Interpreter Presence

In my coach training, we have been learning about the professional credentialing body of many coaches internationally (International Coaching Federation). We have started in earnest to collect our practice hours and start having individual feedback sessions with our teacher. In a recent session, we were discussing the rubric used to evaluate coaching session recordings by ICF. There are a number of categories, as you might imagine, but I want to talk about “coaching presence,” and the potential applications I see to this concept of presence for interpreters and interpreter educators. 

According to ICF, coaching presence is defined as, “Being fully conscious and creating spontaneous relationships with clients, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.” Some of the criteria used to evaluate is: 

Competency 4: Coaching Presence

  1. Coach’s questions and observations are customized by using what the coach has learned about who the client is and the client’s situation.
  2. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s use of language.
  3. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s emotions.
  4. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s tone of voice, pace of speech or inflection as appropriate.
  5. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s behaviors.
  6. Coach inquires about or explores how the client perceives his/her world.
  7. Coach is quiet and gives client time to think.

It seems to me a helpful frame that may be missing from interpreting and interpreter education. We do talk about impartiality, and being skilled but not about how we show up to the job and hold space for the communication event for which we were hired. We do not talk about the active work that it is to be present and yet withhold judgement, hold space for whatever needs to happen. It isn’t just a matter of being “neutral” (which we could argue about for eons and its impossiblity), it is about living out, actively, our values of non-interference, autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice (see Beachamp & Childress 2001). 

How we show up in a space need not be happenstance, it actually requires active cognitive and emotional work to be present and make space for the interaction that we are responsible for, to hold space, regardless of our own preferences, opinions, etc. It is tapping in to a belief that its not about what *I* think should happen or needs to happen but rather about what the interlcoturs need to happen.

Developing an interpreter presence mantra, questions to deepen your practice

  • What do you believe about ways of being human? 
  • What do you want to remember about your function as an interpreter in other’s interactions? 
  • What do you want to contribute to the space? Anxiety, calm, openness, etc? 
  • What do you want to characterize your presence as an interpreter in interactions? 

Potential mantras:

  • I am a calm presence.
  • I am open to the communication that occurs here today.
  • I understand people who use sign language and English, and they understand me (modified from a workshop participant recently). 

Connecting the Dots

Recently, I was listening to a pastor talking about connecting the dots to see the picture- seeing a page of seemingly random dots numbered on a page looks like a bunch of chaos. But once you start connecting the dots in number order, a picture is revealed. 

I was immediately struck by this analogy, and as in most things, I see implications for interpreting and interpereter eduation immediately. This analogy of connecting the dots to reveal the picture, feels very relevant to the puzzle that is meaning transfer across languages and people. 

One way of using this analogy would be thinking about the processing of the langauge itself, if we get the main points but not the details perhaps it is a rough representation of the picture at the level  of only 10 dots to connect. But if we get the main points, details, tone, and intent then we end up with a detailed and intricate picture that required connecting 100s of dots. 

Expanding upon the idea that language is a tool in the job, not the job itself, the analogy could be used for that. If I only connect the language dots (let’s say every 5th dot), the picture will be close but out of whack,where as if we connect the language, perception, interpersonal, communication, peopling dots, we get the whole picture in all its detals. 

The analogy certainly falls apart at some point, but I think it is an interesting idea to play with to conceptually get the impact of missing details when you don’t have an actual consumer you are practicing with or the details seem inconsequential anyway as there were not significant negative consequences to missing them – they still matter as the picture is still incomplete. 

Question to Deepen Our Practice 

— What is the connection between “connecting the dots” and providing language/communication access in your work? 

— What do you believe about language and meaning making between people? 

— What else comes to mind as you read this? 

Deconstruction & Reconstruction: A Metaphor for the Times

I wrote recently about disorientation and the disorientation. We’ve all been experiencing because of COVID and the disorientation that we are commonly sharing. However, disorientation happens in regular life, too. When we are not in COVID and we are not in, you know, global pandemic. So as I’ve had some time to think about some things and do some decluttering. I have been wondering what to do with the inventory that I have of artwork that I’ve created.

