Cell Phones in Class – Yes or No?

There are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves.

As part of the Classroom Management Strategis That Work seminar, I ask teachers to brainstorm a list of student behaviors that drive them crazy. Cell phones are always on the list. Always. In fact, I think cell phones may now rival pencil sharpeners for their ability to annoy teachers.

Cell Phones Off and AwayLast week I subbed in a middle school. As I walked through the halls, I saw lots of notices about cell phones – everything from “Keep your electronics off and out of sight” to “No phone zone” to this hilarious Top 10 list.

At this school, there is no rule against cell phones, but plenty of teachers are banning them anyway.

As the students arrived in my class, several of them asked if they could listen to music on their phones during work time. “Our teacher always lets us,” they said, which is middle school code for anything forbidden by the regular teacher that the students sneak around and do anyway.

I realized I needed to come up with a cell phone policy, ASAP. So I said, “I’ll explain my electronics policy after class starts,” which of course was my way of buying time to figure out what I was going to say. Ban cell phones and risk power struggles all period? Allow them and face constant negotiations and monitoring to ensure acceptable use?

My Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan

The thing is, there are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves. Aha! Sounds like a Teach-To to me! And just like that, my Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan was born:

  1. Taught the students the command “Electronics Away!” I told them specifically what I wanted – laptop lids completely closed, earphones out of ears, and phones completely out of sight in a backpack, pocket, or binder. If they followed this command, they would be allowed to use their electronics during appropriate times, such as independent work.
  2. Explained I would revoke individuals’ cell phone privileges if what they were doing was a distraction to me, other students, or themselves. Followed through when needed by saying, “Looks like your phone is distracting your neighbor. I need you to put it away, please.” (No warnings.)
  3. Before independent work time, explained very specifically what was okay, such as music with earphones, and what was not, such as texting. Requested they ask me if in doubt.

It’s true cell phones can be abused by our students. But so can rulers, pencils, glue, markers, paper, scissors, books, and every other educational tool. It’s our job to teach students how to use all tools effectively, including cell phones.

Now it’s your turn. Do you agree that cell phones are appropriate for the classroom? What is your cell phone policy? Feel free to email me, comment in our private Awesome Teacher Nation Facebook Group, or post in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Should Teachers Take Away Fidgets and Toys?

Whirling, twirling gadgets with levers, switches, and knobs

Troll-doll pencil toppers with fluffy pink hair-dos

Modeling clay that snaps, pops, and bounces

Spiky neon squeeze toys that light up and flash

Fidgets and Toys... Should Teachers Take Them Away?If you’ve been a teacher 2 minutes or so, you’ve certainly run across similar items in your classroom. Or if by some miracle you haven’t seen any of these, I bet you’ve seen the Artistic Water Bottle Flip, the Fabulous Ruler Spin, or the Paperclip Deconstruction Project.

A week or so ago I was assisting in a 2nd grade math class, moving from student to student to help them with their work. One cute little guy suddenly zoned off while I was trying to help him, distracted by his panda eraser. Without thinking I said, “If your eraser is going to keep you from listening, I’m going to have to take it away.”

He immediately pulled the eraser protectively to his chest and shouted, “No!” I realized I had just made an empty threat. There was no way I was going to wrestle Mr. Panda away from him, and it wouldn’t have helped him concentrate if I did. So I apologized, assured him I wasn’t going to take the eraser, and kept trying to help him with his math.

But now he was even more distracted. Even though he was trying to listen, his hand still curved protectively around Mr. Panda and he kept glancing at it while he was doing his work. Congratulations, Katrina, you just took a small problem and made it into a big one.

Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down

Is Taking Stuff Away a Good Practice?

This incident got me thinking about the common classroom practice of taking away distractions from students. I admit, I do it all the time, sometimes even without warning. That twirling ruler suddenly disappears off the pencil and reappears on my desk. The neon squeeze toy magically lands in my hand when it’s thrown into the air. Sure enough, taking away the distracting stuff makes the problem go away – most of the time.

