sitting with Buddha and my pen in Tokyo

It’s always amazing to be somewhere new. You take things in differently. We’re able to see with perspective that can be hard to cultivate at home. Then there are some places that just amaze. At the beginning of September I got to meet the second biggest Buddha in Japan, Great Buddha or Daibutsu, on a day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo. We started out by meandering through many buddhist temples and hiked through a park to meet Buddha. The hike was enlightening – I was seeing new and different plants, trees and animals. I carried a little journal and pen and so this happened:

What you can’t see in this picture is that I was looking only at buddha and not at my paper, an exercise I always loved from high school art class. The space was so peaceful and adding a little drawing felt just right!

As I was drawing, I let go of ‘what I thought buddha was supposed to look like’ and simply allowed myself to draw and pay attention to the different details in the statue. It made me think about how much we try to please our partners and bosses and co-workers based on what we assume we’re supposed to be doing as opposed to sometimes truly feeling out the moment in a moment or meeting or project and navigating from what we think is best for all.

Drawing in thought,



neurocognition & graphic recording via Barb Siegel at EuViz 2014

Neurocognition. Graphic recording. Meet Barb Siegel, of, my friend and colleague who has spent many years researching neuroscience and is currently a graphic recorder in the Washington DC area. Her session at EuViz 2014 in Berlin, Germany this summer blew my mind (see below for her words & some harvested photos). Her research reminds me that what I do works! Visuals help people better understand and connect with content and each other! Woohoo! Check out my messy sketchnotes (and yes please notice how messy they are – messy is sometimes what sketchnotes must be)!

THANK YOU BARBARA for sharing the thoughts, knowledge and learning with us! Serious shout out to you! This session was incredibly enlightening!

HARVESTED FROM Day 2 – thoughts from Barb & photos from attendees via the EuViz website (

Barbara Siegel: What they think when we draw: Neurocognition and Graphic Recording

The purpose of this session was to give graphic recorders/facilitators an understanding of current research on the brain and models of how we think. My hope as a presenter was to provide a basic vocabulary and understanding so that we can make better choices in how to lay-out our charts based on intent. In particular, I focused on brainstorming sessions and how to encourage whole brain thinking.

Cognition models I presented were: left/right brain (still has validity just it’s more subtle than people used to think of it) upstairs/downstairs (from Dan Siegel, no relation), and system one/two (discussed in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow). I suggested that in order to facilitate whole brain thinking we can try to move the eyes in a horizontal eight (infinity) pattern. We had a brief discussion of white space (in general we don’t provide enough) and the difference between recording for a conversation about ideas (infinity pattern) and commitment to change (leading the eye from left to right and off the chart). For me personally, and for my charts, these are aspirational ideas – often in the heat of recording I focus at the level of content and sometimes can’t keep to the intended template.

Participants seemed to be most impressed that we place an emotional tag on everything we see before we know we’ve seen it – the image goes through an older part of the brain (the ‘reptile brain’) before we reassemble the neurological signals into an image we consciously recognize. I also think people responded to the physical exercises I had them do: ‘gut body’ from Janet Willie and ‘lazy eight’ from BrainGym. People were also impressed by the idea that there are different types of memories and how we access them – especially how the memories change depending on the type it is and how we recall them.

This presentation was an experiment for me – while I am not credentialed in this field, life has required that I learn a lot about it. I was pleased to have my knowledge respected and to share it. I hope to write a white paper so that graphic recorders can share with clients brain based reasons for why visual culture works.

I close this comment with how I began my talk: neurology should make sense, and everything that we know from experience with visual culture should be reflected in what is being found out about the brain – if the neurology doesn’t make sense, it’s probably wrong. On the other hand, it’s nice for us to have language and research that confirms what we do know.


