by April Byrge
Attending the NAI regional workshop seemed pretty far-fetched to me last November. I’m sure many NAI members can sympathize with the plight of working seasonally. Although seasonal positions can provide some really neat experiences, they can also make finances tight. It’s a necessity for a National Park Service career. In addition to this reality, I’ve become the sole earner in a two-person household due to a medical condition. Needless to say, when I found out I got a scholarship to go the conference, I was super pumped.
My NAI experience began with an amazing trip to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. Mike Campbell from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission showed us around the refuge, giving us the opportunity to view a ton of waterfowl. Literally thousands of tundra swans take refuge at Lake Mattamuskeet during the winter. We also saw many duck species, a few hawks, and a black-crowned night heron. For someone who is just starting to learn to identify waterfowl, this was a perfect outing.
I was scheduled to present during the first concurrent session on Wednesday. I wasn’t really nervous until about a week before, when it finally hit me that it was a regional conference and I was going to be presenting to professional interpreters from all over the southeast. I was describing the digital storytelling project I’ve been working on, which involves guiding students in the creation of mini-documentaries focused on a Smokies-related theme. I was impressed with the brainstorming participants did as they thought of ways to incorporate digital storytelling at their sites.
I attended Julia Gregory’s session on Becoming an Edge-Walker, which was totally fascinating. She discussed coyote mentoring, which is based on the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. This mentoring technique is meant to enlighten outdoor educators as well as those they are guiding out in nature. It is recommended by Richard Louv and David Sobel (my personal hero), so I am very interested in learning more about it.
Friday’s sessions were really eye-opening for me. Joli Reynolds and Ariel Lowrey’s presentation, I’m No Expert, changed the way I look at interpreting certain topics. We talked about topics we had issues with interpreting because of a lack of deep knowledge. For many people, these were things like geology, weather, and history. The line that really stuck with me from that session was that we are experts at interpretation. Because of that, we should have the confidence to present on topics that we aren’t necessarily a specialist in. We can learn alongside those we are teaching.
Corey Sperling’s session about employing conscious discipline when working with young people really blew my mind. I’m sure we have all had experience dealing with disruptive students, and it’s often our first instinct to act negatively towards them (lecturing them, not allowing them to participate in activities, etc.). Conscious discipline is a model that helps students learn to identify their emotions, explain them, and think of solutions. For instructors, it’s a different way of framing questions or requests. This is definitely something I will share with the Parks as Classrooms team at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
My NAI regional conference experience was inspirational to me on several levels. It gave me new ideas to explore and share, gave me insight into how other interpreters are using different techniques at their sites, and allowed me to experience several amazing sites on the Outer Banks. I’m definitely looking forward to sharing these things with my team at the Smokies when my season begins. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to the NC coast and meet and learn from amazing interpreters.