How To Eliminate Cell Phone Use In The Classroom

Smart Classroom Management: How To Eliminate Cell Phone Use In The ClassroomThis past week, I watched the first episode of A&E’s Undercover High.

To the uninitiated, the show follows seven young adults who go undercover in an American high school.

One of the things that struck me, among many, was the ubiquity of cell phone use in class.

Cameras showed teachers trying to give instruction while students checked social media, texted, and listened to music.

I felt bad for the teachers, but even more so for the students.

Here they were in the midst of perhaps their best opportunity to begin creating a life of meaning and contribution.

And it was passing them by.

Sadly, the use of cell phones during instructional time is a pervasive problem that is only growing in intensity—and not just in high school.

In the past year, I’ve been inundated with emails from teachers of students as young as sixth grade who are at their wit’s end.

In this particular episode, it became evident that the school’s policy on cell phones in the classroom was that students shouldn’t use them.

Which, of course, means absolutely nothing. It puts teachers in the position of merely discouraging their use, which in this day and age is a near impossible task.

Unless your content and ability to deliver it are more compelling than the highly addictive nature of cell phones, then learning will be profoundly and negatively affected.

So what’s the solution?

Well, the first step is to create a school-wide policy that bans cell phones from even being pulled out in class, whether from a backpack, purse, or pocket.

Merely banning their use doesn’t go far enough and will only lead to arguing and battling with students over what, exactly, this means. The policy must be clear-cut, easy to define, and easy to determine whether it’s been broken.

Thus, if a phone is exposed to the light of day—no matter the circumstance—then the policy has been broken. In this way, it either is or isn’t. There is no gray area or possibility open to interpretation.

As for consequences, I recommend that phones be taken away without students first receiving a warning. Otherwise, they’ll use up their warning every chance they get.

An immediate consequence also sends the message that learning is sacred and anything that interferes with it is a serious offense.

But you can’t just one day begin demanding that students hand over their most cherished possession. They must first understand the policy in full. They must know why it’s in place as well as how their phone will be taken away and when and how it will be returned.

Laying the policy out clearly and completely beforehand, so there are no misunderstandings or opportunities to shift the blame elsewhere, goes a long way toward avoiding defiance, disrespect, and refusal to give up their phone when the policy is enforced.

Therefore, it’s essential to hold a school-wide assembly explaining your policy in detail.

As for specifics, I recommend the following:

  • If a student pulls out their phone at any time between the start and end of class—determined by the bell schedule or crossing the threshold into a classroom—then the student loses their phone for the rest of the day.

It doesn’t matter if they put their phone away before the teacher approaches or if they pull it out for a quick second to check the time. If it comes out, regardless of why, the policy has been broken.

Note: This also includes the use of earphones. In other words, if a student has earphones out and visible, whether they’re listening to them or not, it’s the same as having their phone out.

Both the earphones and phone, then, would be taken away.

  • The teacher takes possession of the phone by approaching the student and holding open a large ziplock bag. By using a plastic bag rather than taking the phone by hand, it shows respect for the student’s property.

It’s also less confrontational and causes students to be more comfortable handing it over. This also underscores the importance of not lecturing, scolding, or making a show of taking the phone.

The teacher then secures the bag and immediately places it in a drawer or cabinet that can be locked for safekeeping.

  • At the end of the day, the student must return to class to retrieve their phone. You may include in the policy that if the student doesn’t arrive a certain time, then they must wait until the following morning.

It isn’t the teacher who must be inconvenienced.

  • If a student is a repeat offender, defined by breaking the policy a second time during a grading period (semester or quarter), then the phone must be retrieved by a parent before or after school in the main office.

In this case, the teacher would label the bag and turn the phone over to designated office personnel as soon as they’re able.

At this point it’s important that administration gets involved by issuing further consequence.

A detention and lowering of citizenship grade (if applicable) for each time the policy is broken after the first incident will strengthen the policy and lessen the chances of it happening again.

  • If a student chooses not to give up their phone, then there must be an immediate referral to administration, lowering of citizenship grade, and escalation to a stronger consequence.

This may include a week of lunch detention, after-school cleanup, Saturday school, or other.

  • The only exception to any of the above is if the teacher authorizes the use of a phone for a specific, sharply defined educational purpose within a set time limit.

