I work in the education department of a state history museum. This means that we have a very broad range of topics that we try to help students and teachers of our state to cover. We have programs that deal with prehistoric topics up through World War II. We make sure that our programs meet both our mission to tell the story of our state and the state educational standards and, like all museums and historic sites, strive to provide a high quality educational experience to our visitors.
Our state will be implementing new state social studies standards in schools starting next year. The standards have been changed for every grade level kindergarten through high school. Some of the changes are very minor (tweaked wording to be more specific) and some are causing teachers to have panic attacks (getting rid of geography as a separate course and folding it into history education). The good thing for our department is that one of most noticeable changes is a new focus on the history of the state. We have the opportunity to be a huge help to teachers all across the state, but to do that we are going to have to take a microscope to everything we do. We realized that with new standards, we are going to have to make some changes.
Changes aren’t new to our department. We make adjustments to our programs sometimes on a daily basis. We create new programs as new exhibits or anniversaries come up. But we have not looked at the entirety of everything that we do as a whole in over a decade. It is time for us to ask some big questions. The first big question that we decided had to be asked was, “What are the Big Questions?” We decided that, in order to stay relevant and make the changes that we need to make, we were going to have to come up with a few answers first.
Some of the Big Questions we are asking ourselves right now are:
- What is our mission?
- Does our mission statement still reflect what we want to accomplish as a department?
- What is our role in education and the community?
- Are we a resource for teachers or a partner with them?
- What do we excel at? What can we improve?
- Are there any ways we can serve the community that we aren’t currently?
These new state standards are going to present a major challenge to our department, but they are also giving us an opportunity to truly assess everything we do.
I’m sure you have various quality control procedures in place at your sites, whether they are continuous small improvements or five-year plans that encompass long term views. I would love to hear what your sites’ Big Questions are and how you go about answering them.