Ban, no! Collaborative guidelines, yes!

The debate on banning cell phones in the classroom has been one for the technological ages. At first, of course, not everyone had access to a cell phone, and many still don’t. But let’s not kid ourselves, the vast majority of high school and upper elementary school kids have a cell phone, whether it is at school or not. What does this mean for teachers with regard to classroom management?

Rather than summarize the argument that both Jill/Tarina and Skyler/Alyssa presented, I’m going to explain my takeaways from the discussion, which mainly reside on the side of NO to banning, but within reason.

To start, I thought about my own experience with cell phones in the classroom and there is little to none because I have worked primarily with students in grades 3-6. Of course, some of them have cell phones at school, but the vast majority don’t, or if they do, I don’t see it. However, the scales are tipping and we are starting to see students a lot younger have these devices in hand. What do we do about that? How do we cultivate the etiquette in the younger grades to transform cell phone usage as they advance to each grade? This is a lot of responsibility, but it’s not impossible.

To think about this more, I reflected on how I use my cell phone at work. Well, let me tell you that I’m ashamed. Not only do I usually have it within arms reach, but I also have a compatible smartwatch for which I receive notifications as well. So that got me to thinking, how can I expect students to not let their phones distract them or others when I am not modeling what I am preaching? I have developed these habits because I haven’t been mindful of my own presence at work, let alone with my friends or family at home. Now to refocus!

I went down a rabbit hole of what workplaces do to police cell phone usage in their work environments. Our students eventually become part of the workforce and their cell phone habits go with them, so what policies do workplaces have? Do they ban them outright or is there some flexibility with usage?


In most articles that I read, it states that we have to accept and understand that employees (or students) are going to have their cell phones on them and use them during the day. Banning (as defined by Skylar and Alyssa) is not practical and creates resentment and a negative relationship between the employee and employer. However, full out usage with no guidelines is not conducive to productive, efficient use of work time. So, then what? The following video describes some tips that may help keep everyone somewhat happy.

Would these tips work in the classroom as well? I think so! Think about it, drafting up a cell phone policy (I hate this word by the way) WITH students would help for them to establish and understand phone etiquette in your classroom. Identifying specific places for which cell phone calls can be taken, that is if students need to take an emergency call, is helpful for students to use if need be. Indicating safe places to use cell phones, not in the bathrooms or change rooms, etc. The number one rule that I think all teachers, including myself, should follow is to LEAD BY EXAMPLE. We cannot expect students to refrain from using their phones when their teachers are using it in class unrelated to school purposes.

To add to these tips, I also came across a review of different policies school have on cell phone usage: These include

  1. Prohibition
    • no phones allowed but no penalty is stated
    • no phones allowed and a penalty is issued (leave the class, take the phone away, grade consequence, etc)
    • Questions about prohibition policies: 
      • How effective are policies that prohibit the use of electronic devices?
      • How is their effectiveness being measured?
      • Are prohibition policies enforceable?
      • How much energy does it take to enforce them?
      • Are there consequences if a prohibition policy is not enforced? What are those consequences?
  2. Controlled Use
    • use for educational purposes only as directed by the teacher
    • Questions about controlled use policies: 
      • Do students comply with these policies?
      • Does teacher controlling the use of electronic devices an effective way to demonstrate the role of technology in learning?
      • Can these policies be enforced? What if they aren’t enforced?
  3. Students Decide
    • put the onus on them responsibly use their devices
    • should not distract others’ learning
    • Questions about policies that let students decide: 
      • Are student learners mature enough to appropriately handle making decisions about their behavior in a course?
      • What responsibility does the instructor have for creating and maintaining a climate conducive to learning in the classroom?  
      • What if students proposed the cell phone policy?
      • Are there advantages when students decide? Risks?
  4. No Policies
    • no rules or expectations for phone usage, even if it is not related to academics
    • Questions about not having a policy: 
      • What happens in classes with no policy? Is it different from what happens in classes with policies?
      • Does not having a policy when so many other teachers do, communicate that the teacher without a policy has somehow given up?
  5. Policies with Exceptions
    • cannot use device unless you have permission or if it’s an emergency
    • Questions about policies with exceptions: 
      • How does a teacher determine whether a certain technology is or isn’t appropriate?
      • How much extra work is involved in dealing with and keeping track of exceptions?
      • What criteria can be used to determine the legitimacy of an exception request?
      • Are there fairness issues associated with this policy approach?
  6. Novelty Policies
    • mild or humourous penalties for usage
      • “if it rings, you sing”
      • if you use it, you have to bring cookies for the class
      • if you use it, you have to forfeit your highest homework score
      • for every minute I use my phone, you may use yours for two minutes
      • Questions about novelty policies: 
        • What does being novel add to the issue of cell phone use?
        • Does something like humor put the problem in perspective or diminish its seriousness?
        • What if a student refuses to comply with a policy that requires some action?

While all of these suggestions are interesting on their own, what happens when teachers have different policies in each of their classes that students attend? It is fair for them to have to know and effectively navigate the different expectations with the fear of penalty? Is it fair for a whole school to have the same policy that all teachers implement, whether they believe in it or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these policies or others or what you’ve done to address cell phone usage in class. What has worked or hasn’t worked for you?

2 thoughts on “Ban, no! Collaborative guidelines, yes!

  1. Thanks for the read. In my classroom, I really push the educational purposes with both their laptops and personal devices. I’ve used the line a few too many times, “Your mom and dad don’t send you to school to watch music lyrical videos on YouTube. But, here’s how we can use YouTube in the classroom…” We spend tons of time modelling and practicing what educational purposes look like in the classroom. As the internet and technology is so vast, educational purposes can mean so many different things throughout the course of a school year.

    Once students understand these educational purposes, I have very few problems with cellphones throughout the year. If you don’t have a plan and randomly allow them in your class, that’s where I think you will have major problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your take on this debate! I really learned a lot from your thoughts, and it made me reconsider my own position even more. I work in primary grades (Grade 1), so I simply do not allow students to have cellphones in my class – and most don’t have one at that age anyways. When it comes to my school, there was a cellphone policy that was given out to our Grade 6-8 students 3 years ago due to high incidents surrounding Snapchat. Our admin drafted it up, and each teacher in those grade were told to pass them out. There was no student input, or, even worse, no teacher input. Because of this, it ended poorly. Some teachers didn’t agree with the contract, so didn’t enforce it, while others went slightly overboard ensuring it was enforced. This led to confusion and students pushing limits with some staff. Because of this, I fully agree with your statement how IF there is going to be a policy, it should be written by individual teachers who want to enforce it, and it should be written WITH their students to ensure it will be followed. But, as I said, I haven’t had to deal with any of these issues…. so I could be off base!

    Liked by 1 person

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