And that’s it.

It’s clear. It’s simple and straightforward. It’s easy to understand and easy to implement. Most important, however, it’s proven effective.

But here’s the thing: Everyone must buy in. Every teacher and administrator on campus must follow the policy as it’s written in the student handbook. Otherwise, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Students will soon discover that you don’t really mean what you say, and you’ll be right back where you started.

If you stick with it, however, and refrain from offering friendly reminders and warnings or pretending you didn’t see what you just saw, not only will you eliminate this one highly addictive distraction, but all forms of misbehavior will improve.

It will raise the level of respect and responsibility in your entire school.

It’s important to note that if you’re an individual teacher who works at a school that has turned a blind eye to the problem, perhaps they have a policy but don’t follow it or it’s similar to the Undercover High policy, then theoretically you can create your own policy.

You can also fold it into the classroom management plan we recommend for high school teachers.

However, although it’s possible, it takes a teacher with a strong set of relationship and classroom management skills—of the kind we teach here at SCM—to make it effective.

Otherwise, it could be more trouble than it’s worth.

A better solution is to band together as a staff. Start a conversation with your closest colleagues. Schedule a meeting with the principal. Put it on the agenda of the next staff meeting.

Introduce the policy above and put it to a vote.

Change happens when tough, smart people decide to speak up and take a stand for those who can’t—namely, the scores of students whose chance for a quality education is being undermined and trampled underfoot by this one insidious habit.

One last thing. If you think that at your school the problem is too big to fix, I just have one thing to say: Hogwash.

It will work anywhere and at any school that commits to it and decides that enough is enough.

Every student deserves an opportunity to learn without distraction.

So what are you waiting for?

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57 Responses to How To Eliminate Cell Phone Use In The Classroom

  1. Karyn Voldstad January 20, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    We have many teachers using cell phones for academic purposes. Then the zero tolerance policy is much harder to enforce.

    • C Hawkins January 21, 2018 at 9:51 am #

      Also teachers are getting their phones out “just to check”them in class and around school? Utter Hypocrisy and a safeguarding issue?!

    • T Turner January 22, 2018 at 8:45 am #

      We have a district policy against cell phone usage yet it is totally ignored across the district! It is worthless! And those of us who try to teach are constantly having problems because there are no consequences.

  2. Vanessa January 20, 2018 at 9:33 am #

    How would this work if you were a supply teacher in a school with this policy? It is hard at times to establish control when you are only in for a period or a day. Would you still suggest being as strong on the policy if you are a substitute?

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 5:45 pm #

      Yes. If its a policy. Whether the school wide policy or the classroom it needs to be enforced. I’m open to any measure of enforcement, especially during instructions. Listening to authority is a problem today. The kids want to just listen to friends or their favorite artist.

      • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

        It might help them stay off their cells while driving. Big danger!

  3. Jane January 20, 2018 at 9:51 am #

    Dear Michael:

    Teachers can also require students to leave any electronic devices and accessories (including but not limited to those getting the internet) into a container as they enter the classroom. The teacher can use the building’s culture to decide how secure this container needs to be. Some teachers have been able to create a charging station for students so their device may be charging during class time.

    This type of option is useful for teachers who have not achieved a schoolwide system for addressing this challenge. Of course, it works best when it is included in the syllabus, taught from Day One, and enforced consistently, calmly, and pleasantly–all of which I have learned from your excellent materials on this website. When used in concert with suggestions in your “Strategies for Classroom Management-High School” booklet (I’m paraphrasing the title), a much happier, more effective school year of teaching and learning can be enjoyed by all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me to achieve that this year.


    Teacher Jane

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm #

      I’m in agreement. But the students are using computers too. Maybe it should be either or. If assignments are on the computers the cells should be restricted during class and especially instruction.

    • Tracy January 30, 2018 at 4:05 pm #

      What happens when the screen cracks, or a kid picks up the wrong phone. What if the phone screen was already damaged and the kid blames the teacher? (this has happened). The parents really forced the issue that the teacher should pay for the repair. This is a very tough issue… the majority of the students who break the rule, will go down with a fight to give up their phone. They will take the consequence (however steep) everytime, same for headphones. What do you do then? Flat, out refusal everytime…

  4. deb January 20, 2018 at 9:58 am #

    Great… wise words.

