Posted by: Tom Ross | January 27, 2012

Visual Thinking Strategies for Career Coaching Presented by the Career Café. Part 2: Maps

“It’s easier to organize your thoughts if you can see them.”

This series of webinars presented by the Career Café is designed to help counselors and teachers give students simple tools that will help guide their thinking when making career choices.

In the second workshop in this series, Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career,” revealed several different approaches to a strategy called mapping or mind-mapping, that Dr. Brooks describes as “a systems type of thinking which allows the students to see order, ideas, themes, and concepts related to their lives. They can see how seemingly disparate parts connect and fit to make a whole, and they often uncover hidden thoughts and information about themselves..” So it is a tool that can help a student see the big picture: the ideas, themes, events, and characteristics of one’s life and personality that, when connections are found between them, bring a kind of order to the chaos.

Random thoughts and feelings, life events, likes and dislikes or even New Year’s resolutions, all laid out in a simple drawing, can help a student who feels confused and find connections that point in a meaningful direction. Google “mind mapping” and click on Images, and you’ll be surprised how many ways there are to approach mapping.

Depending on your resources—or how compulsive you are—you can either begin with a prepared blank map of connected squares, more or less like this:

Or you can simply draw a stick person in the middle of a blank page and surround it by circles.

For example, let’s say to a student: What interests you? Ask the student to draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and put a stick figure in it to represent herself. Then ask her to fill in the rest of the page with words describing what she likes to do or her hobbies or her interests. Then she circles each item, and you have a page of balloons floating around the image that represents her.

The next step is to connect them in any way that makes sense on any level. It could be things related to sports or things she does alone or things she does in a group or family things or just interests or the things she wants to do someday. The number of types of connections is limited only by her imagination. A career professional can then help the student see how the “themes” of a map can lead to choosing a major or a career, for example. Often it’s hard for them to see those connections on their own.

Here’s an example of a map after the connection have all been made (click on the image to enlarge it):

Studying the map together you can help the student see many things:

  • She likes reading, poetry, and foreign languages and movies
  • She is interested in marine biology, fish, snorkeling, and Hawaii
  • She has an affinity for physical sciences as well
  • She has experience teaching and counseling
  • She likes sports: surfing, snorkeling, swimming, biking
  • She likes to cook and eat and listen to music
  • She likes animals, fish, dogs, marine biology

From this list, the student can see her strengths and interests very clearly. It’s a beginning.

Mapping can take the form of a tree with many branches, a collage of images and words cut from magazines, or a “wandering map,” which is a mixture of drawings and words around a theme that looks more like graffiti but nonetheless lends itself to connections.

If mapping is a classroom activity, low student self-esteem isn’t an issue: this is not a presentation; the teacher works with the students individually. If the student’s words and images are overwhelmingly negative, the counselor can go for the positive: how did you overcome these? How amazing is it you are here in spite of this?

It’s about exploration.

If you have similar or equally effective career coaching strategies, as always, I offer you this forum. I’ll be happy to help you post your story.

Don’t forget that the third workshop in the Career Café series takes place at noon today, Friday January 27 . Sign up here. And join the discussion and keep up to date with events at the Career Café Ning.

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