Our school is a cell phone-free zone.

I just wanted to write a post to document our journey toward a cell phone free zone in our school. As many of you know, I am a Principal at a grades 7-9 school in Edmonton, Alberta. Over the past two years, we have been dealing with many cell phone related issues. Here are some examples:

  • Students are majorly distracted by their phones. Constantly checking, texting and posting. In many cases, potentially volatile situations can develop because students are in constant contact with each other via text or social media.
  • Students misplace their cell phones throughout the day.
  • Students use their personal phones to contact parents. We have had situations in which a parent calls and gives information about a situation which has not yet been reported to the office.
  • Students taking photos at school and posting them.
  • These are just some examples.

Our first thought was that we needed to “teach” our kids how to properly use their devices and to be responsible digital citizens. This venture became constant and got in the way of learning. “Please put your phone away, this is not an appropriate time to be using it.” Cell phones were still a major distraction for our students…and for our staff. They were getting in the way of learning. Yes, I know, many people say that a cell phone is a learning tool. That’s all well and good if that how kids are using them. A student may pick up their phone to use it as a learning tool but the temptation to check texts and social media is far too great. Plus the fact, we have devices in our school which students can use as learning tools…Chromebooks are great!

Earlier this year, we challenged our kids to have a cell phone free dance. The result…kids had fun, danced and interacted with each other. They didn’t seem to miss their devices one bit. In the past, students would attend dances and be on their phones the whole time. We have had many conversations about banning cell phones and, as a staff, we have read many articles about cell phones and their negative affect on student mental health. I had also talked to some of my Principal colleagues about cell phone free policies in their schools. Given all this, we knew what we had to do…

We made our school a cell phone free zone for students. When students come to school, they lock their phones away in their lockers. For the month of May, they can use their phones at lunch time but for the month of June (in preparation for exams), phones are locked away for the day. Our intention, is to carry on with the full day cell phone free zone next school year. This was our way of scaffolding the new policy into place. There are consequences for using a cell phone during school and it involves a 3-strike rule. (Strike 1 – phone stays in office for the day, Strike 2 – phone stays in office until parents pick it up, Strike 3 – student must check phone into office every day).

Of course, there were some students who were not impressed with this new policy. We explained that we were doing it, not to be mean, but to support their learning by removing distraction and temptation. We had about a dozen cell phones turned into the office the first week but since then the number has drastically decreased. As a staff, we agreed that we needed to all be on board with this policy and consistency was key to its success. We have noticed that students are more active and engaged during class and there are fewer situations of social media drama.

We remind students each morning to lockup their devices and they appreciate the reminder.

Our parent community has supported us on this initiative. When we brought it up at our Parent Council meeting, the comments were that this policy is “way over due.” Parents also stated, “Our kids are on their phones way too much, we’re glad you are taking a stand.”

That is how things are going thus far. I intend to write a follow-up post in a couple of weeks.

I see that many schools (and districts) are limiting cell phone use in classrooms. Here is a recent article from my neck of the woods.


Author: Derek Hatch

Principal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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