    I taught a summer segment and the students had a cell phone parking lot on a table up front – index cards with their names on them, so it was easy to see when a student hadn’t arrived or turned in their phone.

    It worked for that context at the time. The main thing is we had their undivided attention.

  5. Joyce January 20, 2018 at 10:03 am #

    Another issue is that students see teachers using their phones during class time. Texting, taking calls, etc. It’s just as hard for adults to give up their phones.

  6. Crystal Webster January 20, 2018 at 10:14 am #

    I LOVE that policy idea as would most of my beleaguered colleagues in the Title 1 MS where I teach! HOWEVER: Our School System’s Central Office & local school Administration have said we cannot take up a student’s phone, because it doesn’t belong to the student—it’s the property of the PARENTS because those under 18 cannot legally own a phone! Furthermore, if teachers do take up a a phone & something happens to it, the teacher would be required to pay for it. They also say “If a teacher takes up a phone, then hands it off to an Admin, & the Admin loses it or something happens to said phone, the TEACHER would still be held responsible financially for the phone.

    The biggest issue here is getting 100% buy-in among Staff. There are always those who “don’t care” & think it’s “ok” or a “ridiculous policy” (whether its phone, dress code, Eating in class, whatever).

    I think I will use our “Minor/Major” behavior referral process. If it (or earphones) sees daylight, automatic minor. If it sees daylight again, it will be a major.
    I do allow students to use their own devices for some activities, but I’m clear to say what it is for & when the time is over.

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 5:49 pm #

      Then if there are lockers. They can leave it in the locker. Communication has to be done through the office.

    • Tamra Grover January 22, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

      I heard of a strategy that might help you out. Instead of using a ziplock bag, the teacher used a paper bag and stapled it shut, then left the bag there with the student. The paper bag made it obvious if the student attempted to retrieve their phone because it was noisy. That might be something that you could set up in your own class and still follow your school’s unhelpful policy. I had a student once who tried to frame me for losing her phone, so I do understand why it can be difficult to confiscate them sometimes.

  7. Jenny Street January 20, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    Thank you so much for this information. It is indeed essential that each school has a strict policy regarding cell phones at school. Our school, Union High School – Graaff-Reinet in South Africa, has such a policy. Our policy is even stricter in that when the phone is confiscated, it is locked in the school safe in an envelope with the following details on the envelope: Learner’s name, Grade, Date, time and place of confiscation. The learner’s parents/guardian are called in by the Headmaster and only after he has had a consultation with them and the learner, does he return the cell phone. This is working very well!
    Thanks again Michael!

  8. H Condon January 20, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    I also saw the episode of Undercover High and it was stressful watching what I’ve experienced. Our cell phone use isn’t quite as bad but only because we have a supportive administration who supports the policy. Many students will choose to spend time detention or ASP (in-school-suspension) rather than giving up the phone. They many even be removed from class. Missing time in class isn’t good for anyone so I wanted to share the following idea that a lot of our teachers had adopted that seems to be working. I will implement it next year.

    Teachers are using the calculator or shoe holders that contain about 24 or more slots and and hang on the wall and have students place their phones in them at the beginning of class. The students can clearly see their phones in a safe place. I think that students are willing to do this because they understand how tempting their phones are when they are in possession of them and find it somewhat of a relief to have it at a distance. This of course will not work if students don’t trust their classmates.

    Since I don’t have a big problem with this but do have some students who just can’t resist, I have tried the following. I have asked these if they would like to put it in my desk at the beginning of the class period. This approach addresses the problem before it occurs and lets the student know that I’m their to support them rather than just trying to catch them to get them in trouble. Most of the time they take me up on it.

    Students need a boundary set and they need to know that we care enough about their education and the importance of what we are teaching. Looking the other way regarding phone use in the classroom may send the wrong message to students.

    Keep fighting the good fight!!

  9. Carolyn January 20, 2018 at 11:01 am #

    I am so glad that this year at my middle school, cellphones are banned from the classroom. They can use them at a.m. breakfast and lunch only. During class, the cellphone. MUST be in their locker. If we bring it to class, it is confiscated and given to an Assistant Principal where they can retrieve it after school. Parents were told that if they needed to vpntact the student, they have to call the main office .Classtime is NOT social time.

