How I Became A Sketchnote Educator - Verbal To Visual, Doug Neill

How I Became A Sketchnote Educator

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).

As an undergraduate I studied physics and Spanish, which prompted a difficult decision at graduation: which path do I continue down?

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.

I jumped first into a graduate physics program in Boston. After a year, I could tell that wasn’t the right fit.

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.

The right fit: a Master of Arts in Teaching program in Oregon, where I became certified to teach high school physics, math, and English language development.

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 regular teaching by subbing, first in Eugene and then up in Portland.

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!

I distinctly remember the coffee shop I was in (and where I was sitting) when I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Sunni Brown called Doodlers, unite!

That talk opened me up to this world of sketchnoting and graphic recording, and I haven’t looked back since.

Once I was looking for it, the spark came quick: the TED Talk Doodler’s, unite! by Sunni Brown brought me to the world of visual thinking.

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’ve now been teaching sketchnoting here at Verbal To Visual for five years, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

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.

What Next?

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.