“In 90 minutes I got more info on the brain than in years of study.  Thank you – this will really impact my work.”  Michelle Boos-Stone


art in Berlin, mostly on walls

Whoa! There are so many amazing walls of color and movement in Berlin… spending a week there and attending the EuViz 2014 conference this summer was a seriously rocking experience. Take a walk around Berlin with me:

Those between the wall plaques are part of ‘the wall’ as was this one once:

And this is one of my absolute favorites:

EuViz 2014, a conference in Berlin

EuViz 2014 happened this summer on the Rhine River in the heart of Berlin. I can’t think of a better place to bring together a global community to listen, draw, chat and push boundaries (of visual thinking).

The conference design was fabulous, including various organization development structures and strategies for allowing people to show up authentically and have real conversations rather than polite ones. Don’t get me wrong, people were still kind and open to sharing their perspectives. Check out the conference via tweets or via harvesting (on harvesting webpage navigate on right to other days of the conference). Here are my highlights (a few from the conference and a few from around Berlin):


Highlights for me include getting to meet everyone including some of the industry Elders (photo below!), a session on Neuroscience (needs a whole blog post – Barb Siegel rocked it!) and just walking around Berlin and experiencing life! (There’s art everywhere!)

Berlin is an amazing city & I had a great time there! One of my favorite things about the city was the incredible street art everywhere! Kudos and shout outs to all the artists out there! I wish I knew you and could give credit! Here are a few amazing pieces I stumbled upon while walking around Berlin:

Stay tuned for more murals in the next blog post!


Loud shout outs to Kommunikationslotsen and to Neuland and all the other companies who made it possible!! To Holger Scholz & Guido Neuland for their amazing vision & sharing that with us! To Lynn Carruthers & all the IFVP people who did behind the scenes work in partnership with the EuViz team! To Mary Alice Arthur for an amazing job storytelling, harvesting & facilitating us throughout the experience. To EVERYONE who helped in some way with the conference – forgive me for not including your name, whether you facilitated a session, designed a room, provided coffee, … you matter! THANKS!


My personal takeaways are to hang out with my elders more, to draw only when my heart is in it, and to show up authentically trusting that something great will happen!

swiss cheese walls in your classroom

Swiss cheese as a concept is brilliant. Rock the metaphor!

drawn by Amanda Lyons

From organization development and leadership frameworks such as Chris McGoff’s “Dynamic Incompleteness” prime which urges leaders to allow the swiss cheese rule to apply to their ideas and goals that guide their teams and organizations, to wishes from a conversation with David Preston and Josh Ostini where together we imagined that schools had swiss cheese walls and learning happened all throughout and beyond the classroom walls, the idea of a metaphor helps us humans grasp ideas (i.e. a visual in our minds helps ideas stick)!

The mentioned conversation inspired the drawing you see above. What if our classrooms could be made of swiss cheese? Seriously, the seeing, sharing and collaborating that would happen would blow away teachers, inspire learners and create something huge. It’s about creating the right atmosphere to allow such things to happen.

Which walls in your classroom or office or home are metaphorically swiss cheese?

open source learning school district

What I have learned from David Preston (@prestonlearning), his colleagues & his students… where to start? I think it makes sense to start experientially. How about with some sketchnotes from his session on Open Source Learning at the DML (Digital Media & Learning) conference in Boston last Spring? He & Josh Ostini, a fellow teacher, (with his principal John Davis and a classroom full of students via the digital world) shared philosophies and practices & showed us that it is possible to educate differently. The session was called, “Moving Beyond What If?”

Disrupt & document that it not only works but it works well! Rock on amazing open source educators!

“Poking holes in walls so students can get out” was one of my favorite lines from this session… we even took it to a new level in our conversation afterwards & I happened to have a marker in hand (…foreshadowing – for the next blog post!).



DML, a conference somewhat drawn

DML 2014, (a conference held by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub in Boston, MA this past spring) not only brought together some tangential threads on technology and education, it also afforded me the opportunity to meet in person someone who has become a great friend and colleague digitally, David Preston. It was seriously fun to move from the digital world to the physical world… more on that in another blog post!

Rather than philosophize in words my experience and thoughts, here are some black and white sketchnotes from the conference opening by keynote speaker Louis Gomez:



Ultimately, how do we truly practice and lead by example in the field of education? How do we not only have a good idea, AND pull it off??

