By Nicole Cann

As I was writing my previous article about finding a way to make professional development affordable for any budget, I found myself wanting to share all of my own favourite examples of  professional development, within an expanded definition of the term. Trouble was, I had TOO many personal examples to share. So that’s what this post is for—this is a look inside my own personal collection of development tools. Keep in mind that I’m an interpretive manager at an aquarium, but I hope that you can find at least one new idea to try for yourself whatever your situation.

gull in flight

Start With The Personal

First of all, I think it’s important to remember that to develop professionally we must also strive to grow continually as human beings. I start every single day by waking up early to work out. Yes, that’s right. I could go on and on about the benefits of exercise on both your body and your mind but you’ve probably heard it before. What I will say is that working out first thing in the morning clears my head and makes me feel great. I’m never more prepared to take on the day and take IN everything that I’m going to learn than I am after a workout. Talk about an expanded definition of development! At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find me travelling, as much as possible as often as possible. Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” What better reason do we need, especially as interpreters, to set foot outside of our own comfort zone?

Apps for Personal Development

There are a number of apps and podcasts that I listen to that don’t have much to do with marine biology, interpretation, or management but which help grow my mind and my body and I think that’s an important step towards better professional development. Have you tried Lumosity? It’s AWESOME! I have only played the free version but I use it every day on the bus, and in five minutes I’ve completed three short games that continually improve various aspects of my mental processing. Plus it’s fun! Similarly, have you ever wanted to learn another language? Duolingo is another free app that gives you short but sweet challenges to gradually improve your fluency. This may help you with your next trip. There are also two general category podcasts that I don’t go a week without: “Stuff You Should Know” is fairly self-explanatory while “The Chalene Show” is less-so – it’s all about managing your work-life balance and becoming a well-rounded person over all.

Reading: The Essential Pro-D

I believe that all of the above tools can benefit anyone in any profession, but when it comes to my job I do have a number of cheap and easy (often free) tools that I use to continually develop my subject knowledge, interpretive skills, and management techniques.

I think that the most important thing I do for my job is read. I read every day. In every field, especially biology, facts change from day to day, so I follow countless science blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts because in this day and age that’s one of the best ways to stay current. I also have access to an incredible library of marine biology texts and journals at work so I try to pick something different up every month to keep connected to my resource. There are also any number of free online courses you can take to expand your skills and knowledge in almost any subject area. I’m a big fan of Coursera but a friend just this weekend sent me a link to another online course site called Open2study that I’m excited to check out.

A lone canoeist paddles in the evening mist.

Conferences and Seminars

Interpretively speaking I am, yes, a big fan of conferences and training seminars. But if you can’t afford them, volunteer to be part of your local interpretive organization and get involved in their upcoming events… or run one yourself! By volunteering to host a conference or by designing and offering your own training, you can cut down on costs almost entirely and you benefit so much more. It doesn’t have to be a big production either. What is your favourite interpretive technique? What are you best at? Put together a 30 minute training session to share your skills in just that one area, and offer it to your coworkers over a lunch break. TED talks are also a great place to go for great training sessions. Search “storytelling” and “communication” to get started. (One of my big fat scary goals in life is to deliver an interpretive TED talk and actually use the term interpretation).


Blogs, like this one, are another great source of ideas for both your subject matter and interpretive experience. If you want to work on your writing skills, start blogging yourself! Blogs also offer some back and forth communication which I love. That’s also why I’m a fan of the various Interpretive Facebook discussion groups that keep popping up such as the “Interpretive Theme Writing Think Tank” and “NAI – Certified Interpretive Guide Network.” Anyone can join; all you have to do is request to be added. Facebook is a great connection tool for colleagues, so even if you don’t want to participate in a group you can just reach out and message someone else in our field. Chat about an idea you have for a program, or a struggle you’ve been having with your latest project.

For Managers

The advice and support of your colleagues can not be overvalued. There are times when you are faced with challenges that you may not be able to take to your staff (although I encourage all managers to think very critically about these situations, because I find that trusting your staff is one of the best opportunities for development that you can give them.) For improving and continuing to develop my own managerial approach, my go to development tool is the podcast. I religiously follow “Manager Tools” and “Coaching for Leaders” but if I had to recommend the best one to start with it would be “Creating Disney Magic” which has something for everyone.

Make it a habit.

Whatever you choose, make your own professional development a habit and push yourself out of your own comfort zone. If you aren’t seeking out development opportunities and making it a priority for yourself, how can you hope to convince your own manager that your deserve it?

Once again, a huge thank-you to Nicole for sharing her creativity and initiative with us. And what about you? What are your go-to resources for professional and personal development? Are there blogs, discussion groups, apps or programs that we should know about? Please mention them in the comments below.

-Don Enright, editor. 

Sunrise over Coal Harbour Vancouver BC


  1. Trusting your staff is great professional development for both you and your staff and doesn’t have a financial cost attached. It also builds resiliency

  2. I’ve found the webinars on the NAI members area very helpful as well as the free webinars on North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)’s new eePRO site very interesting.

    Recently a great webinar on public involvement and building public trust. It focuses in on the highlights of recent research findings and is a cross section of fields including social science and natural resources. It’ll be available soon in the past webinars listings –

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