Keep student cellphone policy creation local

Life without a cellphone may be unimaginable for some people. Having instant access to information and a direct link to family and friends is something many people would be hesitant to give up. Therein lies the problem that schools across the nation are struggling with regarding student cellphone usage, and one that doesn’t seem to have a uniform answer.

What works for one school, such as cellphone integration into the classroom as a learning tool, may not work for another. But in today’s school climate, administrators are finding ways to balance their policies with classroom need, parental wishes, and appropriate use.

“We, as many schools, have grappled with cellphones,” said Michelle Vruwink, executive director of The Franklin School of Innovation in Asheville, N.C. “The policy is generally that phones are to be out of sight and silent during the school day; however, we recognize the power of today’s smartphones as potential instructional tools, and there are many good applications teachers can use, for quick assessments, feedback, collaboration, and for communication with students in this digital native generation.”

  • Let teachers decide. Vruwink said that the administration allows individual teachers to make determinations around when use of cellphones can be used appropriately and effectively. “The teachers are to remind students to put phones away again when they leave the classroom,” she said.” It’s a balance between our understanding and awareness that cellphones are a constant distraction for all of us, including young people, and the value they can add when used selectively in a classroom.”

Southern Wake Academy in Holly Springs, N.C., also allows individual teachers to make determinations on classroom cellphone usage. “Last school year, there weren’t enough computers for all of the students, so the teachers would allow them to activate their [personal mobile] devices to do the work that needed to be done,” said Mike Heavey, director of development.

Heavey said that his school is moving towards a cloud-based environment, where students will also have one-to-one access to computers, but that initiative won’t begin immediately, so personal cellphone usage in the classroom is likely to remain for the time being.

Jaime Schiestle, family and consumer science educator with the Commodore Perry School District in Pennsylvania, said that personal cellphones are a non-issue in her classroom because all students have access to Chrome Books. In addition, she added, “Our lack of cellphone reception makes it impossibly unreliable to plan to use phones in the classroom.” But if circumstances were different, she said she would allow cellphones for a variety of instructional reasons.

  • Keep decisions local. Stephen Glass, principal of West Covina High School in California, said that individual schools have control over cellphone usage in the classroom, and that most schools allow teachers to decide such usage.

“Technology in the classroom is a very normal thing in our schools,” Glass said.

Some teachers do not allow phones to be used in the classroom, and that’s fine because there is another method of instruction that the teacher is going to offer, said Glass. But there are other teachers that feel comfortable integrating cellphones as a tool into their instructional practices, he added.

As younger teachers come into the field, cellphone usage in the classroom is normalized, said Glass. These teachers have grown up with cellphones and they know the benefits of them, whereas older educators who didn’t grow up with them may not feel comfortable and/or have the skills to integrate cellphones into the classroom.

  • Proper usage. If a teacher feels comfortable using phones as instructional tools in the classroom, then it’s easy to determine who is using them properly and who is not because you can tell if students are engaged — there is usually some sort of feedback being displayed on a larger computer screen, Glass said.

Individual schools in the district determine the consequences of a student misusing technology, Glass noted. Local control is given for most decisions, and consequences are determined on a case-by-case basis.

  • Quelling parent safety fears. Another aspect of allowing students to have a personal cellphone at school is to help soothe parent fears of student safety. Parents give their children cellphones because they want to be able to know where their student is after school, and the district supports that — with the knowledge that students should be utilizing their phones in an appropriate manner and during appropriate times, Glass said.

Krista White covers grants and other education issues for LRP Publications.

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