I mentioned this in my recent artist newsletter that the artwork that I’ve created it’s already served its purpose. For me it’s about the process not the product. I’m happy to pass along to others, or sell to others, if it brings them joy and if it brings color and texture into their life in their world. But I don’t necessarily do art to sell it which is probably weird for an artist. I love when people resonate with something that I produce and support me by investing in it, and that sort of thing so don’t get me wrong I’m totally happy to sell my art, but it’s not why I create art.

Anyway, as I always do – I turned to Google or Pinterest to collect ideas about what people do with their inventory. And the answer is ranged from burn them to just keep painting over them to donate them to a hospital to all kinds of things. But one comment that I really resonated with was the idea of reusing pieces. So not the idea of painting over. But the idea that you would deconstruct a canvas to then use those pieces of materials to reconstruct something else, like a collage. So I’m intrigued by this idea and I took two canvases two very small canvases yesterday and deconstructed them. And what that meant was I took some scissors to it. And then as soon as I made a cut – I ripped, and it had frayed edges, and it had pieces of a focal point missing, that sort of thing.

Then I played around with collage pieces – like gelli print papers on deli paper, like other practice pieces of paper, stickers, book pages, and music sheets. I don’t think I did washi tape in this iteration at all. And then I looked at the canvas pieces and I wondered what I wanted to do with them.

One of them had a rose like flower on it and I cut it out. I cut it away from the background it was originally in, and it had been created with modeling paste. And so it had a 3d texture to it. And then I used the rest of the background and cut leaves or leaf shaped things out of it. And then started playing around with composition. Composition of what it could look like for this small canvas that was probably a 6×6 to then be translated and reconstructed with new elements into an 9×12 paper piece of artwork.

It was a really interesting process, it was a lot of fun.

I’m not an expert in collage, and I tend to take things just a step too far. So I did two pieces yesterday and one of them I like a lot, and the other one I took too far. And so I’m going to have to play around with that. But I think there are some significant metaphors of deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we often see disorientation or disruption. Deconstructing what we’ve always believed or deconstructing the way things have always been or deconstructing those kinds of things. But I don’t often hear a lot of discussion about the next step.

So we came from a place of orientation, a place of something that had originally been constructed. And now we’re in this disoriented place where deconstruction is happening. But if I just left my artwork in pieces on my on my table, and never attempted to integrate them with new elements. That’s just trash.

But if I can take the bits from what was or what was deconstructed, if I can take the bits and put them to new use and and introduce them to different elements and create a new thing, then the deconstruction part is a part of the entire journey and a part of the entire process, and nothing is wasted in that process.

And so I think in our world right now we have a whole lot of deconstruction happening. And that is probably a good thing, but it’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is in reorientation and reconstruction. And then it will all happen again of course right this is a cyclical process it’s not once and done. But we are right now in a very uncomfortable deconstruction and disorienting place, but it is not the end of the story, and just taking time to do that artwork yesterday, gave me a renewed hope.
Reminding me of what I believe that this is not the end of the story. Then I can continue to endure the disorientation and the deconstruction with the hope for what is going to be reconstructed.

I’ll link to other blogs I’ve written about disorientation if that would be helpful to you. And I’m probably going to continue to play with this idea of deconstruction of canvases and playing around with collage, and delving into composition and learning more about composition, from a technical standpoint because it’s not like I said it’s not an area of my expertise.

So I have a couple of reflective questions for you.
◆ What are areas in your life that you would label as deconstructing or in a phase of deconstruction?
◆ When you look back at your life, can you see this cycle of construction deconstruction reconstruction, or orientation disorientation reorientation? What do you now know about yourself from reflecting on those cycles in your life in previous times.
◆ And I guess the final question would be how are you navigating right now. Are you aware of the phase that you’re in, are you how are you navigating that? How do you want to navigate that?

