Teaching Cell Phone Etiquette in School

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Two weeks ago in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio overturned a 9-year-old ban on cell phones in schools. For the most part, everyone was happy with the decision—especially students and parents—but there were some teachers who voiced concerns over how it might impact student learning.

Frankly, the headlines caught me by surprise. Not because the ban was being lifted, but because it had survived this long at all. How could an institution designed to train kids for the future prevent them from working with one of the tools they will most definitely, without a doubt, need?

If the purpose of education is to equip students with skills for success in the real world, then shouldn’t we teach them how to mindfully use something that over 90% of adults now own? And how do we expect them to learn the rules of etiquette for something if we pretend that it doesn’t exist?

One of the frustrations that teachers express over their students having phones is the impact that it can have on their self-control and focus. But these are skills that can be taught, and we can’t assume that this is happening at home, when so many parents struggle to control technology habits of their own.

It’s an all too familiar scene at a restaurant—an entire family sitting at the table with heads buried in their screens, barely talking to each other. We always assume that it’s is the fault of the teens, but when I ask my students to talk about how technology impacts their social health, the majority of them bring up feelings of being ignored. Feeling ignored can lead to feelings of anxiety, boredom, and frustration, which are all feelings that can lead us to instinctively reach for our phones.

I think we often take for granted the fact that our students are ready to have these conversations. In fact, we all are. The You Tube videos Look Up and I Forgot My Phone have a combined total of almost 100 million views.

We want to be more mindful with our phones. Allowing them in schools while we help students learn a balanced way to use them is a great place to start.

If teachers are worried about students using phones as a distraction, they should remind them how it feels when people tune us out for their devices. Go for empathy and understanding, not consequence and fear. Learn about some of the amazing ways that phones can be used to enhance learning and share some tips for keeping notifications off while using your phone in class.

Also… less lectures, more projects. That helps too.

To get a class discussion on cell phone etiquette started, show this short commercial from Thailand or one of the videos from above and ask the kids to share examples of how they can relate.

“Our time is better spent not fighting technology, but rather helping students recognize how to use technology productively and responsibly.”

-Xhenete Shepard, principal at New York’s High School of Telecommunications, Arts and Technology


Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.51.34 AMAbout the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at thehealthteacher.com and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.

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