Becoming A Documentarian - Doug Neill, Verbal To Visual, Wayfinding Academy, learning, making, community

Becoming a Documentarian

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed learning.

From pre-school through graduate school, I was lucky enough to have a positive experience within the education system.

My love of learning, and the fact that I enjoy teaching, is the reason I got a Masters of Arts in Teaching and became certified to teach middle school and high school math, physics, and ESL.

That love of learning was also the reason that I dove so deeply into sketchnoting when I first heard about it, and it’s the reason that a few years later I started teaching that skill here at Verbal to Visual.

And now, that love of learning and teaching has lead to another opportunity – to become part of a new two-year college in Portland, Oregon that helps students live life on purpose.

Wayfinding Academy

That new college is called Wayfinding Academy, which might sound familiar because it’s where I’ve been renting office space for the past year and a half. It has been the setting for all of my videos since this one on improving your listening skills.

When I first started renting office space here, I didn’t intend on becoming part of Wayfinding’s staff. At the time I thought I wanted to have my entire day to myself so that I could put all of my energy into Verbal to Visual, to build this place as fast as I could.

But as I’ve discovered over the past few years, I don’t do that well when I prioritize isolating myself in order to build my own thing.

Building Community

On a phone conversation with my mom a few days ago she mentioned a quote that she heard: “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go with others.”

Within the online world, I’ve had those “others” for quite a while. I’ve been chatting weekly with members of The Verbal to Visual Community, and I feel connected to the broader community of sketchnoters sharing their work online and learning from each other.

But I’ve been missing that sense of community in my immediate environment.

That’s part of the reason I decided to rent an office in the first place. Up until I moved into to my current office, all of my previous workspaces had been in my bedroom. That didn’t lend itself well to connecting with others.

Having an office space in the basement of a new and growing college does. That’s how I got to know Austin, a student here at Wayfinding, who has become an ongoing collaborator via our series Visual Conversations and the guest posts he’s been writing for the blog.

That’s also how I got to stay connected to the staff here, many of whom were already friends. And it’s how I got to know other students over time as well.

That simple presence in a physical space of learning added something to my life that was missing beforehand. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed my own college experience, of the energy that comes from being around others who are as eager to learn and to make as you are.

For the first year, though, I still felt like an outsider in this space. I was paying money to use a part of it, but I wasn’t as much a part of the community here as I wanted to be.

Show Your Work

That all changed when Wayfinding Academy President and Founder Michelle Jones decided to make the Chief Initiative for the 2017/2018 school year Show (y)Our Work. It’s a play on Austin Kleon’s book, and it’s closely connected to the ideas I’ve been exploring via Learn in Public.

That connection lead to some deep conversations between Michelle and I, and ultimately lead to me joining the Wayfinding team in the role of Documentarian.

As the Documentarian my job is twofold: 1) to tell stories about what’s going on here at Wayfinding Academy in a show-your-work style, and 2) to help staff and students do the same.

The stories that I tell take the form of videos, photos and captions, blog posts, and email newsletters.

In a business sense (Wayfinding is a non-profit organization), those things could be called content marketing.

But I think of them as opportunities for reflection and for deeper learning.

That’s the connection between the stories I help tell at Wayfinding Academy, those I told at The Graphic Recorder when I was first developing my sketchnoting skills, and those that I will continue telling here at Verbal to Visual.

It’s about lifelong learning and making.

Lifelong Learners and Makers

I’ve realized that’s the deeper why behind all of the work that I do, supporting and empowering lifelong learners and makers.

I’ll continue to do that here within the realm of visual thinking and learning in public.

And I’ll also be doing it at Wayfinding Academy in this new role as documentarian.

Both of those get me really excited about what’s in store for the future, and the purpose of this post was simply to share that excitement with you, and maybe even to encourage you to seek out your own version of it.

Yours in lifelong learning and making,



Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.

If you’d like to learn how to make videos with your visual thinking skills, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

And if you want to create new personal and professional opportunities by sharing the authentic journey of your skill development online, check out Learn In Public.