Banning Cellphones and Social Media in Schools
Here’s Another 8 Step Option

September 12, 2017


I’m not a licensed teacher, but I am a social media educator and advocate that has presented to over 340,000 students from across Canada and the United States. I have visited hundreds of schools and have seen what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to the integration of student mobile devices into the classroom at the middle school and high school level. This is my attempt to share with you what I believe to be “best practices”, when it comes to this challenge. The experiences of principals, teachers, counsellors, students and parents have all helped me in creating this document. Now, is the 8 step protocol I’m going to share with you “THE” answer to the challenges faced, probably not…… but can it help until such time as we can all figure this out…..absolutely in my opinion.

Here in British Columbia, we have now had several schools either ban cellphones or filter social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Netflix from use on school property. Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and a school here in Victoria

are two such examples of schools who have taken such an action.

Often the reason cited by school administrators for banning or filtering, students have become too distracted in class, which is causing significant challenges to both teachers and other students. One principal stated, “Many students have tremendous difficulty managing their use of cellphones, and because of this, teachers are finding phones a serious impediment to instruction and learning”

To deal with this challenge, these schools have taken on what I perceive to be a less than desirable way to deal with this issue…….. “just ban” the use of phones at school, or “filter” these problematic sites and the problem will be solved. This is flawed thinking, and destined to fail, and my opinion is backed up by research conducted by Dr. Thierry Karsenti, Canadian Research Chair on Technology in Education, that can be located here:

When it comes to the banning of cellphones at schools, one teacher stated to me, “I found that when schools tried to restrict access to cell phone usage, it just made people try to use them even more. Once we opened up usage during breaks, and when the teachers allowed, students used their phones less frequently during lessons.” When it comes to filtering social media sites another teacher stated, “As a teacher in a district that has blocked these sites for years…. kids know how to get around it. They are the ones that taught me how to still get on Facebook” Yup, tweens and teens are very good at finding work arounds to such banning and filtering policies. Some of these work arounds include; using their own data plan to access during class, or connecting to an open Wi-Fi near the school, or the use of a Virtual Privacy Network/Proxy to by-pass a school’s filter.

Another reason why schools filter social networks, the amount of bandwidth that students are using for personal use is slowing down access for educational use of a school’s network. This is a valid concern, especially when it comes to streaming or downloading movies and songs from Netflix or YouTube, but not so much when it comes to Instagram, Facebook or some of the other more popular social networks.

Given that that I am not a fan of banning and filtering options at schools, except in some rare circumstances, educators often ask me, “well what would you recommend we do because we have tried everything else.” When I looked into the “everything else,” most of what schools attempted were nothing more than weak attempts at solving the challenge. So, what are my thoughts, rather than banning and full filtering, why don’t some principals and teachers think about adult/teacher over watch to ensure that these devices, and websites, are being used appropriately and reasonably. To do this however, schools require a good policy on social media use, combined with an educational program for staff, students and more importantly parents. Parents are the ones giving their kids these digital keys to the digital highway, without understanding what their kids are doing with them at school. Parental abdication can no longer be an accepted norm specific to this challenge. In fact, I have also heard from teachers that some parents are a big part of the problem why ????, because they are texting and calling their child during class for no valid reason.

So, here’s the White Hatter’s 8 step protocol to help middle schools and high schools cope with this challenge. I have done my research ( Yes, it’s going to take time, effort and resources, but I believe my suggestions will find a balance between accessibility, boundaries and school/classroom tech functionality:

#1: Schools need to have a clear social media use policy in place that fully identifies the who, what, where, how and why of the use of cellphones and social media while on school property. This policy must clearly outline all consequences to actions should a student breach any part of the policy, which would include the seizure of a phone by a teacher if required. To help schools develop a thorough policy, I have located two that you can use as a blueprint. One is from Kent County in the U.K. that can be located on this page: scroll down and look for a link called “Online Safety Policy Template (DOCX, 152.9KB) New” There are also other links on this site that you will find very educational. In my opinion, Kent is the “gold standard” when it comes to the integration of social media into the classroom. Another more simplistic policy I located was from Liberty Christian Academy in the USA, that can be located here:

#2: The School’s policy needs to be sent home and singed off by a parent and returned back to the school. By doing this, if the school takes action against a student for a violation of policy, the parent cannot say, “well I was never informed about this policy or the actions you would take against my child” Remember, we have to start dealing with parental abdication and this is a good way to start.

#3: There needs to be an educational component to this policy for both teachers and students, so that all understand what is acceptable, and what is not, when it comes to phone use and access to social media on school property during school hours.

#4: The policy, and a teacher’s enforcement of the policy, needs to be universal and swift in its application. Without exception, there needs to be an immediate consequence if policy is breached. If one teacher blows the policy off, then students will play one teacher off against the other. If mum doesn’t give me cookies, I will go see dad who will. If there are no meaningful consequences to actions, then there is no impetus for change.

#5: Once in the classroom, students with a phone will turn them off and place them face down on their desk. The phones will only be turned on when requested by a teacher to do so. This will also help immensely in preventing “teacher baiting” ,where students will covertly record teachers in class, and post reactions to social media

#6: Students should be allowed to use their phones, within policy, before class, during recess or lunch or outside of class time. They can also be allowed to use their phone during class time when directed by the teacher.

#7: If a student violates policy, depending upon its severity, consequences should be incremental. For a first violation, a verbal warning should be given. If a student does it a second time, their phone should be seized by the teacher and handed back to the student after class. If a student does it a third time, the phone should be seized and turned over to the principal to be dealt with accordingly, which should also include contacting the parent. If a teacher attempts to seize the phone and a student refuses, then the student should be directed to the principal’s office to be dealt with accordingly, including connecting with parents. Again, parents need to play and important roll, and if they are continually being called by the principal I have found that most parents, not all, will help and invoke their own consequences to actions.

#8: This is the most controversial step in my protocol, but one that has been used successfully in some schools; I recommend that teachers, where appropriate and reasonable to do so, provide a “five-minute tech break” during class, I recommend just after the 20-minute mark. This will allow students to check and use their phones in a controlled manner during class, thus helping to remove the continual need to use their phones during class. Several schools in the USA have integrated this practice with great success. In fact, here’s what a student here in Canada said to me. “A lot of students go on their phones to take a brain break from the school work, so that when they go back to it, the break would have refreshed them to allow them to keep doing the work, instead of being bored of the work. But some teachers don’t allow the little break, which makes students continue to be bored of the work, causing them not to finish the work or put much effort into the work.” Interesting comment from a Canadian teen, that parallels why some US schools have integrated tech breaks during class. Once the break is over, students again turn their phones off, and place them face down on their desks. Now if a school decides to skip this step in the protocol, the other seven steps can still be instituted.

I believe that phones, and the access to social networks, are not a right to have at school they are a privilege. Students are looking for guidance and structure specific to this challenge, in fact they have told me so.

Tweens and teens will test to see how far they can push the boundaries before the teacher pushes back, but to implement this protocol effectively, teachers need the policy and support from their administrators and District to do so.

To have the desired effect at schools, the use of phones and social media needs to be a positive learning experience for our tweens and teens. It’s all about education, policy and consequences to actions, both positive and negative, rather than just filtering and banning which teaches nothing in my opinion.

For any school looking for help to make this happen, I am only a call away!

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

The White Hatter

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