How did you first hear about sketchnoting?
I always find it interesting to learn how others have made their way into the world of visual thinking, so today I’d like to share with you the story of how I became a sketchnote educator.
I’ll do that with the help of my friend George Mihaly, on whose podcast I shared these broad strokes. You can watch our full conversation here.
My Undergrad Experience
Let’s start with the end of undergrad.
I spent my junior year studying abroad in Ecuador, which was an amazing experience.
That’s where I developed a love of the Spanish language in particular and language learning in general (which is the reason I decided to develop a course on using sketchnotes to learn a new language).
In my senior year I returned to the states (I studied at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon) and picked back up with my primary major in physics.
But I had such a blast in South America that I faced a difficult decision as graduation neared: do I keep going with physics, or do something with language learning instead?
I went with physics.
Grad School #1: Physics
Right after I graduated from Willamette I entered a Ph.D. Physics program in Boston at Northeastern University.
But by the end of the first year (of seven!), I quickly realized that was not the right fit for me.
Though I could tell that program wasn’t the right fit, there was one aspect about grad school (and the prospect of becoming a university professor) that appealed to me: the combination of teaching and doing research.
That’s what I feel lucky to be able to do here. I can continue exploring whatever subjects I’m interested in and capture what I’m learning in sketchnote form, and then I can pull from that experience to fuel the teaching that I do in these online courses.
So no, I’m not a doctor (of anything). But that year of physics grad school helped me realize what I didn’t want to give up: the ability to always be learning and always be teaching.
Grad School #2: High School Teaching
After a year in Boston I dropped out of that physics program, moved back to Oregon, and started a different graduate program, this time in secondary education.
I attended Pacific University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I lucked out with my cohort and met many folks (classmates, professors, and secondary students) who I admired and learned so much from.
I got certified to teach high school physics, math, and English language learning.
Substitute Teaching: Testing the Waters
My student teaching experience was intense (I bit off more than I could chew and almost quit the program), so I knew that I needed to ease my way into the profession.
Rather that looking for a full-time job right away, I started substitute teaching instead.
I got my feet wet with substitute teaching first in Eugene for about half a year, and then I moved up to Portland to be closer to friends.
I kept substitute teaching, but after a long-term sub gig for a math teacher on paternity leave, I realized that a full-time high school teaching position didn’t feel like the right fit for me, for a variety of reasons.
On the one hand, there’s quite a bit about how the school system works that’s frustrating.
And maybe more important is how much I’d have to fight again my personality: I’m a heavy introvert and to step in front of 100 or 150 or 200 students a day with consistent energy didn’t feel sustainable for me.
So with yet another career path leading to a place I didn’t want to go, I looked around for a new creative skill to develop.
Thanks to a TED Talk, I learned about just such a skill at just the right time.
The Spark: Doodler’s Unite!
That talk opened me up to this world of sketchnoting and graphic recording, and I haven’t looked back since.
It’s because of that TED Talk that I went down that rabbit hole of visual thinking.
The same day that I watched that talk, I started a blog called The Graphic Recorder where I documented the slow but steady growth of my skills.
With each podcast, book, and video that I sketchnoted, not only was I building my visual thinking skills, I was also learning the concepts within those materials in a much deeper way than if I had been just a passive listener or reader.
It felt like I was developing a super-power.
Back To Teaching: The Launch of Verbal To Visual
As excited as I was about the skills that I was developing, I realized how much I missed a core piece of my previous career paths: teaching.
There where this project, Verbal To Visual, comes in.
I started this online learning platform to share everything that I was learning about the development and use of sketchnoting skills.
I was able to merge my interest in visual thinking with my passion for education to build something that I hope is of help to others.
With each of the courses that I make, I do my best to set you up with the skills and frameworks that you need for sketchnoting to have a significant impact on your life and career.
So that begs the question: what’s next?
For me, my exploration of sketchnoting continues. There are too many interesting applications that I’m excited to dig into.
For you, I hope that you’re inspired to dig a bit deeper into the development and use of your skills.
If you would like support in that realm, then do check out our online courses. I think you’ll enjoy them.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed hearing the story of how sketchnoting came into my life, and I hope that this skill is as impactful on your career path as it has been on mine.