Thursday, August 14, 2014

Worthless Treasures

An excited group of "Little Miss Parade of the Hills"contestants departed Robbins Crossing yesterday, clutching a sprig of Lemon Balm and a cotton ball-sized piece of wool that I distributed to each of them.  It never ceases to amaze me how these simple objects can take on such importance, if they carry a meaning beyond their monetary value.  As we wondered the village, the girls peppered me with questions about life in the 1800s, and provided thoughtful answers to my probing questions.
 Hopefully, the experience gave them a glimpse into a different time, and an appreciation of the resourcefulness shared by most humans, even if we choose to never use it.  Perhaps that meaning was infused into their "treasures" from Robbins Crossing.

Do you have something of little monetary value that carries meaning?  Sure, there are photos, and now we have tweets and posts that offer fleeting thoughts, but sometimes the meanings are hidden and difficult to quantify.  I have a collar from Shasta, a Siberian Husky that was my nearly constant companion for 13 years.  It even smells like her (a little), and I don't think there will ever come a time when I will willingly discard it.  It isn't magical, nor do I believe that it carries any supernatural "spirit".  It just makes me both happy and sad, and that is enough. My guitar case is covered in stickers that reflect places, times, and sentiments that are meaningful to me, and my bulletin board is awash in pins from over the years.

As Interpreters, we have a unique opportunity to provide meanings to common items, and to infuse the simplest places and objects with memories and intangible qualities.  There are parents who wander into Robbins Crossing with their children, and tell me that they still have the beeswax candle they made here when THEY were in school. I know friends who carry special stones, or have saved a feather, or a buckeye, or any number of "worthless" items that carry inestimable value.  They are a connection to a place, a story, or a time that lingers on.

Can you find something to give away that doesn't cost anything, yet is priceless?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ask Us!

As I take time to prepare some basic interpretive techniques discussions with the wonderful volunteers at Robbins Crossing, I am finding myself reflecting on the importance of the methods we use to convey information, and how much of those ideas are now permeating other professional areas, such as sales and "formal" education.

One of those ideas is using "Inquiry Based" learning as a method of disseminating information.  We always referred to this as "questioning techniques", and the framework is similar.  It goes along with the saying:
Tell me, I'll forget
Show me, I'll remember
Involve me, I'll understand

We know that the BEST of what we do involves hands-on, active learning.  While that usually means putting things into the hands of the participant, sometimes it also means engaging their brains, imagination, and deductive skills.  Instead of answering an asked question, can you lead the visitor to their OWN answer, with carefully crafted questions and leading statements?  Can you make them EARN the answer?  In most cases, earning something gives it more value to the recipient, and it will stay with them longer.

"Why does the frog have a clear membrane that closes over their eyes?  Why would that be helpful?  

You're right, it is like swim goggles!"

When students would practice guided walks, I often carried a clipboard with the words "Ask Us!" on the back.  If I felt their presentation was slipping into a "walking lecture", I would stop them, flip up the clipboard, and have them come up with a way to lead us to the answer, rather than "spoon feeding"it.  Most of the time, they would do a great job inventing a question, and most of the time the participants could work out the answer.  

The best hands-on is still, well, hands-on. But remember we can also involve participants in dialog, and have them EARN the knowledge.  More and more teachers incorporate this into their interactive classrooms, and effective salespeople will always work up some questions to engage you in whatever they want you to buy.

"Teach a person to fish rather than give them a fish" Can you figure out how that applies here? 

You have been asked!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get UP!

For Fathers' Day this year, I was presented with a wristband that electronically tracks my movement throughout the day, and my sleep patterns at night.  As I sync it every day, I am amazed at how hard it is to get to my goal of 10,000 steps!  Part of the peril of becoming an administrator is the tendency to sit at a desk, answer emails, send out memos, make phone calls, and have the entire day disappear into motionless hours.

By returning to Robbins Crossing, I have had more success-  I need to get into the village daily to work on projects that need attention.  The weekends have me moving constantly, but the band doesn't reward me for that, as I don't wear it as part of the period dress (I don't think many folks in the 1850s needed prodding to move around!)  It rides around in my pocket, but doesn't register as accurately.

The one thing it does help with is to remind me hourly to get UP (or at least LOOK up!)  There is a little vibration on my wrist as a reminder that the last hour was sedentary, and I should do something else for at least a few minutes.  While not always practical or possible (kinda hard to jump up during a meeting or presentation!), at least it has provided me with an awareness of the need to refresh my day with some of the reason I chose to pursue this field in the first place.  Not sitting at desk.  Getting OUT THERE!

When I was doing "front line" interpretation and programming, I tried to schedule at least one day/week to get on the trails, explore the parks, brainstorm for new ideas, and breathe outside air.  While teaching, I was fortunate to be able to observe nearly 1000 program presentations (guided walks, stations at Robbins Crossing, events, etc.)  And now, it is great to have the opportunity to walk on dirt again on a regular basis.

You don't need a buzzing wristband to accomplish this, but I suggest that you schedule time to get out there.  Recharge the batteries. Restock the idea shelf.  Reveal hidden meanings.  Remind yourself why you do this in the first place!

Gotta run- my band is telling me to Get UP!

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Okay, I've just added another reason I am NOT a farmer.  Sure- there's the whole "getting up at dawn" thing, and a lot of dirt involved, but as I grabbed the hot part of a power tiller this afternoon, I realized that being mindful of what you are doing truly separates the proficient from the "poser" in most endeavors (that, and a good pair of gloves!)

As a young student, I was constantly being chastised for "daydreaming"; staring out the school window when I should've been paying attention.  I would've rather been outside running around than learning whatever was being written on the chalkboard (maybe I missed the lesson about burning hot exhaust manifolds on small engines?)  Can you relate?  I don't know of many kids who are mindful of school lessons, though many (and I was one) do enjoy the subject matter (I actually liked science, math, reading, and even social studies.  I just wasn't too keen on sitting still!)  Perhaps mindfulness has more to do with desire than discipline?

Taking up teaching new interpreters 18 years ago, and  becoming an Interpretive Trainer several years later, afforded me the opportunity to become mindful of program delivery, and to step back and see what works.  Being mindful of my message, my audience, and my objectives has made me a better interpreter, (though I still get distracted (squirrel!), and have a lot to learn).  I have a desire to be a good interpreter, and that makes it easier to be mindful of successful and unsuccessful programs.  It is also easy for me to be mindful when playing guitar, staring at the stars, playing a part onstage, and even eating (unfortunately).

Thank goodness we all have different passions, and there are folks who can find mindfulness in tilling a field, or putting up buildings, or managing waste, or whatever.  I am also, however, thankful that we have the capacity to become mindful about things we may NOT have a passion for.  I'm pretty sure I'll be "in the moment" the next time I start the tiller.  Perhaps I can even learn to be mindful of unloading the dishwasher, or mowing the a lawn. Hopefully it won't take a fried lifeline on my hand to gain this focus.  But then again....