Changing school cell phone policies now

As this school year winds down, we are hearing from teachers, parents and principals from all over the country about how many have already or are in the process of changing their school’s cell phone policies. This is really exciting! Now is the time to think about next year’s policies.

While initially intended for middle schools, the tools we created for people wanting to change school policies—at the Away For The Day website—are being used by high schools as well. In fact, the resources and research are relevant to all school grades. We have many testimonials, sample policies, answers to common pushbacks and ways to take action to help you bring an Away For The Day cell phone policy to your school.

For middle school-age students we believe that having phones in lockers (or backpacks) during the school day is the best policy—this is what we mean by Away For The Day.

Regarding high schools, Away For The Day is taking a different direction: Very often the policy is to have each teacher decide their own classroom phone policy, typically including anything from letting students use phones freely to not allowing them at all, and many variations in between. High schools are now realizing that establishing a common policy across the school, in which phones are to be put away during class time, is a much better option. The students still have their phone at break and lunchtime. While such situations are not true “Away For The Day” policies, we believe it is a good alternative.

For many schools, the process takes time to vet, get approval and buy-in from all the various stakeholders (administrators, teachers, students and parents). My co-producer on Screenagers, Lisa, served on a committee at her daughter’s high school that helped bring about a cell phone policy change. The process started in May 2017 and it took until April 2018 for it to get voted into action.

Her Northern California school, Drake High School, is doing what we hear more and more high schools are instituting. The simple act of placing the phone in a classroom cell phone pocket holder, basket, or the like, minimizes the distraction by limiting immediate access to the phone, but at the same time, teachers have the flexibility to ask students to use their phone for an assignment when needed.

Yes, it took work, but people are really excited about how it is going to help improve the learning environment.

Drake High School assistant principal Chad Stewart talks about the change in a Marin IJ article:

“There is an agreement that when they walk into a classroom next year every student will park their cellphone in a holding area so they will be distraction free during the class,” said Assistant Principal Chad Stewart. “It’s really a parking lot for cell phones.”

I regularly hear from teachers that kids are now playing Fortnite on their phones during class. They just can’t resist the urge when the phone is in their pockets. When the phones are parked in cell phone pocket holders, the teacher doesn’t have to worry about this and the student doesn’t have to feel the pull of the distraction. The research is clear. Seventy-five percent of teachers report that attention spans of students have decreased when the phone is accessible.

The director of operations at a high school in Virginia wrote us that they changed their policy in 2016 to:

“Students are asked to place their phone in the caddy when they enter class and can pick it up on their way out. Teachers have the discretion of allowing phones when educational apps or calculators on phones are a resource.”

She goes on to say:

“We incorporated Screenagers into our ‘advisory period’ so students and teachers could actively talk about cell phone use at school and at home. Students honestly said they were surprised at how much less stress they felt knowing they couldn’t check their phone during class. They hadn’t realized how distracting their phone was until they didn’t have it. Even if it was in their backpack – it was always calling to them to sneak a peek. This year, cell phones in the classroom are not even a conversation. We still deal with gaming addiction concerns, safety issues, and other device topics – but cell phones in the classroom, for the most part, is a non-issue.”

For this TTT, talk to your kids about how they feel about their school’s cell phone policy. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Imagine you are in high school — what is the advantage of everyone putting their phone in a cloth hanging from your classroom wall that has pockets for each phone?
  2. Some high school teachers label the pockets with desk numbers so they can take attendance just by looking at the phone pockets. Do you think that is a good system?
  3. Do you think there will ever be a time when a student walks into school and their phone will automatically convert into a strictly learning tool and when the school day is over then it would revert back to being a video game console, movie theater, social gathering spot, etc?
  4. Some parents (the minority in a large survey) want their child to have a phone on them at all times so that they can reach their child and so that their child can reach them. Given that students can use school phones to reach parents and parents can call the school to reach their student, how would you respond to these parents?
  5. If you were a parent and not happy with the school cell phone policy, why might you try to make improvements in the policy? Not try?