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 5:52 pm #

      I’m in agreement.

  10. Denise Thomas January 20, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

    Hello, I have used many of your techniques with great success and it is from your influences that i established the following policy for middle school students. I have the students line up at the door and they are not allowed in until the following rules are followed: No phones No Hoods No Food No Backpacks.

    Phones/headphones are to be put into backpacks before the students enter the room, students are told what materials they will need before they enter the room and asked to take them out. This is how I check for materials as well. Students enter and place their backpack in a designated area and situated in away that no one can gain access and each group gets there backpack together and no one is allowed to leave unless everyone has their backpack.If I need the students to use their phones for instructional purposes it is usually respected but I never have students on the phone when I am delivering instruction . Since I have initiated this policy I seldom have issues with the phone and had only one last semester. The bag/envelope is an excellent one and will use it.
    I am looking forward to sharing this with my colleagues and administrative personnel.

  11. Y. Lowe January 20, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

    My policy is that students must put their phones and headphones in their bags as they enter the class, and bags are not allowed at desks. Period, for any reason. Of course, sometime a student doesn’t have a bag, so it may be in their pocket, but it must not come out. Since implementing this phones in bags/no bags at desks policy, my classroom management issues have drastically decreased. I work at a Title 1 school, where behavior (non-violent as well as violent and drug related) is quite a problem. So, classroom management is already difficult, but this has helped build respect and a classroom culture of togetherness (not distractedness). I have a sign that says No Cells and on the other side it says Cell phones permitted. On a day when we will use them for Kahoot!, the sign is changed. I teach Algebra, so there is almost never a reason, besides Kahoot! days for phones to be out.

  12. Pete January 20, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    The solution to this problem is actually very simple. Everyday at the beginning of class, I say, “Be in proper uniform and cell phones away and on silent please.” If I hear a text alert, or whatever, I calmly say to the class, “If you have a cell phone, please make sure it is on silent.” The student will silence their phone. No one is singled out. Sometimes they forget and so do I to put it on silent. Then I will quickly say, “Let me make sure mine is on silent,” to lead by example and I put my phone in a drawer. I quickly resume the lesson afterwards. If you don’t tell them to put it away from the beginning of class in a calm, but firm manner, you’ve lost. The big problem in many schools is not every teacher enforces the policy and these teachers are not being held accountable. You have to be the teacher who follows policy and leads by example.

  13. Alain January 20, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    Totally disagree
    The technology although challenging can be a tool
    Digital citizenship needs to be taught also

    It does however cause lots of anxiety so maybe teachers have to work harder in being kind and more interesting than the iPhone

    I teach digital photo so I’m biased toward the pocket cam

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

      Yes. The classroom application of technology is important in your class but it may not be in other class settings.

      • Chris January 22, 2018 at 8:43 am #

        The article was pretty clear that the policy doesn’t eliminate the use for instructional purposes.

    • ami adkins January 21, 2018 at 10:28 pm #

      Alain. I agree with you. I work with student teachers and visit many different schools and classrooms every year. I have seen some amazingly creative and innovative strategies in ALL content areas using students’ smart phones to integrate technology and learning. And the students love that. There are so many wonderful apps and platforms that allow students to interact with each other and the larger world within, and outside of the classroom walls, marrying academics and the real world. And isn’t that the larger goal? Real-world application? I see the great reluctance to embrace this new future rooted in old ideas of power, control, and authority. I encourage educators to move beyond the scope of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ and figure out how to use this to their, and their students, advantage in learning. Yes, there must be rules and parameters. It can be done.

  14. Linda Newton January 20, 2018 at 1:59 pm #

    Our middle school has this policy, I also suggest teachers put up theirs. Students tend to follow the policy much betterr when the teacher is not usung their phone in front of them. If i am expecting a call or text i must take, I let my class know. I kept my phone on vibrate and check on my time. My family knows if emergency yo call the school and buzz my room. I have had zero cell phone issues after I followed the same time as the students. I also use an incentive to work, follow the rules, then have a Kahoot game every two weeks on content where they can use their phones. Putting my phone up too, made a huge difference.

  15. Carol January 20, 2018 at 2:00 pm #

    I actually bought 3 tower chargers and placed them in the front of my room and created a charging station. I even bought a few charging cords. The kids come in place their phones on the chargers and pick them up on their way out. It has been working really well.

    • Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

      Good idea.

  16. Perry January 20, 2018 at 2:20 pm #

    I appreciate your advice but I think most of us are at schools where administration is going to put it on the individual teachers. Assuming we work at a school where students are used to having classes where there are little consequences for phones being out what can we do? Can you be specific? It seems that cell phone enforcing becomes this huge drain of energy one way or another and is causing me to consider leaving the profession because I don’t see a way it doesn’t require energy unless you don’t care. This wasn’t a thing when I was in high school which makes it seem like teaching was a completely different thing. Now even if you have a policy and you turn your back a student will sneak out their phone. In the 90s there really wasn’t much at my high school behaviorly that needed to be enforced at all. That image is what I based my decision to get into teaching on. I’ve even observed a teacher that did a pretty good job of keeping cell phones from coming out but I still saw a student pull one out and put it away with no consequence.

  17. Mark C. January 20, 2018 at 2:39 pm #

    This is, essentially, what our school does. However, universal buy-in on the part of teachers is essential.

  18. Susan January 20, 2018 at 3:09 pm #

    As a parent, not currently teaching, it seems to me that misuse of phones is a much easier problem to resolve than that of the tablets schools often now require. Please address the issue of texting during class among students who attend schools requiring iPads or Chromebooks to be used in class and for homework. I have seen considerable evidence of messaging during school hours between my high school freshman daughter and her former classmates now attending several different area high schools. She has received consequences from me for these discoveries. I am frustrated, however, that none of these various schools seem able to electronically limit their use to their intended purpose during classes. A few teachers have policies on their use, but I know how challenging it is to catch a kid misusing a device before they can quickly close out what they’re doing. Kids also have access to more stealthy messaging apps and websites than parents can possibly monitor. I am extremely concerned that many schools have adopted this technology without anticipating how to thwart its misuse. The temptation of these devices, especially for staying connected with friends throughout the day, is especially challenging for ADHD kids like mine. Thank you!

  19. Tracy January 20, 2018 at 3:21 pm #

    In our school, teachers are “not allowed” to collect phones, or they risk being held financially responsible should something happen.

    If a student is using their phone repetitively in class, we are supposed to send them to the office to turn in their phones. (After tediously warning them over and over)

    Students often put their phone in their locker on the way to the office and turn in a fake phone.Then they wander the halls and take forever to return to class.

    Or, they leave the class for a little while, pretending to take the phone to the office, and then return to class with the phone still in their pocket or purse.

    It is not at all ideal.

    Also, some students with poor attendance will avoid coming to school at all if teachers come down hard on them about their phones, and then failure rates increase because of poor attendance.

    I wish there was a better solution.

    It is incredibly frustrating!

  20. Matt January 20, 2018 at 4:01 pm #

    If they are K-12, they are children despite how grown they think they are. If they are children and they pull out a phone, they are treating it like a toy. If it were a fidget, firetruck, game, etc., a good teacher would have no hesitation in taking away the distracting toy from the child. Therefore, the phone is a toy. Take it away from the child. I teach High School in a tough area, and I take their phone. They can have a tantrum if they like, I don’t care. I am still not giving them their toy back. I will turn it in to the office and the parents can come and get it. If the parents don’t like it, tough. They should not have sent their child to school with a distracting toy. My last school had a tougher attitude than my current school. They would take the phone and give it back at the end of the next day for the first offense in any class. Second offense the parents had to come get it after 24 hours. Third offense it was taken for the rest of the semester. I knew several parents that had to cancel their contracts and get new phones only to see that one taken for the rest of the school year for a fourth offense. Parents got angry, but phones stopped coming out. We have to stop being scared of our students and their parents. If they don’t like it, they can send their kid to private/public school. They have options.

    • Rosemary T. February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am #

      I couldn’t agree more! Hear, hear!

  21. Annette Ellison January 20, 2018 at 6:15 pm #

    It is true a toy and the kids have created such drama around it. Who is in authority? If parents want their kids to have an education and learn to follow the rules they will follow too. There is a place and time for this technology thats what they will be learning. Respect to the teachers, each other, and don’t let it become an addiction.

