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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Transitions – Save Time With This Simple Mind Shift

We’ve all had transitions go sideways in the classroom. You ask the students to do something simple like put away supplies, and suddenly chaos erupts. The noise level goes way up, the pencil sharpener grinds, and students roam everywhere. And you find yourself spending 10 minutes or more struggling to resettle the class so you can get on with the next thing.

Transitions can spiral out of control even when you explicitly teach the students your expectations and cue correctly. But if this happens often, it can cost you hours of instructional time. Think about it – 10 minutes for each transition of the day times 5 days a week – YIKES!

A Simple Mind Shift to Reclaim Your Transitions

If you’d like to reclaim your transitions, I suggest a simple mind shift. It has to do with your belief about what a transition actually is.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction?

Save Time on Transitions With This Simple Mind ShiftI’ve noticed that students and teachers both tend to think of transitions as break time. Students feel free to get a drink of water, come up and ask questions, and so on. A parent or other adult who would never interrupt a lesson thinks a transition is a good time to start a conversation with the teacher or a student. We ourselves often use transition time as a chance to take a sip of coffee, get our supplies ready for the next lesson, and so on. We are modeling “take a break” by our actions, if not our words.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction? That both you and the students have an important job to do, and that you would no more tolerate an interruption to a transition than you would an interruption in direct instruction?

Definition of Transition

The Dictionary.com definition of transition is “a process or period of changing from one state or condition to another.” Some synonyms are metamorphosis, alteration, and changeover. None of that sounds like break time to me! Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great idea for students and teachers to stay hydrated and to move around once in awhile. But I don’t think every transition needs to turn into a break.

One of the best ways to signal that a transition isn’t a break is to require the transition to be done without talking and/or within a short amount of time. Be active during transitions. Watch what’s happening. Correct students as needed, and reinforce those who are staying focused. If someone tries to talk to you, politely ask them to speak with you during independent work time, or during an actual break.

How to Fix Inefficient TransitionsFree Resource – How to Fix Inefficient Transitions

If your transitions are in need of some spiffing up, I recommend the Target-Challenge-Reward method of fixing inefficient transitions. Awesome Teacher Nation members can download it from the All EducatorsAll Educators section of our Resource Library. Not a member? Get free access here.

 

Katrina Ayres – PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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An Unusual Approach to Stopping Student Misbehavior

Showing genuine appreciation for our students’ gifts, talents, and enthusiasms can melt away their defiant and disruptive behavior. I was taught this lesson not long ago by a high school student.

As a teacher, I’ve received numerous presents and tokens of appreciation, including countless drawings, a few daisy chains, and even a homemade snow globe or two. But one of my most unusual gifts was also one of the most heartfelt. It was a roll of gaffer’s tape, given to me by a student I had never even taught.

This student was kind of geeky. Actually, he was VERY geeky. His principal appreciated his geek skills, and asked him to come to school on his day off and be the “tech guy” for a professional development day where I was speaking.

He did a good job, too. Everything was set up perfectly and worked great. He wasn’t much on the social skills, though, and barely answered when I spoke to him. Until I asked him about the strange brown tape he used to secure the computer cables.

AppreciationHe immediately brightened up and told me all about gaffer’s tape and how great it is. How it doesn’t leave a residue on the floor yet holds the cord down. He told me to get the 3-inch kind, and gave me several suggestions on how to get the best price. He showed me the proper technique for pulling up the tape at the end of the day (you stand on the cable to hold it down, and THEN pull up the tape so that it won’t wrap around the cable and make a big mess.) I thanked him, and told him I appreciated his suggestions, because as a speaker I always worry that someone is going to trip on a cable.

He disappeared into a closet and reappeared with a brand-new roll of tape, which he insisted on giving me. He offered to help me pack up, and carried some of my equipment to the car.

This student’s attitude had changed totally. He went from being a bit surly to being friendly, open, cooperative, and generous. All it took was a little appreciation.

The Transformation

I have seen this transformation happen again and again. When students feel valued by a teacher, the defiance seems to melt away and the cooperation sets in. The key is being genuine and sincere in our appreciation. When you are fake, it will backfire.

So take a look at your disruptive students. What can you genuinely appreciate about them? Is there something they are into or good at that you can take an interest in? Sometimes this approach can take time, especially if there has been a lack of trust in the past. But sometimes it can be instantaneous, like it was with my geeky high school friend.

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The Humiliating Day I Forgot to Show Up For My Sub Job

At the end of the school year, after the books are boxed up, the walls are stripped, and the furniture is stacked, it’s natural to reflect back over the year and think about what went well and what didn’t.

Sometimes these memories are invited, and sometimes they sneak up and pounce on you when you least expect them – such as when you’re cracking open your first-of-the-summer trashy paperback novel or I-don’t-have-to-do-lesson-plans-this-weekend beer.

For me, the unwelcome reflections usually involve some embarrassing and/or completely inexcusable mistake I made. The Humiliating Day I Forgot to Show Up for My Sub JobLike the one I made last week when I totally forgot about a sub job I had committed to. I felt so horrible! I kept blaming myself and reflecting on how much I had inconvenienced everyone from the teacher I was supposed to work for, to the school secretary, to the rest of the staff at the school, to the kids.

Not helpful, really. My self-blame just made me feel worse, and did nothing to make the situation any better. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

Then I started thinking about our students. How do we coach them to deal with mistakes? If it’s an academic mistake, we may ask them to erase it and do it over. If it’s a social mistake, it might be to apologize and find a way to “make it right.” This is great, if it’s possible. But what if it’s not?

