The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak to a good friend of mine, Brandon Zoras. I first met this OG after being intrigued with the way he was fusing science education and hip hop to teach urban youth. Rarely do you meet educators like him who merge a love for educational technology with a commitment to being an ally to marginalized people. Currently seconded to the Ontario Ministry of Education, Brandon continues to prove that you can take the man off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the man.
How do you pay the bills?
I work 2 jobs! During the day, I am a TDSB teacher seconded to the Ministry of Education and I also keep up my part time job at the City of Toronto, Parks and Rec! Since I was 16 I always worked 2 or more jobs at a time to pay the bills and for school. In the summer, I also teach summer school. I worked at a pharmacy, parks and rec, the LCBO, Bell and a flea market booth for my uncle. I have done some consulting as well on education.
What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?
I do get paid to teach so that, I guess, doesn’t count but I would say all the extracurricular things a teacher does isn’t really part of the pay but that is debatable 🙂 Being able to connect with students outside of the 90-minute class is amazing. So something outside of teaching that brings me loads of happiness would be being with friends and family. With my mom passing away this year at the age of 54 I realized that the only thing that really matters is the quality and time spent with family and friends.
What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?
I have the iPhone 6S. I need something that keeps me up to date in the world and allows me to get work done on the go. I still miss my first phone the Nokia 5190 complete with the snake game and interchangeable faceplates…can’t do that on an iPhone 🙂 I think I am going to be tied to Apple forever for a phone as the cloud works so well with my MacBook and iPad. That being said I have ALL of the Google Apps on my phone. The phone is just the tool and it is the apps that really make it. You won’t ever find me commenting on an article or forum debating if Apple or Android is better.
What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?
I have a Macbook Pro from 2009. It is still kicking strong after a battery replacement and some RAM upgrades. I don’t miss the other PC Laptops I had before, they broke easy and slowed down way too fast. I am hoping my next will be a mac without the CD drive. It is all about portability and power. Usually, when working on projects it’s volunteers and just getting things done. We need to edit docs together, make posters and edit photos and videos so I need something with some power. Hooking up Virtual DJ to the Smart Board and just messing around at lunch with the kids is also why I like it.
What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?
The best app I have on my phone is Wunderlist! This is a productivity powerhouse. I use it for work, personally and with family. Being able to track due dates and to do lists is great in real time across multiple devices. You can have joint lists with colleagues at work or shopping lists shared with your partner. I highly recommend it and it is free!
Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?
Two apps I find myself clicking on without even realizing I am clicking is Facebook and Twitter. On my phone, I actually turned off mobile data on Facebook because it was sucking up 1 GB a month! Twitter I like checking to see what is going on and keeping in touch with people, so that one I don’t regret checking. Facebook is something I don’t need to check often but it is just a habit. I had an interesting conversation about how tech has changed where people would set aside time to read the paper or check their email or facebook but now it isn’t about setting that time it is about multitasking and fitting it in on commutes or wherever!
How do you carry your gear?
I am a huge fan of messenger bags! I think it is a fault though as when I pack I pack way too many things “just in case”. When I was on my flight to Taiwan one summer to teach I had a million things in my carry on because I wanted to have it in case I needed it. Really I only took out one book and my iPad but the comfort of the bag was what I needed!
What other hardware rarely leave your bag?
Usually to work I carry an iPad Mini and or my MacBook. I am hoping with more wifi and better cloud options it will be less devices. I always have a battery power pack with me as we all know how quick iPhone loses battery! The headphones are another must! I have a random spaghetti mess of cords, business cards, a book that I am trying to finish. When I am going out on a weekend usually the iPad is replaced with my camera! I have a Canon t4i. I love taking photos.
What piece(s) of analogue technology is a must in your life?
I have been trying to rock a notebook… like a paper notebook…so I go and buy a fancy one from a store and I use it for 3-4 days and then I lose the groove. I am sad to report I don’t have anything analogue that is a part of my daily life! Do pens count? In that case, I will admit a huge thing I have a ton of and that is Muji pens! Go to the Muji store near Yonge and Dundas and experience the magic for yourself of how nice these pens are. With so many sizes and colours, you can’t go wrong!
What drink, snack, or food sits next to you when you’re being creative?
Bubble Tea…the perfect drink, snack and or food all in one haha. Lychee QQ from Chatime has to be a favourite. I get one to go and head to a library, school, work or home and think to the refreshing taste 🙂 When I am trying to plan, come up with some ideas if it is a group or alone the atmosphere of nice coffee shop helps. So I would say a cappuccino and being able to take in the white noise, the smell of espresso roasting and just the chill environment helps.
When working, do you prefer the cafe, library, couch, office, kitchen table, or other?
I am pretty good anywhere I go but the main factor is what is my schedule for the day. If I know i have to go out in an hour I have a hard time sitting down to start doing something creative because I know there is an end. The best is when I don’t have something to rush off to. I can do this at a cafe or sitting on my couch with a lap desk with my Boston Terrier cuddling up beside me.
When working, do you need quiet, ambient noise, speakers, or headphones?
Quiet environments usually creep me out. If classrooms are too quiet that scares me or places to get work done are dead silent I get distracted. I am good with some background ambient noise but usually I put on some instrumentals. Oddisee has some amazing instrumental albums with some great beats. Songza was awesome to throw on when I didn’t want to think of what to play next. Got to transfer over to Google Play or start that Apple Music trial now, though.
If it’s one of the latter two, what’s on your playlist?
Like I mentioned earlier it is Oddisee! I think a favourite is The Beauty in All http://theconscioustip.com/oddisee-the-beauty-in-all-album-stream/ Mellow Music group has some amazing artists to their label. I also like instrumentals from the 90’s hip-hop ara. If I need to focus I can’t have lyrics, but when I want to listen to good music, I am good blasting hip hop from all years with lyrics.
Morning, afternoon, evening, or the witching hour?
Morning is my best time. I feel refreshed and usually, my mind doesn’t turn off at night so as I was laying there at night thinking I can put all those ideas to work in the morning. On Sundays, I work at a rec centre at 6:30 AM. Once I get my duties done I get to work on things from planning to course work to just new ideas.
How do you get from idea to shipping that idea?
I think this really happens when you meet the right people. None of my ideas are out to make money. Everything I have done as a cool idea or event has been about making students schooling or lives better. From the EdAppHack I did with Joseph Romano and Joseph Wilson to the Free Your Mind Hip Hop STEMposium. These are all ideas that I know will ultimately help student learning so my energy goes into overdrive. I meet up with like minded people and the energy builds and that old saying about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts totally applies here. With the hip hop education event, we had artists and educators building for an amazing event!
What’s one piece of advice you have for people that have difficulty with their workflow?
- Get Wunderlist, this will help prioritize what you need to get done. It also frees your mind from having to remember everything and you get a relief knowing it is all written down somewhere
- Find like minded people to bounce your idea off of. There will be haters, there will be bubble bursters but there will also be supports. Both have pros and cons and sometimes people tell you things just to be nice. Which can be counter productive
- Shift from consumer to creator! Whatever you do, document your journey through some form of social media! It will allow you to reflect on your journey and also link up with similar people.
How can we find and connect with you online?