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Graphic Scribing in CFG Training

[Note: this blog post originally appeared on the NSRF blog]

By Luci Englert McKean, NSRF Assistant Director and International Facilitator

Back in February I had the pleasure of having Julia Reich of Stone Soup Creative participate— in unusual and beautiful ways — in my Critical Friends Group Coaches’ Training in Bloomington, Indiana. 

A talented graphic designer and graphic recorder, Julia and I met a few months earlier at a business-and-technology conference, where we bonded over artisan cider and a love of learning.  We quickly became friends, and when I introduced her to the power of Critical Friends Group work over French press coffee later, we worked out a deal:  I included her as a trainee in our February Open Training for CFG Coaches, and in addition to her personal notes she created in her own notebook, she created several amazing 4’ x 8’ diagrams (illustrations? charts? all of the above?) of our training days, for the benefit of NSRF.  I’ll share a few images here, but they’re even more amazing life-size.

Image copyright Julia Reich.  This image, unfinished in February with the intention of finishing it on the last days of training, reflects the flow of a standard, in-person five-day New Coaches’ Training.  Day one is about Building Trust, whether it’s between strangers or by deepening relationships between colleagues. Day two continues that process and introduces the concept of Giving and Receiving Feedback effectively as we move into protocols to improve our work. Day three is the Day of Dilemmas in which we help our new Critical Friends look in new ways at the problems they have been struggling with.  Day four traditionally is largely when the participants practice leading protocols, and Day five focuses on participants’ plans for taking CFG work forward into their own practice.  The spiral line represents how, with each new group or audience, this pattern cycles: building trust, practicing effective feedback in protocols, fine-tuning materials, working with dilemmas, brainstorming, and continuing the work.

It was a bit of a risk for me, I’ll admit:  Julia’s gorgeous work would be on display as it was being created just a few feet away from where I was standing to deliver the actual training.  I worried that my trainees might get so caught up in Julia’s artwork (and her “performance” generating it) that they may not have listened to what I was teaching. But I found the opposite was true:  Julia was making the training visual in a way that enhanced rather than replaced the training itself.  Her work helped participants stay engaged when fatigue would naturally occur (sitting in a hotel conference room for 8 hours a day, paying attention and participating, all under fluorescent lights, is hard work!). Further, I believe Julia’s work helped them “lock in” the experience.

Image by Rachel Hartley-Smith, copyright NSRF.  Left to right:  Luci Englert McKean of NSRF is modeling a preconference with Jessica Yoder of the Indiana Department of Education, while Julia Reich looks on, listening attentively.

Julia has written about the experience from her point of view (see “5 Things I Learned About Team-Building While Scribing”), and I wanted to write about the impact of these visuals upon me and the participants of this training.

Julia’s listening to capture the essence of an idea before putting pen to paper modelled the same sort of reflection in others (including me).  While I’m taking notes in a training or a class, I tend to write down All The Words I Can.  In contrast, while Julia’s scribing included a lot of words, she captured the essence of each protocol and activity with considerably fewer words but often with graphics or imagery that helps her — and others — remember what they’ve learned.  She was visibly present in her process, not madly scribbling everything down.

Image copyright Julia Reich.  Elements of Julia’s large graphic identify key ingredients in Dilemma protocols:  the overarching importance of probing questions to the process, the values gathered from focused listening, offering both warm and cool feedback, the importance of creating space between one’s reaction and reflection, and the point of helping deepen and broaden the presenter’s thoughts about the matter.

She practiced the Art of Listening and demonstrated her understanding of what was shared before inserting her own ideas and viewpoints into the dialogue.  As protocols are designed to more thoroughly share an understanding of the problem before suggesting ways to solve it, Julia’s graphics and her participation during protocols modelled listening without prejudging and without leaping toward possible solutions. It was completely obvious to everyone in attendance that Julia wasn’t simply “making pretty pictures on a page,” but that her scribing was with the intention of recording the essential elements of what she was learning.

Caption:  Image copyright Julia Reich.  Compass points iconography

Individuals drawing in their notebooks can be an excellent thing, not a problem.  In addition to the huge posters, Julia also shared some of the graphic notes she made for herself in her own notebook. Reviewing these gave me a giant Aha moment: some students aren’t “just doodling” in their notebooks, but capturing key ideas to help them remember the lecture or presentation. Her personal realizations from the Compass Points Activity was one such example.

Everybody knew that the graphics weren’t the point of the training, nor were they expected to create such graphics themselves. And yet we all recognized how the graphics added power.  Some of the participants (and I) recognized how even adding simple icons could help visual thinkers “lock in” the definition of new jargon. 

Wrapping it up with a bow (several meanings of the word)

As someone who’s always been more comfortable with words than graphics, allow me to indulge in multiple definitions of my concluding headline. 

If you have the opportunity to work with a skilled Graphic Recorder, I encourage you to do so for three reasons.  The resulting artwork can be thought of as “all wrapped up with a bow,” a valuable and lovely gift.  I also love to think of Julia’s graphics as an “archery bow” that launches forth these ideas to a faraway target:  I hope that these (and other images I’ll share in future posts and marketing materials) help engage new audiences who will be more interested in Critical Friends Group work and Coaches’ Training.  Last, I offer an “honorific bow” of humble gratitude to Julia because her work helped make me (and more importantly, the training) look better, it helped me think better about my training practice as it was reflected back to me, it helps me plan better for my next opportunity to teach or train others, in which I will now teach using words that may be represented graphically in individuals’ own notebooks. 

It was my pleasure to collaborate with Julia, and I look forward to more opportunities to do so, even as we (finally!) have the opportunity to complete this training via Zoom.

Image copyright Julia Reich.  The author with Julia’s artwork in the background.)