Wednesday, September 02, 2009

High Flier Certification

"Vultures aren't YUCKY, they are the
high-flying cleanup crews of the environment."

We have all attended programs at a park in which the ranger or volunteer absolutely blows us away with knowledge, humor, or emotions about their topic.  How can they tug so at our heart strings?  On the other hand, we have also been bored to pieces by a different presentation, on a topic that should have grabbed our interest.  Why is one so great and the other so terrible?  It's a matter of INTERPRETATION.

I spent four days last weekend learning about interpreting nature and how to make it real to the visitors who come where I volunteer.  According to The The National Association for Interpretation :
Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.
There are as many as 15 principles of good interpretation.  Our class at Bernheim Forest, led by our friend, Wren Smith, was a real challenge, with 32 classroom hours, a written exam based on six different text books, and a 10 minute graded presentation.  Of the nine students, some were experienced speakers, while others were shaking in their shoes at giving a talk, especially when it was limited to only 10 minutes.  It's easy to just chat about things you love in nature, but we learned the ways that people learn, and how to make a presentation relevant to them.  We learned to create a theme and outline for our presentations to keep them on track, and the difficulty of remembering all of it in the right order.  We evaluated each other, and learned that no two people see your presentation in the same way, let alone in the way you intended them to see it.

The sessions on creativity were the hardest for me.  Wren gave us a basket of flowers, with the instruction to create a muse of inspiration.  Try it sometime!  Pretend to be an object such as a fish or fossil or motor home, for example, being interviewed for a radio show.  One man was a fish with gills and big round eyes, who made a popping noise each time the fish breathed.  We were all rolling on the ground laughing. I never knew you could color with flowers -- just rub the blossom on a piece of paper.  Even saying words like drama, art and creativity make me tense up.

The trick is to take all the academic parts, and make it come across to the listener as natural and effortless.  I guess every good teacher knows all the effort that goes into making something look effortless.  Fortunately, I have lots of enthusiasm, and that makes up for other parts that may be missing.  My fossil station at the Falls of the Ohio does qualify for "roving interpretation" after all.  I always thought you had to be walking around to "rove."  As anyone with a certification will tell you, whether it's teaching, law or medicine, the certification just gives you the basic skills.  You still have to practice, practice, practice to be good at it.

No comments: