage/status/1172579854736351232


Some other people’s takeaways:
https://twitter.com/sarahcowie/status/1172505560584982529

https://twitter.com/TeaKayB/status/1172851437593907201

NLHF updates:

Strategic funding framework for 19-24 have the three following priorities:

  1. Community heritage made as accessible as possible
  2. Inclusive heritage
  3. Public involvement

Melissa Strauss’ guidance was:

  • Address local challenges and needs (wider issues ad benefits)
  • Think about ownership and power – “communities see their heritage tidied up and given back to them” this isn’t what is needed or wanted
  • New guidance on community participation is coming!

Culture, Health & Wellbeing guidance:

If you’re interested in ‘youth’ engagement and want to check out an inspirational and aspirational project: Brent 2020 https://twitter.com/gem_heritage/status/1172079341842440192

So those are my musings from the inspiring and supportive GEM conference 2019.

NB GEM stands Group for Education in Museums and their website is http://www.gem.org.uk

(c) Melissa Kate Maynard

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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