I Didn’t Think it was Possible


Becoming a Phone Free Classroom

I have tried before, but each time failed.  Partly due to my own inconsistency, and partly due to the fact that I didn’t believe it was that important I suppose. As the summer was coming to an end, the idea crossed my mind again.

But with any good idea, I am always bombarded with a looming collection of questions that are both good and bad. What if… I tried one more time? Would it work, was it necessary, would it backfire, would I just revert to what I had done in the past all over again? What would I do about ____, what would happen when_____, and lastly, with everything else going on, how much energy could I devote to this goal? Would I honestly be able to be consistent and follow through?

The thought of setting myself up for failure makes my skin crawl.

As I continued to wonder if I was doing the right thing, I stumbled across an article that made a difference for me. Thomas Oppong talks about seeing failures and things that have happened as data points in his article Think Like A Scientist he suggests we we should think like a scientist and see feedback as data. Sometimes our hypothesis works, and we find out something happens as planned. Other times, it does not and it is important to see the information as exactly that; a negative data point. That’s it.

When I look at feedback like a scientist would, I am much more likely to take risks and go for something even when failure could happen again. But I did it. I posted the sign outside my classroom, and inside,

“Phone Free Zone” .

When I finished putting up the last of the tape to hold the sign in place, I felt good. I had gone against the grain and I was being uncommon among uncommon people in society. I had set a new tone for the year, and was communicating something important to me.

Over the last couple of years we have gone from having a focus where students should bring technology to class because we do not have the money for each student to be one to one with a device. Unfortunately, the problem has become that is so incredibly tough for an anyone to listen, stay focused and be productive while having the option of the phone nearby.

If adults, many who are college educated and really trying to learn and experience education struggle to be intentional with time on a device, then how in the world can we expect 10–14 year-old kids to have already mastered this skill?

I am confident the benefits will outweigh the challenges for a number of reasons.

  • Technology access is not the problem. I teach in a computer lab.
  • The majority of the time the phone does not serve any educational purpose.
  • Students will see the advantage of doing one thing at a time and realize that minimizing distractions is key in life.
  • I don’t quit. I don’t give in, and have an ability to be consistent even when it is tough. This is why I started enforcing the expectation immediately.
  • I am respected by my students, and honestly believe they will follow this expectation.
  • I need to do what I believe is best for students. What is best is not always popular.

I feel like I have taken back the good parts of education somehow. When students had phones with them, it seemed as though their emotions were more negative then positive. It felt as though classroom work was pulling them away from what they wanted to do on their phones. And, from a teacher stand point I had no idea what was happening behind the screens in my very classroom. This always bothered me.

It is nice to give students the permission to choose their absence from social media for an hour.

It feels as though humanity has been restored to the classroom. It is comforting and reassuring to be back to basics and see the silly behaviors, share smiles, jokes and just be ourselves without worrying about multiple screens getting in the way. My students can be kids again.

So far I have yet to meet resistance from students or parents.

I was somewhat shocked on the first day when the policy was not questioned or even met with an eye roll or a groan. Maybe that is because other teachers are doing it as well and it is familiar.

In order to cover any issue that could arise, I explained that students could ask to step out in the hall if they needed to send a text or check a message from a parent and I would consider their request. I had one student ask to do this during the course of the week. One student out of 140 or so students is pretty good.

Freedom has been found and it is amazing!

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