We had the good fortune of connecting with Emily Murphy and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emily, what role has risk played in your life or career?
In my personal life, I would generally describe myself as risk-averse. I love having a plan and knowing what to expect. The stock market scares me (no judgement). However, in many ways, taking risks has defined my career. I’m a big believer in trusting your gut when making decisions about work. There have been a number of points during my working life when I have chosen the less-obvious path, or perhaps made a decision that seemingly doesn’t make sense, but each of these choices felt right in the moment. I think it’s important to recognize that my privileged upbringing gave me the space to take these risks, especially early on; I knew that I had a safety net to fall back on and family to support me if something went wrong. This gave me the freedom to push the boundaries and follow a path that may not have always looked clear from the outside, but always felt right to me. For example, when applying for my first job after graduate school, I ended up with two offers – one as a classroom teacher in a smaller, less established school, and one as a teaching intern at a much bigger and more well respected school. The classroom teacher position made a lot more sense – after all, I had spent 12 months training for exactly that job. The pay was better and I would have been given a lot more autonomy. But as I thought about my options, something told me that the teaching intern position was the right choice for me. I was perhaps putting my personal career progression on hold, but I would be putting myself in a position to learn from the best and continue to grow as an educator. I still consider this one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; I took that intern job, but the night before the first day of school, one of the teachers had to go on leave and I was asked to fill her role. I spent three years at that school, working with some of the best educators in the world and getting the opportunity to hone my skills in an incredibly supportive, innovative, and inspiring environment.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I became a teacher because I believe that every child deserves a high-quality education. My first teaching experience was as a volunteer at a juvenile detention center school in Tacoma, WA, where I went to university. Twice a week, I would head over to the school and spend the afternoon helping students with their reading homework. There was so much turnover that, within two weeks, I was the most experienced teacher in the program. I was 20 years old and most of my students were 16 or 17; we weren’t far apart in age, but were worlds apart in experience. I was left with the overriding feeling that we should be doing better for these kids; they deserved the same opportunities and resources as every other student.
After graduating from university, I spent the next decade working in a variety of schools around the world, including international schools and public schools. Each experience was unique and taught me loads about how kids learn and how I can best support them. It was definitely a process; I remember someone telling me that in your first year, the kids learn in spite of you, in your second year, they learn with you, and in your third year, they learn because of you. That was absolutely true! I improved my practice and further developed my philosophy of education. No matter where I worked – whether it was an independent school in Italy or Belgium, or an inner-city public school in California or London – I found that there was one unifying trend among parents and teachers: we all want what’s best for our kids. Keeping this in mind has helped me focus my work on what will actually improve the quality of learning for my students and ensure that every student I work with feels as though they can accomplish anything. I’ve worked hard to develop my own growth mindset, and have tried to encourage that in every student I’ve worked with, as well.
I was an elementary school teacher for 11 years. It’s still difficult for me to say “was” – I only recently left teaching and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. It sounds like a platitude, but being a teacher was part of my identity; giving that up meant losing a part of who I was. Teaching was never easy, but it was incredibly fulfilling and I loved it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you guide a student as they develop new skills or achieve a goal. However, for years I had been struggling with the feeling that my impact was limited. I was frustrated with the bureaucracy, constraints, and limited resources of public school teaching, and I wanted a job that allowed me to create change on a bigger scale.
Moving to edtech was definitely a risk. I had interned for different organizations in college but since graduating, I’d only ever worked in schools. In addition, I am not a tech person – sure, I’m confident using Microsoft Office and can force-quit a program that’s not responding, but anything more complicated than that and I’m calling in the professionals. Edtech seemed like this big, scary thing that I liked using but only really understood from a distance. That being said, once I found Atom Learning and starting speaking with the team, I knew that it was the right fit for me.
Atom’s mission is to provide a world-class education for all children. It’s an adaptive learning platform that helps children master key subjects and prepare for independent school exams. We’ve been in the UK for about three years, and during that time we have helped tens of thousands of kids develop their skills and achieve their goals. We’re now launching in the US and I am thrilled to be able to share this product with my community. Our initial offering is a test prep platform for the ISEE and SSAT entrance exams. It’s maybe not the most glamorous work, but the reality is that students need to take these exams for admission into some of the best schools in LA and across the country; providing all children with top-quality resources that are engaging and effective is one (small) way that we can close the opportunity gap. To that end, we’re partnering with a number of different organizations to help us ensure that every child – regardless of background or socioeconomic level – has access to our product.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Having spent so many years living outside of LA, my perfect LA itinerary basically revolves around eating at all of the places I loved growing up. I also have two small kids, and I know how tricky traveling with littles can be, so I’ve tried to include some child-friendly recommendations, as well. If you had a weekend…
On Saturday, leave the kids with the grandparents for the day – you deserve a bit of a break! Head to John O’Groats on Pico for breakfast (you must try the biscuits, and I’d recommend the Huevos O’Groats, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu). Sit at the counter, enjoy the endless flow of coffee, and chat with any of the regulars who join you. Then head to the beach (Station 26 in Santa Monica if you want something close by, but go for Malibu if you have the time), but make sure to stop at Bay Cities for sandwiches on the way. Spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun and reading before heading back for dinner. For me, my go-to meal is always the spinach and artichoke dip followed by a grilled chicken salad at South Beverly Grill. (If you remember the original Century City, Houston’s was always my family’s favorite restaurant; now that it’s gone, we either go to South Beverly Grill in Beverly Hills or Hillstone in Santa Monica.)
On Sunday (let’s call it “Kids’ Day”), start your day at Clementine – the cinnamon roll is incredible but anything involving a baked good would be great. Then head east to Griffith Park – if you’ve got kids, the pony ride, petting zoo, and trains are so fun and a great way to spend a morning. Afterwards, head back to the Westside for lunch at The Apple Pan. It’s been there for decades and is full of character. The steakburger with cheese, a side of fries (served in a paper cone), and a slice of chocolate cream pie is maybe one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had. After lunch, stop by Children’s Book World, one of the few remaining independent bookshops in West LA and a mecca for children’s literature of all kinds. Let the kids pick out a few books before driving west to visit the Cayton Children’s Museum at the Santa Monica Place. It’s absolutely perfect for kids of all ages – loads of different play spaces and installations that inspire imaginative exploration. Pop into Don Antonio’s for dinner on the way home – the old-school dining room is super funky and fun, but there’s a great little patio at the back, too. Get home early for movie night – pop some popcorn and turn on The Sandlot (not only one of the greatest baseball movies of all time, but also a great LA movie).
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to dedicate my shoutout to my best friend, Aryanne Swann. Aryanne is another LA-native; we met in elementary school and have been friends ever since. Over the past 25 years, Aryanne has been my confidant, collaborator, sounding board, and cheerleader. She has encouraged me to challenge myself and has believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. She has also inspired me endlessly in the time I’ve known her; seeing the impact she’s made in her career motivated me to make the jump and start working in edtech.