Maybe we can take the artist’s approach. I was taught that there are no mistakes in art. If something shows up that you didn’t intend, you try to see what it’s telling you and integrate it into the project in some way.

That’s what I’m doing now by writing this. It’s also what I encourage you to do if you look back over your year and notice some things that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Were there some actions you wouldn’t take again? If so, and if it’s possible, take the academics approach and correct it for next year. If that’s not possible, take the artist approach and ask yourself, “In what way could this mistake become a healthy part of my teaching practice? How could I use this story to help myself and others?”

Our profession isn’t easy, and it’s inevitable we will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Luckily we don’t have to be perfect to be effective. It takes courage to continue on, and faith to see that you ARE making a difference in the world. Thank you for all you do and for your willingness to try it again next year.

And now, break out that book or beer and have an amazing summer! We’ll see you next Fall!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies@gmail.com

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Improve Student Behavior With Your “Magic Clipboard”

I didn’t lose my cool. I simply invoked the power of the magic clipboard.

Let’s face it. Our students are smart, especially when it comes to figuring out how to “get away with” attention-getting misbehavior. For one thing, they know timing is everything. If you want the maximum attention with the fewest consequences, you need to pick a time when adult attention is divided, or your campaign will be shut down before it can attract enough attention.

For example, why make fart noises in class during the day when you’ll simply be sent to the buddy room to fill out a reflection form? Why not do it at the end of the day when it’s too late for the buddy room and the teacher doesn’t have time to deal with it? And better yet, why not get two of your buddies to do it with you to maximize the effect and make it even harder for the teacher to stop you?

Instead of ignoring the behavior, trying to send the students to the time-out room anyway, or losing my temper and yelling at them, I simply put the reflection forms on clipboards and calmly asked the students to fill them out at their seats.

Yes, this happened to me this week in a lovely 4th grade class that is the terror of the school.

But I didn’t lose my cool. I simply invoked the power of the clipboard.

Instead of ignoring the behavior, trying to send the students to the time-out room anyway, or losing my temper and yelling at them, I simply put the reflection forms on clipboards and calmly asked the students to fill them out at their seats.

Two of them immediately finished the forms with the fastest writing I had ever seen.

When they started goofing off instead, I said, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble getting done with the forms. Don’t worry! We can just take them with us to the dismissal area, and the three of you can work on them there. If your family is already there to pick you up, I’m sure they won’t mind waiting until you’re finished.”

Two of them immediately finished the forms with the fastest writing I had ever seen. The third one still hadn’t finished when it was time to go, but he instantly developed the superpower of being able to write and walk at the same time (even though he’s barely coordinated enough write his name on his paper the rest of the day.) I went over the completed forms with each student at the dismissal area, said a friendly goodbye, and sent them on their way.

Without the Clipboard

What would have happened without the clipboard? Either they would have gotten a lot of attention from yelling, begging, and pleading; or there would have been no consequences when I ignored them; or they would have had delayed consequences the next day when they had forgotten all about it; or they would have held the entire class hostage while I waited for them to complete their reflection forms. None of these solutions would have helped them learn more appropriate behavior, and several would have reinforced their behavior by giving them what they wanted – power and attention.

Clipboards are an essential classroom management tool!

Uses For Clipboards

Clipboards are an essential classroom management tool! You can use them to separate students who are having difficulty working together. You can use them as an intervention for students who have trouble sitting still, so they can walk and work. You can use them as a reward or incentive. (If you do ___ you can use the clipboard and work on the floor, cushy chair, or counter.) You can use clipboards to give students a legitimate choice – do the work now, or work on the clipboard at recess.

Please Share!

Do you have a magic clipboard trick to help with student behavior? Or something else that works for you? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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You Can Be a Struggler Without Being a Failure

If you’ve been reading my Sanity Boosts for awhile, you know I’m not always about sunshine and flowers. I share my struggles as well as my victories, and I know(believe me, I know!) that teaching is not easy.

What if we could re-frame our struggles into something beneficial and powerful?

Even after a few successful years of teaching we can still struggle at times. In those moments it’s easy to blame ourselves, the students, the administration, the families, and/or society in general. It’s tempting to give in to feelings of helplessness and anger.

What if we could re-frame our struggles into something beneficial and powerful instead?

Once I learned to accept the challenge of productive struggle, I learned that I could improve through my own efforts.

Yesterday I attended a conference, and in one of the breakout sessions I watched a video of a high school AP calculus student explain about productive struggle. She said, “This year I learned you can be a struggler without being a failure. I learned you can get something out of struggle. I used to hate math because I looked at struggle as something bad that I needed to avoid. Once I learned to accept the challenge of productive struggle, I learned that I could improve through my own efforts.”

But let’s face it. Sometimes struggle doesn’t feel that way. It just feels hard and frustrating. It feels like failure. And maybe it is. I’ve had plenty of “failures” in my teaching. In fact, I had several just last week. But as we tell our students, mistakes are how we learn. It’s the Edison quote about no mistakes, just 10,000 things that didn’t work out.

Here’s the thing with teaching. There’s always more to learn. There’s always an approach you never thought of that might work. And if you try something new and it STILL doesn’t work, at least you learned that new thing. Maybe it will come in handy next year.

Stop the failure self-talk and ask yourself, “What’s the next best step I can take?”

So stop the failure self-talk and ask yourself, “What’s the next best step I can take?” If you don’t know the next best step the question becomes, “How can I find out?” Break your problem into parts. Can you solve one part? How can that help you solve another part? If a solution doesn’t work, what can you learn for next time?

As teachers, the stakes are high. We want to do the “right” thing for our students. But I think we also need to remember what we tell them all the time: mistakes are how you learn.

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

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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