The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Interpretation is the Secret Sauce

Posted by | June 23, 2022 | Filed under: Culture

A group stands near the gazebo. The members move to form a circle. Introductions are made. A guided walk begins, led by one of the reserve’s trained docent volunteers. Docents share the wonders of the Wells Reserve with visitors through themed walks such as Explore the Shore, Secrets of the Salt Marsh, and Laudholm’s Farming Past. 

All docents train, working together and with staff to prepare and lead programs. But recently three of them—Tomas Dundzila, Norma Fox, and Gail Licciardello—achieved an additional level of excellence by becoming Certified Interpretive Guides (CIG) through the National Association of Interpretation

Making it Memorable

“I felt effective as a docent,” Tomas says, “but knew there was more to learn. How do docents inspire visitors? What’s their secret sauce? I discovered that there was a CIG course being offered at the Wells Reserve. Suzanne Kahn and Caryn Beiter were the instructors!”

The interpretive approach provides a framework for docents to help visitors connect intellectually and emotionally with the reserve (or any resource) in an organized way that makes it memorable. “By understanding visitors’ needs and wants,” Norma Fox explains, “an interpreter can more effectively provoke engagement and inquisitiveness.” Through the art of interpretation, docents help visitors better understand and appreciate the reserve. 

The Interpretive Dance

Gail joined the docent program in 2020. She heard about the CIG training from Norma, but Gettysburg National Military Park is where Gail saw interpretation in action, and loved it. “The tour guide was so fabulous,” she says, “He connected with every single person in the group. He made the place come alive. I wanted to be just like him!”

Interpretation seems straightforward: know your audience, know your resources, develop a program, deliver the program. “Knowing the resources is the easiest for me,” Tomas admits, “the hard part is called 'The Interpretive Dance.' It has three elements—the audience, the docent, and the resources. A memorable dance occurs when the three elements move together as one. I’ve participated in several incredible dances at the Wells Reserve, but I’ve also stepped on my partner’s toes a time or two.”

Volunteer Tomas Dundzila (center) gets a group of young visitors moving and learning.

Gail says meeting interpreters from other organizations made the intensive training fun. Norma’s group (she took the CIG course on-line during the pandemic) included a zookeeper, a park ranger, a biologist, and tour guides from historic homes. 

“A lot of material is covered in four days,” Tomas says. “In addition to training we have to develop, prepare, and present a topic in front of our classmates and instructors. I felt like a magician performing a show in front of other magicians. I had to focus, focus, focus on my topic and cut away all the fluff while still making a relevant and inspiring talk. It was a great growth experience.” 

You're Certified. What Now?

Having taken the course, Norma feels more confident preparing and delivering a program. “It was gratifying to know that other docents and interpreters across the nation have the same questions and challenges," she says. "The course addresses interpreters’ needs, regardless of venue or audience.” Certified Interpretive Guides need 40 training hours every 4 years to keep current. 

A great guided tour is always a work in progress, certification or no. The secret sauce is a different recipe every time. “It takes time to become a professional,” Tomas says, “We continue to strive to be better docents, and we have a few extra tools to communicate meaningful, relevant, and inclusive experiences that deepen understanding, broaden perspectives, and inspire engagement here at the Wells Reserve.” 

Guided walks are a familiar and welcome sight at the Reserve. Check out the offerings and reserve your spot in the circle! Our dedicated docent volunteers will make it memorable. 

Find a Guided Tour

An Explore the Shore program on Laudholm Beach. Several docent volunteers have audited CIG workshops, including Donna Gomez, Margaret Weeks, Vivian Howe, Peter Meyer, Pet Prevet and Stuart Wood.


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