  22. Abigail January 20, 2018 at 6:53 pm #

    The rule for electronics is district wide. No cellphones used In the classroom. Whatever rules are in place are followed. No argument, no problem. End of story.

  23. Sarah Gray January 20, 2018 at 10:34 pm #

    My district is a BYOD district, which means we can’t take away their cell phones for more than the duration of the period they misused them in.

  24. Maria January 21, 2018 at 3:54 am #

    Our school instituted this policy last year and it has cut down on cyber bullying at school and detentions. One thing though, students aren’t comfortable leaving their phones in a container or wall pocket since the phones are costly. Also, if there’s an emergency they don’t have quick access to their phones.

  25. Val January 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

    I teach 7th grade at a school with a BYOD policy. Students can have their cell phones in the cafeteria, but not in class unless the lesson requires it. We cannot take student phones unless we are willing to replace the phone if it is lost and the lockers are not a safe option. A lot of kids leave their lockers popped so that they do not have to use the combination every time they open it. Unsurprisingly, lots of students have their phones on them, but out of sight. As long as the phone is silent and they do not take it out, all is well. If I hear or see the phone, the student is asked to put it away and silence it. This is a courtesy. Sometimes I think that my phone is on silent only to find that it is not. Oops! If the phone appears again, daily points are removed for not following instructions. I escalate the previously taught consequences if the student doesn’t comply. I have had a few parents ground the student from taking their phone to school for a period of time, which was ideal. I have had very few repeat offenders. The toughest situation for me has been the student who hides the phone in his or her pocket and texts out of sight.

  26. Charles Edwin Griffin III January 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

    I concur that an outright ban is the simplest solution. My problem is that cell phones effectively mean that I have a 1-1 classroom. Many students misuse their phones in class. Many adults misuse their phones at home, in the work place, and on the road. But an app helps me navigate traffic and arrive at school on time. How do we incorporate these powerful but addictive devices into our lives?

  27. unclejamal January 21, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

    1. Great article. I follow all your articles and I liked the way you describe consequences here…If this is done-this will happen.
    Really would be helpful if you talk about consequences in other articles too ( by describing what will happen) because sometimes we are left in a position that we don’t know how to “punish” them for something bad they have done.

    2. In my case I use my phone to play audio files from it in every class but I never answer phone calls ( does this mean I am breaking the rule?).

    • Michael Linsin January 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm #

      Thanks unclejamal. Consequences have been covered extensively on this website. When you get a chance, please check out the Classroom Management Plan and Rules & Consequences categories of the archive as well as The Smart Classroom management Plan for High School Teachers.

      • unclejamal February 3, 2018 at 11:30 am #

        Thanks for your reply.

    • ami adkins January 21, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

      unclejamal. I work with student teachers and visit many classrooms and schools each year. In highly interactive and creative classrooms I see master teachers using their phones for everything from timers to streaming videos related to the lesson to fact checking mid-lesson in response to student inquiry. I think this is appropriate modeling using resources to further learning and knowledge. I also see platforms in place that use instant feedback via surveys and pre – post quizzes in which students interact and input via their cell phones – in which the teacher and the students can see and identify results. This is valuable instant assessment data for teachers. We need to figure out the best ways to harness this technology and use it to our advantage for teaching, not just dismiss it and ban it out of convenience or reluctance to learn it.

  28. Stacey January 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm #

    Well, I skimmed through the replies and many of the arguments for and against the use of cell phones are mentioned. I think we are past the pint of no return with this technology. Until the overall culture changes of instant gratification and constant entertainment, then teachers cannot possibly fight this battle because of the demands on school districts to supply access to technology in a digital sense. I know that in my school district, at least for high school, it is easier and cheaper to allow students to use cell phones for research than to require the district to supply laptops and computers with internet access.

    • Stacey January 21, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

      Additionally, in my classroom, I have times when they are allowed to have their phones. If they have them out during instructional time or writing / reading assignments, I take them and every day for the remainder of the nine-weeks, they must put them in a shoe holder thing at the front of the classroom where it can be plugged into a power strip. I also tried getting them back early to giving me two mercy Moments which are worth prizes and extra credit in class. So far, my seniors adhere to my personal policy.

