Back at the beginning of November I wrote a blog about the cell phone problem we had at our school. Those that read the blog were able to learn how we worked as a school, staff and students, to make sure we had a co-created plan in place so technology could be used in the correct manner. In the blog I spoke about the fact that the problem was not necessarily the cell phone, it was what the student was doing on the cell phone. As educators we all know the proper use and purpose of technology. It is not ‘that’ a phone was used, it is ‘what’ the phone was being used to do. Using the device as a learning tool is what needed to be clarified and understood by everyone. When phones are used for this purpose all is good.
But admit it, it still troubles you as an administrator to see a student with their head buried in their phone because you are questioning what they are doing. Go back to that blog if you want to know how we came up with common expectations for student cell phone use.
I teased in that blog that our cell phone issue was not a student issue, it was in fact an adult problem in our school and in a future blog I would write about dealing with staff cell phone use. That blog is now.
I had much more difficulty as an administrator when I saw an adult with their head buried in their phone because I was questioning what they were doing.
So while some may have come to the blog immediately thinking I was speaking about the student population I actually spent more time thinking about, worried about and trying to problem solve as a leader about the adults not using their cell phones in the proper way in the school.
We had adults in the hallway in front of others on their phones. Remember, it is not the phone, it is what they are doing on the phone. During work hours, when the adults are working with students, there is proper use of a device and there are times when it is not appropriate. If they were using their phone to capture notes, take a photo, record a memo for the purposes of our students and learning that was a different issue.
I have walked passed classrooms and looked in to see adults working with a small group of students and on their phone. I have seen adults caring for a single child requiring an individualized program of instruction, and on their phone.
Do your staff have their phones out while with you at staff meetings or professional learning sessions? What are they doing on their phones during those times?
So what to do?
We can all agree, there is a time and a place.
As a leader? You say nothing, and you allow it to continue.
There are situations where it is not acceptable for the adults to be on their phones while working with students. So do you speak up?
Now obviously we need to be connected to our families. The young ones we care for and older family members that may require our support. There was a time when the only option for someone outside the school to contact me was through the school office. I understand when staff members share with me their need for their phones to be with them in order to stay in contact. If an emergency would arise, we would find another adult to take their place, ensure students are properly supervised and allow that staff member to go to a quiet, private place to make sure everything is okay.
As a leader you have a standard in your mind about student and staff interactions. How staff use their cell phones while working with students must be an expectation that you have.
If you have set a standard, you either lower the standard when people cannot match the expectation, or you don’t want to enforce it. Or you have good conversations with your team about the expectations and coach and help people to achieve the expectation. Over time, has the expectation slipped to the point where you have an adult cell phone issue in your school?
We were problem solving with our students about the use of cell phones in the school. We wanted student voice to come up with common expectations. It was during our classroom community circle conversations that we had each month (Significant 72…72 minutes a month, read about that in the blog on August 30, 2021) that some senior students shared that the adults in the building were being hypocrites. “They are always telling us to get off the phones, put the phones away, but they are on them all the time”. Even some of our students were seeing the modelling done by the adults. Is this the example we want to set in a school?
We would always share the comments from students each month after our Significant 72 work, so here was a great lead in for our next staff meeting. Are we bad role models? Table groups were able to have a conversation about what the students were saying. Some wise voices in the group got it, they understood and were embarrassed. It really was a great conversation starter and after some discussion we came up with the following plan.
We were all going to do a better job of being on our phones and modelling for our students the proper use of technology.
We were going to announce to the students whenever there was a moment we wanted to ‘capture’ in the class or working with a group. We were transparent to those around us when the phone was out and being used, and sharing how it was being used. What a great example to set for our students when they are using their phones!
When we were going to use our phones to catch up on our lives, it was during our breaks in common staff areas such as the staff room or workrooms.
And if we saw another staff member in a common area, where students could see the adults using their phones, they would smile at their colleague and simply say, ‘It’s work, right?’ And jog their memory.
Some of us would smile and say, ‘what good stuff are you capturing right now?’
Often people would smile and say, ‘yep’ and then put their phone away, but the point was made.
We policed each other.
It may sound heavy handed, but the message was sent to staff and reinforced. We are here for the students. When working with the students they have us 100%.
We are not asking you to use your own phone for school purposes, in fact we would prefer that you don’t use your personal device. We have lots of technology available in the school for you to have a classroom device for tracking, recording, note taking, photographs etc
As a leader, if it bothers you, say something. Do something about it. Start with some candid, respectful conversation about what you see as an issue. All our staff had been trained in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue, so we were accustom to having uncomfortable discussions at times. Take the course if you get the chance.
A hard conversation to have at the start, but so much nicer than being a leader that has to say, ‘put your phone away’.
Do cell phones in the hands of the adults bother you at school?
Be really transparent. Use your phone for work if you wish but announce what you are doing. And if you see others, smile, and discretely remind the person of our common commitment to ourselves and our students.
Put your phone away while working with children or other staff (staff meetings included!)