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February 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 5
Q: At our high school, we recently reexamined our electronic use policy. The assistant principals and I agreed that our policy of no electronic devices during the school day was inconsistent with societal norms. So in the opening days of this school year, we asked our students to use their cell phones and other devices responsibly. As we examine this shift in practice, we continue to ask questions. What is the best policy regarding cell phone access? How do parents feel about this issue? What are the instructional benefits?
—Kate Long, PrincipalTwin Valley High SchoolElverson, Pennsylvania
A: In our school, we used to confiscate any cell phones that were "seen" or "heard" and hold them for parent pick-up. We soon realized that a student might need that phone for an emergency or to contact a parent. The punishment (and potential consequences) didn't seem to fit the crime.
We decided this was not a battle to fight, and we "decriminalized" cell phones. Now, if a phone causes a disruption, we treat it as we would any other disruption. After all, to our students (and to us as well), the cell phone has become a virtual appendage—an essential communication tool, and not necessarily more disruptive than a student tapping a pencil.
Since we rethought our policy, havoc has not reigned. Our school structure has not collapsed, and the instructional process has not suffered. We now have more time to focus on what matters: teaching and learning.
—Scott Herrmann, PrincipalGemini Junior High SchoolNiles, Illinois
This past summer, we too began to question our cell phone policy. It occurred to us that everywhere else in society, we have been taught when cell phone use is appropriate and when it is not. For example, church services often start with a reminder to silence all cell phones. We realized that our students also need to be taught appropriate use. Now, use in the classroom is still off-limits, but in the cafeteria or hallways, use is allowed. When students enter a classroom, they are greeted with a reminder about appropriate use. We have seen a drop in disruptions related to electronic devices, and parents have welcomed this more relaxed policy.
—Dave Stovenour, Assistant PrincipalDundalk High SchoolBaltimore County Public Schools, Maryland
We permit students to possess cell phones but require them to keep their phones "out of sight, out of mind" during school hours. We do allow them to use other forms of technology, such as MP3 players, outside the classroom. Students understand and respect the policy.
We do a lot of inservice training with teachers (and parents) on 21st century learners— including how to use student-owned technology in the classroom as an instructional tool. In this way, we are able to emphasize the responsible use of technology by our students. The instructional benefits are significant, and we really don't have a choice but to move in this direction.
—Andre Potvin, PrincipalLester B. Pearson Catholic High School,Ottawa, Ontario
What's Your Response?Each month in "Among Colleagues," practicing educators draw from their own experience to share their advice about challenges their colleagues face.To add your own comments to this discussion, go to Inservice, the ASCD blog, at http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/educational_leadership.
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