Case study

Learning and engagement officer — Shannen Johnson

Shannen leads a team of museum education staff and finds that teamwork is key to achieving their goals. Find out more about her role and why she finds it so rewarding

What degree did you study?

I graduated with a BA Hons International History and Politics from the University of Leeds.

How did you get your job?

I began working at The Peace Museum as an intern during the last year of my degree. I have remained with this organisation and have worked my way up into the role that I now hold. I also co-manage the daily running of the museum and line manage a small team of staff.

What's a typical working day like?

I like to come into the office early, spend some time on emails and catching up with colleagues, and then prepare all of the kit required for a school workshop.

Most of our school sessions are now delivered in schools. When arriving at the school with my learning assistant, we set up in the classroom and deliver a two-hour workshop, usually to KS2 children in a primary school. The sessions are engaging and fun and we use our museum collection to engage the pupils in the themes of peace, and also do activities such as badge making.

In the afternoon, I usually have meetings at the museum with our Board of Trustees and my team about our ongoing plans to move premises. I might also work on a specific project or exhibition. This could involve writing copy for exhibition interpretation or preparing craft kits that can be sent out for people to remotely take part in our activities inspired by our collection.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I work for a very small organisation in a team of four, but this means I have a broad responsibility and get involved in different aspects for our work, such as the development of exhibitions. I really enjoy getting stuck into the research of a specific topic and thinking about how we can present this to our visitors in an engaging and accessible way.

I love working with children and young people through the delivery of our education programme. I am constantly surprised by the thoughtful and imaginative responses that pupils have to the museum collection, and they often teach me new things or give me new perspectives on our collection.

What are the challenges?

Working in a small team and having a range of responsibilities also has its challenges. I often end up getting involved in other aspects of our work, such as helping take care of our museum collection, which can be interesting, but can make time management difficult.

In what way is your degree relevant?

The museum's collection is very much linked to my academic interests as it is a modern collection and covers many topics and themes that I worked on in my degree, such as the two World Wars. I also get to put the research skills into action when undertaking exhibition projects.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I began as an intern and now co-manage the museum and lead a team. For the foreseeable future, I want to remain with the museum as we undergo a significant period of expansion and development and plan to move premises.

Beyond that, I remain committed to working in the museum sector and am working towards completing Associateship of the Museums Association. I'm also a member of the Group for Education in Museums (GEM). One day, I would like to use my skills and experience to become the head of learning in a larger, multi-site organisation

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Try and gain experience working in museum front of house roles, whether it's learning team specific or visitor experience more broadly. It's vital that you understand how the museum connects with its visitors.
  • Use this experience to really focus in on the area of museums that engages you the most.
  • If you have other work experience (such as working in retail or hospitality), make sure you think about how you can transfer the skills you've developed to museum work.

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