I would love to hear about your reflections, feel free to email me at arsmithstudios@gmail.com.

**I dictated this using the otter.ai app so the tone is very conversational (on purpose)**

Coaching Lessons & Growth

What I’m learning from being coached…

I entered this coach training with no experience being coached and exposure to coaching via podcasts, primarily. I have grown and learned so much! One of the best parts of the coach training is that we practice it with one another, thus I get coached in some way, shape or form weekly. It has been lovely and so enriching.


The aim of the practice coaching is to practice particular aspects of the structure, and/or tools that we are learning- but the byproduct is actual coaching on real things.

Win -win.

In my coaching sessions (being coached) we have covered areas of my life like leadership, planning for the future, morning routines, and movement during this “work from home” era.

I would say, as would those who know me well, that I am a naturally reflective person – I analyze things (ad nauseam at times), I look for meaning, I attempt to grow and focus on forward movement. And coaching has been amazing at really getting to the heart of things (not like therapy). The level of clarity I’ve received through the process, and the tangible steps I’ve been able to take are significant give that it is merely a byproduct of the training.

I’ve refocused my leadership to focus on my value that I am not irreplaceable. Meaning I want to equip, empower, and trust that in my absence the work still gets done and done well. Also, that if/when I should exit – colleagues are left better.

I’ve seen the connection between “evening Amanda” and “morning Amanda” by looking at the impact of my nightly routine on my morning routine- these 2 Amandas are still in process of becoming friends and collaborators for my best 😉

I’ve been introduced to a myriad of powerful questions that lead to insights and clarity that can be elusive at times. My current favorite question is,

“What are you pretending not to know?”

Juicy, no!?!

I’ve committed to developing rhythms of movement throughout the day including 1) a morning “commute” – stolen from a colleague in coaching training – this is a walk around my neighborhood for about 10-15 mins to separate my morning routing from the start of my work day and 2) restorative yoga at the close of business – another transition marker between work and home. I’ve just started this 2 days ago, so it hasn’t got much traction – but, I’m excited!

I can only imagine if I were being coached professionally, paying for it, and engaging fully, weekly what could come about. I’m adding this to my tools for thriving – I will be seeking out regular, consistent coaching from one of my coaching-mates or another coach in the very near future.

Interpreting as Public Service

Interpreting is fundamentally people work – not language work. And when we get that backwards, or focus too heavily on the language piece- people suffer. Please know that I in no way mean that language is unimportant or an afterthought. Language is critical to the work we do and teach. Language has the power to create realities, inner narratives, understanding or misunderstanding of the world around you. It has the power to destroy people’s sense of self, limit our sense of self and others, and imprison us in lies. It is not to be taken lightly. And it is not ultimately what the work is about – it is a tool for the work.

The work of interpreting is connecting humans. Connecting them to each other, to ideas, knowledge, resources, patterns of thinking. Connecting them to opportunities, support, training, and advancement. Connecting them to loved ones, professional services, and communities of shared interest.
A colleague of mine who teaches in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education graduate program at WOU, Kathleen Kenyon, she was sharing some of her brilliance with me the other day. How she starts off her classes with new students, and her lens of teaching as a public service. I’ll share it below and link it back to interpreting as well.

First, a public service is defined as, “a service rendered in the public interest” [according to Merriam dictionary]. This would include teaching, particularly public school teaching, of course- it is a value of our society to educate and thus it is in the public interest to ensure an educated constituency. So, Kenyon, was talking about her response to students who want to know the strategies and tools on day one. Her responses is often, “Can you love them (the students)?” Can you see them? Get them? Work for them? If the answer is “no” -no amount of strategies or tools will help compensate. If the answer is “yes,” – great, let’s start talking tools and strategies, because with love, even in the absence of tools, you’ll figure out how to reach that kid.

