Monthly Archives: April 2014

First Days

As winter slowly melts into spring, we are reminded of all the first days that are about to come. The first day of being a college graduate and looking for a ‘grow-up job.’ The first day of the summer season with new seasonals to manage. The first day of the summer as a seasonal, looking forward to new adventures. The first day of seasonal training. The first day in new uniforms.

When I think about first days, I’m reminded of one of Lao Tzu’s teachings:

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Each of us will face changes as the seasons turn and we move past the first days of a new summer season. Here are some resources to help you navigate your own first days, changes, and the challenges that will inevitably follow:

For the interpretive manager
John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Sam Ham’s Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets

For the seasonal or new interpreter
Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage
This American Life, “Episode 115: First Day” (sometimes, it’s worth remembering we all have the jitters)

For the recent graduate
PBS Newshour’s “Ask the Headhunter” blog
Virginia Tech’s “Guide to Federal Employment

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Top 10 Benefits of Environmental Education (PLT)

April 22: Today we celebrate Earth Day.

Today we celebrate a meeting between Puerto Rico state agencies, federal agencies and NGOs to draw up a National Plan for Environmental Education in Puerto Rico. It was wonderful to discover how the Certified Interpretive Guide repeated as an element that strengthened environmental education programs in most of the agencies’ presentations.

Today it became clear that relevant offerings create meaning in both formal education and informal education places like parks, forests and nature centers.

Last week we were in Pacific Grove, at the meeting of WILD coordinators working on the review of the Terrestrial Guide, and next month we will be in Traverse, Michigan at the international conference of Project Learning Tree, to bring that project for the first time to Puerto Rico.

Today we celebrate Earth Day and the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the Government of Puerto Rico with the agency I represent (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) and NGOs. Using environmental interpretation creates more meaning for all the teachers that we impact with these projects (Both WILD and PLT).

And I leave this link from PLT, for reflection, and thanks to all who make possible the WILD and PLT projects and make magic in every nature hike.

Top 10 Benefits of Environmental Education

By Susan Toth in Educator Tips & Stories

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Frontline Interpretive Dancing

The Wikipedia description of interpretive dance says it aims to translate emotions and human conditions.  That is what heritage interpreters do, yet how many of us dance in a program?


I don’t have a dancer’s physique.  My training started and ended with a European folk dancing class in my experimental college years.  My complete lack of any inborn rhythm proved to be an insurmountable challenge.  Working as a frontline interpreter, I decided dancing without rhythm is just thinking outside the box.  It’s a good thing.  


My daughter was three or four when she told me that I should move like a butterfly whenever I feel frustrated.  It was a wise suggestion.  Try being angry and fluttering like a butterfly at the same time.  (Walk on your tiptoes, lifting your knees to waist-level, while raising your arms up and down like flapping wings.)   It sure is hard to do both.  


I used my dance moves as comic relief in a program about interpretation.  I said participants might try the dance should they ever feel aggravated because the interpretive equation doesn’t work well when one is mad.  I recently had a program participant from years ago recall my performance as well as the message I was giving.  And she is not the only one.  Who knew a bearded man pretending to be a butterfly could be so impactful!


I also pretend to be a person seeing a snake.  I hop up and down repeatedly switching feet with each leap while pointing and repeating the word “snake” in a high pitch.  I did not invent these moves, but my rendition seems to lighten the mood enough that people can consider the valuable role of snakes in a fresh way.


Does anyone else dance?  If you have busted a move for visitors or have seen it, please leave a comment on how it was done.  The Wiki article says interpretive dance “is frequently enhanced by lavish costumes, ribbons, or spandex body suits.”  I never really considered doing that, but even without spandex, it is possible to get that powerful mix of being funny and having something to say.

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Who needs to change?

When we are within the boundaries of our comfort zone very little changes, we are familiar with people and situations, everything becomes familiar and it is easy to put life on “cruise control”.

The best things happen when change is about to throw you our of the routine and is up to you what the end result is. I have seen people fight and rant about changes because “this is how things have been done before”.

At the end of the day changes will happen, in your personal life, at work, and all around you. Like a butterfly that was happy as a caterpillar could fight change but the end result is an almost magical transformation that gives them wings (without red bull).

Embrace changes, be part of them, and you will get to harvest the results of being part of it.

As interpreter changes happen all the time, groups arriving late, arriving early, nature not cooperating, and all sorts of wrenches that can be thrown in the mix but you can either look at the cup half empty or half full. I rather thing that is full, half of it with water and half of it with air.




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“Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels”

As long as I can recall, my Dad advised, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” Ignored in my youth and brushed off with passing annoyance during college and my twenties, I felt wise beyond my years. I was no fool! However, I did not grasp the complexity or the meaningfulness of this adage until recently.

Me and Dad

Me and Dad.

Born in 1928, my Dad was a school-aged child growing up in rural South Carolina during the Great Depression. At that time, when the economy was unstable, wooden nickels were issued by banks needing to make change. Today, they are only tokens from the past. But for me, wooden nickels are a reminder of the inscribed versus inherent meaning of things and the value of knowing one’s audience.

Many times, adages, puns, idioms and proverbs aren’t grasped at first. No doubt, my Dad’s heartfelt advice did not create a connection with me then, but because of its unexpectedness in this day and age, and because of its repetition over the years, it stuck! It has led to provocation and revelation after two decades! I found a deeper truth.

Missing the mark by not connecting with an audience spells doom for interpreters. The likelihood of such a defeat is heightened when interpreters face non-captive audiences with varying ages. And although missing the mark by not creating opportunities for emotional and intellectual connections at the time of a program may seem unsuccessful, it isn’t. Adages, idioms, proverbs and puns, when used appropriately, may actually prove more enlightening for an audience as time passes.

At its heart, not taking any wooden nickels reminds me to be cautious in life, that there is more than what appears at face value, and that old sayings can be memorable cues for meaningful reflections in years to come.

Don’t be a fool this April Fool’s! Share your wisdom! Use an adage- an interpretive technique- so that others can discover deeper meaning!

Categories: General, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

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