The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak to a guy who defies categorization, my good friend Stepan Pruchnicky. Where some leaders in education make a name for themselves in easily definable areas, Stepan is in a constant state of evolution and exploration. You can have as deep and passionate a conversation with him about music, the great outdoors, dumplings, or the best urban commuter bike, as you can about assessment, pedagogical documentation, or numeracy. Stepan exemplifies the professional whose identity transcends just his formal job description. To interact with him is to be lead down a beautiful corridor of connections to ideas and disciplines that you didn’t even know could be in the same ballpark. Most of all, to know Stepan is to share stories. As his Twitter bio states, there is much we can learn from “the quirks which make us human.”
How do you pay the bills?
I’m a TCDSB teacher that is currently seconded to work as a Student Work Study (SWS) Teacher. SWS is a Ministry of Education funded research project that tries to gain insight into student learning through student learning. I get to spend a lot of time over analyzing work and talking to kids about school. Work samples and conversations act as provocations for collaborative inquiry with host/classroom teachers. That inquiry leads to co-reflection, co-learning, co-planning, co-teaching. It’s a pretty great gig. I get paid to talk, wonder, dream and try new stuff.
What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?
I think I have two. Yoga and cooking.
I practice yoga about 3 or four times a week (during the school year… I try to up it to five in the summer). I have been practicing yoga for about six years now. It’s a chance for me to completely tune into one thing. To be completely present.
Cooking is the same, but different. It’s a chance to create. To be in the moment. To smell, to taste, to adjust and amplify flavours. At the end of a long day, coming home, putting on some music and cooking help me to center and re-balance myself.
What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?
My current phone is an iPhone 5s. I’m probably going to run it into the ground… or use it until an OS update makes it feel sluggish. Then I’ll probably get the newest iPhone. I run on Apple. It’s not the be-all/end-all, I just think that matching devices make syncing so much easier.
Having said that, I do miss my Nokia brick. It was so durable. I remember dropping it down two flights of stairs once. And the battery lasted forever! I have three friends that have recently chosen to go back to flip phones. They carry tablets with them so that they can access apps and the web, but the phone itself is just a phone. A little while ago they sat me down and collectively tried to get me to join their club.
What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?
Right now I’m using a MacBook Air. It’s perfect. I love it. In fact, my last class and I named it “The Silver Lady” because “she’s beautiful”. Given that I move around so much (I ride transit and take my bike everywhere in the city), I needed something light. The Silver Lady was a perfect fit.
What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?
My digital workflow is pretty basic. I live and die by my calendar. I use iCal, but I also have it synced to google calendars. I need to be able to check that from anywhere. If I carried a paper calendar and lost it, I would be up a “certain” creek… no paddle.
I also use Evernote a whole lot. It lets me store and tag (or we can call it “code” if we want to sound all researchy) my notes, ideas, documentation of student thinking/learning. Evernote makes everything so much easier to track and find. At the end of the year when I write my supposition (a report that discusses compelling findings from the year), I’d be lost without it.
Finally, I made a pretty big analogue shift this year. I’ve offloaded a lot of my thinking to a notebook (a sexy black moleskin… no lines!). The notebook is a stream of consciousness sort of place. Every day or two, I’ll take ideas from my notes and add them to Evernote. That little bit of workflow is reflective and super meta. It lets me think about my thinking. What did I miss? Was it really all that important? What can I add to it now? The notebook is also a place for me to collect all of the post-it notes that I write. It’s full of stuck on lists that I can move around a re-prioritize.
Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?
I actually looked at the home screen of my phone for this.
First a Spotify and Shazam combo. I really love music, and I really love digging into music. What is that song? What else sounds like it? What else has the artist written?
Also Twitter. In fact, I think that without twitter I might have quit teaching a while ago. It’s a place where I get new ideas and connect with people.
Finally, from a purely logistical place, the triple threat of Google Maps, Rocket Man and Uber. Maps to figure out where I’m going (like I said, SWSTs are on the road… all the time). Rocket man to plan it out. And Uber in case of emergency 😉
How do you carry your gear?
I have a Mary Poppins-esque backpack (pic – collage). My work is so nomadic. I need to have everything with me all of the time. It’s all meticulously sorted. Everything in it’s right place. Contents (from front to back).
Pocket 1 – Hygiene: deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, bandaids, mints, Advil, chapstick.
Pocket 2 – Hardware Bits: pencil case full of writing implements, pencil case full of different wires and dongles, glasses, post-it notes, emoji stickers.
Pocket 3 – TCDSB pass… It’s a small pocket.
Pocket 5 – Laptop… sometimes an iPad instead.
Side Pocket: Small water bottle.
*Fun fact – I drink more water because of the small bottle. I make sure to drink one bottle before lunch, another at lunch, then one more before I go home.
What other hardware rarely leave your bag?
It’s all there… all the time. This is strictly a “school bag”. I leave it like this so I don’t have to think about packing/unpacking/repacking.
What piece(s) of analogue technology is a must in your life?
Records and books.
I prefer books to digi reading. I like the feel, the smell and the defiant/rebellious act of writing in them.
Records are kind of the same… When it’s time to listen to a record, that’s what I do. There’s no compression. The songs sound better. Also, I like flipping them (side A and side B). I like the crackle of old records. I like how big they are. I like the covers. I like holding them and flipping through them. I recently heard about the vinyl collection at the Toronto Public Library. This summer, one of my goals is to explore it!
What drink, snack, or food sits next to you when you’re being creative?
Is it strange that I don’t eat anything? In fact, when I’m really in the zone, long periods of time will pass without any kind of sustenance.… which is weird because I really LOVE food.
When working, do you prefer the cafe, library, couch, office, kitchen table, or other?
I have two spots. My dining room table and my basement. The problem with the basement is that it’s pretty much my favourite part of the house. It’s my happy place. I’m easily distracted down there.
When working, do you need quiet, ambient noise, speakers, or headphones?
Over the past few years, I have definitely shifted to quiet. I wonder if that’s because of age? Maybe it’s because so much of my day is chatty and loud? Maybe it’s showing a better awareness of self (have I been like this all along?)? Maybe it’s yoga brainwashing me into a more present state of mind?
Whatever the reason, it’s a recent-ish development. I used to really love working to music. I loved ambient noise, and even loud environments.
If it’s one of the latter two, what’s on your playlist?
Morning, afternoon, evening, or the witching hour?
How do you get from idea to shipping that idea?
States of hyper-awareness (reading, watching, listening), then daydreaming. Then lots of post-its, and drawing. My team often laughs because mid conversation/meeting/moment I will frantically grab at a pen to write something. It’s kind of like a fit that happens. I need to write the idea down ASAP because I’m afraid that I’ll lose it. Later I’ll expand on those ideas. I usually start my writing in the Mac Notes program (It’s a non-committal space for me). I’ll draft and redraft. I’ll write and delete. When I like what I see, I’ll publish to my blog. The same general process applies to lessons and project ideas, renovations (which I’m currently gearing up for), gardening, designing.
What’s one piece of advice you have for people that have difficulty with their workflow?
Try not to multitask. We’re lying to ourselves when we say we’re good at it. Nobody’s good at multitasking. Every time we add tasks we actually dilute our attention and focus. Eventually, that adds up. Most of the time we can handle it, we just experience a bit of fatigue or strain (a mild headache)… which are signals of cognitive overloading. But really, whatever you’re doing while multitasking is not being done at an optimal level. Make a conscious effort to avoid multitasking for a while. You might never go back.
How can we find and connect with you online?