  29. Richard January 21, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

    I teach middle school, and my policy is “if I see it, it’s mine” and I confiscate it for the day whether or not they were using it. Whenever we review this procedure, I model it, have students act it out (with a pretend cell phone) so that everything is clear. Even if I see the the corner of the cell phone sticking out of a pocket…it’s mine! The mantra and the clarity has solved this problem for me for the past few years. I only have to confiscate a phone once or twice a month.

  30. Caryn January 21, 2018 at 7:10 pm #

    Some parents tell their scholars to keep their phones with them, thinking it’s safer in a backpack than in a locked box in the classroom (not true!). So then the student feels like he/she is disobeying a parent…

  31. S.L. Smith, Stamford, CT January 22, 2018 at 6:22 am #

    The problem is NOT ONLY THE STUDENTS. Teachers pull out cell phones while teaching class. Teacher Aides can be on their phones THROUGHOUT a class. Parents wander around with cell phones in plain sight and using them.

    Second problem. They are addictive. This is like pulling water away from a thirsty dog. The dog gets angry.

    A counter suggestion is to use Google Classroom or other media in the class but to limit it to those who do not have a cell phone visible or on in any way.

  32. Rose January 22, 2018 at 9:58 am #

    If parents need to speak with their child have them call the school leave a message with staff; then we can forward that message to student.

    A lot of students need their phones after school for work, parent pick up, sports, etc…
    Only use their cell phones during lunch time.

    The difficult part is that some teachers allow students to have their phones in their class rooms, and other teachers do not, which gives the student no consistency in the policy.

    It should be a NO cell phone school policy during instruction only.

  33. Becca January 22, 2018 at 10:49 am #

    I’m teaching in 7th-grade in which our students travel from teacher to teacher as groups. Our school has a policy that it up to each grade level to make the rules and our team has a strict rule that the students turn their cell phones into a bucket at the front of the room at the beginning of school. The bucket gets rotated to each class by the teacher so they don’t have access to it between classes. This way the phones are always in view of the kids and they have more buy-in. Very rarely does a student leave their phone on and it rings, but the teacher has it at the front of the room so it’s in our control.

    I don’t like it, but our students are allowed to use their phones during recess and lunch. We do have buy-in from all the students except one who tends to try and hide it. He’s gone through the consequences and is doing better. Our kids have assigned Chromebooks in which to do their work which means they don’t need access to their phone for academic reasons.

    This has worked for our grade/team and hope this gives an approach to teachers who are trying to get buy-in from the students.

  34. Karen January 22, 2018 at 1:52 pm #

    Our school had a very clearly mandated policy at the start of the year.

    Then, our admin team found that it is against the ED code for the state of California to hold a student’s phone overnight and mandate that a parent retrieve it, which sort of complicated matters.

    We have not yet received a modified consequence policy, so I have been issuing 30 minute detentions for the 3rd time offenses. I will definitely be using this article for ideas!

  35. mc January 23, 2018 at 7:08 pm #

    What about teachers that use phones academically? Why is looking something up on a phone seen as so much worse than students getting another packet or worksheet? What about if your school lacks laptops, or makes retrieving them such a hassle that you’d rather not use them?

    • Michael Linsin January 24, 2018 at 8:44 am #

      Hi mc,

      This is addressed in the article. When you get a chance, please give it another read.

  36. Matthew January 27, 2018 at 4:09 am #

    Excellent and pretty comprehensive suggestions. I would also add that some kind of community consultation would be worthwhile, in order to get parents completely on board. School leaders need to communicate with them about the scale of the problem, and how it is being handled.

  37. Lynn Hokanson January 29, 2018 at 2:09 pm #

    I have not read every reply, so I apologize if mine is redundant.

    I was having a lot of problems with cell phones, and parents who were upset that their children were doing poorly in school (but not upset enough to take their phones away). I now use a hanging bag with numbered pockets. The students are assigned pockets alphabetically, and I take roll by the cell phones in the pockets. I made little cards for them to put in the pocket whenever they don’t have their phones with them; they each had to write their names and “I don’t have a phone today” on the cards. They understand that if they put the card in the pocket and keep their phone with them, it is an automatic referral to the office. This policy has worked very well; I rarely have phone issues now.


  1. Following the “Smart Class Management” Blog, Pt. 2 | jakeisdeeplyamused - January 22, 2018

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