About Bob Murphy

Upper School Principal at The Walker School in Marietta, Georgia.

Techno Bobby’s Take on “Public and Permanent”

In our office, I am known as “Techno Bobby.” This is neither a compliment nor a resounding endorsement of my technological skills and knowledge, but rather a lack thereof. For me to offer insight or wisdom about social media is comparable to me writing about knitting – I have little experience with one and none with the other. However, I did have three takeaways from our recent “Public and Permanent” assembly and parent program on social media presented by Richard Guerry from The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication. What stood out to me after both presentations was how our children and students receive little preparation, information, or discussion on the power and possibilities of hand held technology.

My first takeaway was the comparison of handing a teenager the keys to a car without providing any form of driver training and the only experience being having watched someone else drive to handing that same teenager an iPhone or similar device with no discussion about capability and responsibility. As I was listening, memories came back of my learning to drive our 1958 four-speed bubble-top Volvo. I was grounded in the basics on the family Buick with an automatic transmission, but not in learning to drive a stick shift car. That experience came when my dad tossed me the keys to the Volvo; he told me to go get my friend, Fred McMahon (he had a Volkswagon so he knew how to use the clutch), and go practice. Thinking back to that Saturday many years ago, a smile came to my face as I recalled the policeman who pulled up behind us on a small hill and laughed as I dribbled the car across the intersection. My learning to shift gears by the trial and error method was not much different than what has happened to a whole group of teenagers who have been given a device that provides immediate access to vast amounts of information and connection to a whole world of people they know and do not know. My generation of adults has tossed them the keys to technology and said, “Go practice.”

The second was, where will young people get the technology version of a driver’s education program where they learn the “rules of the road,” get some practice before we let them “drive on their own,” and give them plans on what to do “in case of an emergency”? Parents can do part and the School can do part, but (I will paraphrase what our student and parents were told in both programs), “We cannot prepare everyone for everything that will be on the web, every app that will be downloaded, or each game that will be played. Technology is a tool. What we can provide are the knowledge and skills to make good choices in the material searched, apps downloaded and games played. The rest is up to the individual.”

My third takeaway was no matter what we want to believe, our digital footprint prevents us from being truly “anonymous” regardless of what we are told or want to believe. There are ways for those we care about and those we do not know to see the technological decisions or choices we make. That very topic was part of a National Public Radio story the morning after Mr. Guerry was on campus. In both messages, emphasis was placed on the reality that is will become increasingly difficult for people to be “anonymous” in a technology driven world.

To continue the driving and technology analogy, when our children get their license and go out into the world without us riding shotgun in the car with them, we remind them to drive carefully, make good choices, and keep out of sketchy situations. What would happen if each family created its own phrase to convey the same message about the expanding world of technology and the many different choices to be made? If my son and daughter were teenagers right now, Techno Bobby’s ongoing words might be, “Respect the tremendous power of the device you have, do not post anything you would not want your grandmother to see, and remember there is no anonymity – what you say or do is ‘Public and Permanent.'”

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Valuing the Experience over the Applause

As I watched the many different events in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I thought of the words appearing in Walker’s mission and promise statement – the importance of valuing the experience over the applause. Many of the skaters, skiers, hockey players, and curlers went to the competitions hoping to medal, but realistically knew their chances were slim-to-none. No one expected the Jamaican bobsled to be on the medal stand (the applause), but many of us enjoyed the story of how hard they worked just to be able compete in the Olympics (the experience) and how the last minute generosity of many allowed them to be there. I feel somewhere over time we shifted from encouraging participation and recognizing there were winners and losers to encouraging participation and everyone receiving a trophy.

I frequently hear students make comments about not wanting to take a challenging class because a higher grade could be earned in one less demanding, not wanting to audition for a play because of not being able to have a major role, or not wanting to play a sport unless being guaranteed a starting spot or major playing time. I hope we have not reached a point where many of our young people miss the joy of competing; learning how to do your best is healthy and not walking away with a medal is not losing. During the Games, we witnessed athletes achieve a PR or a PB. These athletes were not in medal contention, but instead, they were competing against the clock, a previous score, or themselves…and in that competition they won!

While channel surfing in the evenings, my wife and I sometimes tune in to HGTV’s “House Hunters.” I often think about the number of young couples looking for their dream first home with cavernous bathrooms, granite counter tops in a chef-styled kitchen, and a “man cave.” I do want each couple to have that dream home some day, but I wonder if they are missing out on the experience of having cinder blocks with 1×6 boards as shelves or gathering with friends one night and pooling leftovers because the next paycheck is several days away.

Many of the memories we tend to value in later years are of times when we did not have everything we wanted or had to put off getting what we wanted. Some of the greatest gifts are not when we receive the medal, award, or trophy, but when we choose to show up and value the experience over the applause.

A New Start and High Expectations

The opening few days and weeks of any school year are interesting entities in their own way.  There is the excitement of sharing stories of summer activities, the usual grumbling about being the only one who did not get a desired class, and the promise this will be “the best year ever.”  All of us start the year with high expectations and the ever present hope of avoiding the usual bumps in the road we call high school. 

Of our many different assemblies and meetings designed to set the tone for the year, the one I enjoy the most is our student-led Honor Convocation.  At this assembly, our Honor Council set the bar high for the Upper School community as different members spoke to the four pillars of our Code:  a) “My words will be truthful.  My word is my bond.” b) “I will take and use only that which belongs to me.” c) “My work will be my own.” d) “I will not tolerate violations of these principals by others.”  Every student speaker acknowledged how as humans we are not perfect and we will make mistakes, and spoke to an ultimate goal of being a community where there is not a need for an Honor Council.  In his or her own way, each offered us the challenge to do the right thing when no one is looking and/or when everyone is looking.

 I have been in many student/parent conferences where the son or daughter has said “I never hear about the good I do, I only hear about the bad.”  As one whose glass constantly is “half full,” I believe there is something to be said in sharing the good that is done and the positive expectations rather than using discussions of the bad or the negative to try to inspire the behaviors we want.  The good I can share from our first four weeks of classes and the Honor Convocation is that we continue to strive to hold ourselves to a high standard both inside and outside the classroom.

“It’s 10 o’clock…”

As a teenager, the late night news in Oklahoma City started each broadcast with the line “It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are?”  My parents could open the bedroom door and see all four boys were there.  Given the night time opportunities in Midwest City, Oklahoma during the mid-60’s, we were home and usually in bed or finishing up homework.  Social media has taken what once was simple and made it much more difficult.  Like my mother and father, parents today still can check the physical presence of a child, but the different social media sites have added a new dimension to knowing “where your children are” or where they have been.  In my teenage years, we passed a note intended to be seen by one person who knew the author.  Those private handwritten messages have been replaced by much less private communications on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.  Postings to those or similar sites have the potential of being seen by many more people, both known and unknown to the writer, and carry a much, much greater social cost.

Here is an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on October 4, 2012 titled “Web Profiles Haunt Students.”  I hope you will take a moment to read the article and have a teachable moment discussion with your child.  Even though the teenage years are when we feel most bulletproof, my fear for each of our students is the ramifications of a poor choice in photo, word, or comment.

Since you will not find me on Facebook or Twitter, and this will be the only social media site I use, I will tweak the Oklahoma City news intro of the 60’s to be “It’s 10 o’clock, do you know what is on your child’s social media page(s)?”