Watch the entire keynote speech here. (Louis is introduced around the 49 minute mark).

highlights from a graphic recording workshop at the NY PEACE institute

DRAW IT OUT! training at the New York Peace Institute (@NewYorkPeace) is a one day workshop that happens about twice a year. We asked the hard questions, pick up our markers and allow ourselves to be guided by different visual conversations and exercises. It’s definitely an experiential workshop allowing you to really jump in!  After all, using visuals in our work and play makes extreme sense in our complex lives today so it’s a pretty cool skill to have. (Yes, it’s true. I’m biased, so I’ll let you decide for yourself!)

Last spring we connected by sharing the last moment that a visual had an impact on us:

We had a blast getting familiar with drawing (after a long time for some of us):

And we tried out graphic recording!

THANK YOU, thank you and thank you. I can’t say enough what kind of courage it takes to jump right in and do this work! Y’all are AMAZING PEOPLE! Thanks for joining me in listening while we draw, and finding ways that this work can help you. It’s inspiring to me!! Draw on!

Also a huge SHOUT OUT and THANK YOU to the amazing folks at the NY Peace Institute. Y’all are some of the downright most amazing folks doing humbling work. Thanks for all the hard work you do to help people find peace! The world needs more of you.


What is graphic recording?  - Here’s a blog post from way back when that begins to address this question.

Why bother with visual thinking? - slide for your perusal

NY Peace Institute - I love the NewYorkPeace Institute tagline, “Let us get in the middle.” These guys are rock star mediators helping humans peacefully resolve their issues, one meeting at a time. Oh, and they offer amazing trainings and lots of free services. It’s always a blast to attend one of their events too!

Interested in attending the next one? - you’re in luck

We had so much fun at our last Graphic Recording Workshop, that we’re doing it again on November 1, 2014. Details and registration:

Next training: November 1, 2014 from 9am to 4.30pm in Brooklyn, NY. More at:


Visual Communication Tools online course



You asked for it, so here it is!

VISUAL COMMUNICATION TOOLS is a 3 week online course focusing on how visuals improve our work, cognition and connections to content & people. We will learn to draw our notes, begin to ‘read’ other’s visuals & find applications for visual communication in a setting that feels comfortable to you.

We start next week on Thursday, June 12! Join us!

There are 5 two hour sessions and 2 optional labs with minimal work between sessions. There will be activities involving reflecting, writing, and drawing. No drawing experience necessary!

Details & instructions for registration via:

Looking for some reasoning or inspiration to join us? Check out Sunni Brown’s TED talk on why doodling really is helpful in many situations! 


a brilliant Socrates’ quote


drawing of Socrates w talk bubble quote

This brilliant quote makes me smile. It’s not that I didn’t learn from my teachers or that I wish to disrespect anyone who identifies with the profession. Please don’t take it that way. I realize there are lots of existing assumptions about education from many perspectives. I’ll simply share some thoughts and ask a few questions.

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” – Socrates

“…and ask them to draw!” is my addition to this quote. I identify with this quote. From my perspective I see a greater need for facilitating and learning (regardless of your title or position) rather than attempting to ‘teach’. Let’s together ask questions without answers and draw out possibilities. Let’s focus on things that matter to us & connect subjects & content as it is in the world. Even for those things that don’t seem so important at first, where can they fit? How can we at least use methods to connect content with ways of facilitating where learning can happen at a greater pace and depth than some of our traditional school system suggests? Perhaps exploring some of the following questions can help us begin to explore this one.

When do you do your most intense thinking? Do you generally learn from that thinking? If you’re a teacher (or facilitator), what about your students?

What problem do you/they (i.e. students/clients…) have and what questions do you/they have about that problem if you/they look at it from a new perspective?

What has been your/their biggest learning thus far in life? What was present in the environment that helped that learning occur? Who was there? How did it feel?

What makes you/them think? How do you/they learn best?

Draw it out!