Likewise, interpreting students inevitably want to know, “what’s the sign for…” I’m tempted to begin using this strategy with them now as well. “Can you love the person in front of you – see their humanity, investing in understanding the need, use your own humanity to read them, and engage in connecting?” If the answer is “no” – no amount of sophisticated or pretty language will help. If the answer is “yes,” – lets go, let’s have the discussion – because no matter how limited your language, you will figure out how to connect people.


When we get the understanding of the job wrong – and think it is about language, versus language being a tool – we miss out on connecting people meaningfully and loving people well in society.

What to expect from learners in disorientation

The other night in coach training we talked a lot about cognitive load and all the things to attend to in the work of coaching- attending to the client, preparing the next question to dig deeper, recalling the overarching coaching goals, watching the time, checking body language, checking your own gut about what needs to happen next, etc. Also how fatigue impacts perception of cognitive load and compromises decision -making at a certain point.

The cognitive load is a significant piece of interpreting and decision-making. Over the years I have referred to it as one’s channel and that it is indeed finite- and if we are expending a bunch of energy doing x, we don’t have it for y. So, for example, in the transition from ASL student to interpreting student, the cognitive load and energy is going to re-allocated to learning the new thing – the meaning making and the equivalency piece. Less energy is going to go into production, retrieval, or even learning new, more sophisticated language. Thus, externally, you will look like you have “lost” your ASL or other skills/knowledge, when it fact, that is not the case – it has been de-prioritized for a time because you don’t have infinite energy to spend, so you have to conserve somewhere. It is still in there and it will re-emerge as the new things take up less of your cognitive load because the become more automatized.

In this time of disorientation, we can expected an even more exaggerated J curve, I would suspect.

Week 1 – what a year!?!?

This week has been a long year indeed. My work went from largely on campus and in a business environment, to the corner of my art studio with a blue screen fencing me in. I have been an online instructor for about a decade and my life significantly changed as well. Admittedly, I’m also currently serving as the chair of our academic division, so I have responsibilities beyond the classroom. And all of those things shifted quickly.


The first three days of my week were back to back zoom meetings. I hosted daily check ins with all the faculty in all our programs (about 16 of us in total + interpreters = 18ish online simultaneously). These check-ins were intended to accomplish a couple of things 1) check in with folks and make sure they are doing okay emotionally as we make shifts and shifts continued coming rapid fire for a bit and 2) to acquaint them to the platform and what it could do.
The meetings were primarily in ASL – a majority of our division is signers. This made for some of the logistics being a bit easier with interpreters primarily working into spoken English.


We used the chat feature for communication on some activities, send participants in to breakout groups, back to the main group, and back out again. And then did large group reporting out.


I recorded each meeting and also did a screencapture so that I could make a tutorial of the host controls (I couldn’t figure out how to share my screen to show those things). I used some best practices to show folks how to use the platform and have the communication not be so chaotic – calling on people rather than waiting for volunteers, people raising hands to indicate interest in adding, and using the chat box for some communication.


One of the cool things that happened was faculty from different programs who may or may not have contact normally did – and informally, low stakes – which hopefully will lead to cross-program resource sharing and relationships.
At the end of each session, I also remained available for individual meetings that people may have needed. I used a single breakout room to move to “private” space with them, while the others wanting individual meetings waiting in the main room. Then I would pop back to the main room and get the next person and move them to the breakout room and join them over there. In my estimation, it worked out well – I think people got what they needed, I was accessible, and they lost some of their fear of the unknown from the platform. I will do a follow up survey with them when grades are posted and they have a moment to breath and reflect 🙂

A whole new era

Things have unfolded quickly and suddenly last week and now we are entering a new frontier. With the requirements to move classes to remote delivery within a short period of time, many of us are in a tailspin.

That being said, it is also a great time to connect, rethink, and learn new things to move forward successfully and intentionally.

Click here to see what resources I’m offering to support us in this time 1) a mighty network and 2) newsletter mailing list.