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Dedicated to providing an ongoing forum for docent education and the exchange of ideas since 1981

The Docent Handbook, Sponsored by the National Docent Symposium

Chapter 7 of The Docent Handbook has tips for engaging your museum visitors through Observation Based Touring. Here you'll learn how questions function to generate interest and enhance your group's experience. Types of questions, choosing the right one for the situation – it's in this section. You'll also find ways to develop the crucial skill of handling responses.

Handbooks will not be on sale at the 2017 Symposium in Montreal but they are available in the U.S. and Canada now! The Docent Handbook continues to be a best seller at $20.00 each. If you are starting a new docent training class in September it is important to place your order soon.

Send your Handbook Order to: 

Elaine C. Mason, Handbook Coordinator

8633 O'Neal Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27613

Include a check or money order (made out to the National Docent Symposium) for the cost of the books.

If you need to order a large number for a class we sell the case of 28
for a cost of $420.00, includes postage.

Invoices area available on request.


Lifelong Learners

Communication, Education and the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC)

The NDSC is dedicated to providing an ongoing forum for docent education and the exchange of ideas. We utilize two forums for supporting the purpose of the NDSC:, a general information center, and the National Docent Symposium (NDS) for a real-time, interactive learning experience for docents.

Two of the most common attributes that connects lifelong learners (LLLs) and docents are: excellent communications skills and the desire to improve through continuing education.  It seems to me that you LLLs and the NDS just might be made for each other. Attending a NDS is a smorgasbord of learning opportunities for like-minded LLLs.  If you identify with several of the ten attributes of a LLL put 2017 NDS Montreal on your bucket list of things to do.

The Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science currently has 28 active Docents. We were in desperate need of increasing our numbers to meet the Museum's need to lead tours, and to assist at events.

Previous marketing to increase our numbers had very little success. However, this year we hosted a very successful Welcome Coffee! The marketing strategy was forceful. We utilized the local newspapers for the Upcoming Events section. Pictures of Docent activities were sent to the newspapers for their social page. Television appearances were scheduled with Docent officers to discuss the upcoming "Coffee" and the enjoyment you receive from volunteering at the Museum. Docent brochures were created and distributed to church and social groups.


Mary Peoples, Docent, Denver Art Museum and Mananitas Liaison.

One of the things that makes Denver special is its rich, diverse community - our Latino population alone makes up almost one-third of Denver residents. The Denver Art Museum is committed to making art accessible to all visitors and has developed a variety of programs that invite and serve the Latino community. We offer bilingual and Spanish language tours as well as other programs which celebrate Latino art and culture such as Día del Niño, the Celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, CelebrARTE, and Mañanitas.

Mañanitas celebrates the cultures of the Americas and exposes children and their parents to the museum collections and its family programs. Mañanitas is Spanish for the word "morning" and is also the name of the Spanish song sung at birthday parties - in other words, a fun morning event! Four times a year, all of the second through fifth graders from a school are invited to the museum for Mañanitas, a fun-filled morning of art-related activities. We encourage schools to invite as many parents as possible. 


Museums are a unique space for students to practice their language arts skills: oral language, descriptive writing, and analysis. Building on the Denver Art Museum’s   in-depth focus on visual skills, the Learning and Engagement (Education) staff saw a need to provide another level of engagement for students.  With that in mind, the Artful Literacy tour was born.

Tour development at the DAM is often a cooperative effort with staff and selected docents.  This process began with staff (Ellen Spangler) and docent liaison (Sharon Rouse) researching local school curriculum, education pedagogy, and nationwide museum programs.  Sharon shared information she experienced at the St. Louis National Docent Symposium.  Staff held teacher focus groups to gather more insight of their needs. During these focus groups, verbal literacy in addition to written literacy was continually stressed.  Ellen and Sharon collaborated throughout the entire process.  

We want to feature some helpful links for docents on the Internet. Thanks goes out to Jan Thorman for assembling these helpful website links.

Facing the upcoming temporary closing of the Freer, one half of the Smithsonian's Freer|Sackler Museum of Asian Art, docents knew beloved collections and objects would be out of view for at least a year. Our Education Department came up with the idea of a special, more impromptu way to interact with visitors and called it "Freer in Focus." Docents selected a favorite object or gallery and spent ten to twenty minutes talking with walk-in visitors, just about the docent's selection. The voluntary option was popular with docents and visitors. For one "Focus" I chose the world-famous "Freer Beaker" [to see this object on line, go to:].

Joann Kakascik-Dye, Docent & Volunteer Council Historian
Grace Pamperien, Docent & Group Experience Manager
The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, FL

Have you every wished you could hear a story, just one more time, from a person that is no longer around? Have you ever thought about how or when a particular museum got it start? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the information in this session is for you.

“A Do-It-Yourself To Capturing and Recording Legacy Stories” is a step-by-step approach to how to capture and preserve a person’s memory. Many times, legacy stories begin as verbal stories that need to be captured before they are lost, whether it be through written memoirs, audio recordings, or film. The process of capturing these memories is highly personal and very rewarding. This session discusses how anyone can capture and record a Legacy Story that can be used at their museum or for personal benefit.

Left: Docents Gone Wild, Wall Street Journal 5/26/2015
Illustration: Morgan Schweitzer

Starting a peer evaluation program can be fraught with politics, fear, and misunderstanding. This article seeks to demystify peer evaluation and to demonstrate its efficacy for greatly enhancing both the docent and museum visitor experience.   The ABCs—Attitude, Benefit, and Culture—will be discussed as being integral to the successful establishment of a peer evaluation program.

A necessary step prior to launching a peer evaluation program is for the docent council to agree upon a comprehensive training program that teaches the desired touring attributes to the prospective docents. This requires the docent council to establish and articulate clearly defined, quantifiable behaviors that can be taught and evaluated. These agreed upon and desired behaviors should then become the basis for the tour evaluation form. Once the training protocol and evaluation form are established the ABCs should be addressed.

You can Re-Create, Re-Enact, Revive the art that you have in your museum through interactive tours!

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Docents have developed a two-week festival of interactive tours involving art, writing, drama, music and dance activities.  Each activity is inspired by viewing a painting or sculpture in their galleries.  Each spring for seven years, their docents have participated in presentations or tours for approximately 800 students from K-12.  Numbers and popularity continue to grow, and many schools return each year.  They promote cultural authenticity be inviting American Indians from the community to present their art, music, dance and stories.

The docents at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center are dressed in costumes that create a version of “museum theatre” in which they portray the artists or subjects of the art.  Their examples include creating a found art piece on the floor based on a collage screen in their gallery; studying an abstract painting, then creating one of their own on a felt board with colored shapes; drawing images of sounds inspired by Arthur Dove’s Foghorns; meeting and talking with Georgia O’Keeffe, then drawing flowers or skulls; play drama games in which they create characters and stories from art in the gallery while working on voice, movement, body language and imagination.  They learn weaving or modern dance with Martha Graham, or native dances such as the “Mexican Hat Dance”, as demonstrated by the docents in the photo.  Each scenario is followed by various activities such as writing poetry, drawing, theatre, dance or art.