Sometimes the cost can be high, though. Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down. Trust can be violated. Parents may become involved. Confiscated items (especially phones) can be lost or stolen. And what seems to be a little trinket to us may have an important emotional significance to the student.

Just to be clear, I never keep students’ possessions very long. I always give them back with a little lecture about putting them away or using them appropriately.

Still… is this a good solution? Even if the offending object is banned by the school, is it a good practice to confiscate it? Probably not.

What Should Teachers Do Instead?

If you don’t take the distraction away, the student is likely to get it out again, right? Is it fair to the other students who may be unable to pay attention while the distraction is going on? And what about our inability to teach effectively if we are worried about whether the fidget toy is going to spin off the desk and hit someone in the eye?

I think there are 3 reasons to take away distracting objects:

  1. When it is an immediate safety issue,
  2. When it has been specifically banned by the school, or
  3. When it pops up like Whac-a-Mole after you’ve asked for it to be put away.

Even then, we need to be careful how and when we take things away from students. Have the students been made aware of the problem and given a chance to fix it? If you must take something away, try to do it with as little drama as possible and be clear how and when the object will be returned. Then make every effort to keep your students’ belongings out of sight in your desk or other safe place.

What About You?

Do you take toys or other distractions away from students? If so, how do you handle it fairly? As always, I’d love to hear from you either in an email, in our Facebook group, or in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Helping Students Manage the Social Cost of Doing the Right Thing

How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet.

Have you ever had to separate students because they were distracting each other? Me too. In fact, it’s a rare day I DON’T find myself saying something along the lines of “Do you think you two can stay focused if you sit together? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to have to separate you.”

That Was a Surprise!

So the astonishing thing that happened the other day wasn’t that I had to separate two students who were goofing around. The astonishing thing was what one of the students said after I moved her. She said, “Thank you, Mrs. Ayres.”

Thank you? How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet. Now, it’s true this student is a teacher’s child. And it’s also true we had a respectful, problem-solving-focused discussion before I moved her. But still – thank you?

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different.

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different. How many are relieved someone intervened, set a limit, and changed the situation so they could course-correct without losing face in front of their friends?

Social Risk

It’s risky for students to tell their friends they want to work instead of talk. They may be afraid of looking like the teacher’s pet. Or they may be worried about hurting their friend’s feelings. By enforcing the rules and following through, we don’t just keep order in our classroom. We also give students a way to make the right choices in a socially acceptable way.

Even if my students sigh and complain when I correct them, I intend to help them out anyway. Who knows how many are silently saying thank you?

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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That Kid You Just Can’t Reach

This kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to do anything you say today,” the 5th grader informed me. “I’m going to have a bad day, and so are you. This is what I always do with subs.”

I was a bit taken aback by his statement. While I imagine a fairly high percentage of students consider a similar plan of action when they see a substitute teacher at the front of the room, most of them don’t actually say so. Especially to my face. And most of them choose to go along with me once I convince them it will be more fun than trying to sabotage me.

I pride myself on my ability to win over and motivate difficult students, so it was especially humiliating that I couldn’t get anywhere with this one. Incentives didn’t work. Logic didn’t work. Being friendly didn’t work. Neither did behavioral momentum, peer pressure, or planned ignoring. When I finally resorted to threats, they didn’t work either.

The rest of the class was great, but this kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

Our Ability to Choose

I am grateful for this student, because he reminded me that one thing we humans all have in common is the ability to choose our actions. We can be encouraged, manipulated, bribed, tricked, or convinced to act, but in the end we all get to decide how we’re going to respond.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And he also said this:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

As educators, we face tremendous challenges every day. There are many things we can’t control. But we can choose where we put our energy and focus, and we can choose to use the situation, however painful, to help us grow.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

What's Going Right?PS – You can change your focus and energy by looking for what’s going right in your situation. Yes, things may be going wrong, but I guarantee you at least one thing is going right! If you are an Awesome Teacher Nation member, feel free to download this coloring sheet from the Educator Resources section of our Resource Library. Not a member yet? You can join here. It’s free!

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