What is the role of the smartphone in schools?

features-cell-phone-ch.jpgIn schools around the country the use of electronic devices continues to evolve; it is no different in Worthington Schools. Our goal is to balance the curriculum, 21st century skills, availability of technology, appropriate – and safe – student behavior, with the development of respectful, responsible digital citizenship. This is proving to be a challenging road to navigate, but certainly one we are committed to travel along with our students and families.

In 2012 when we instituted our current technology plan we became a Bring Your Own Device school district.  As a district we provide 7,500 mobile devices that operate on a Google platform.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices if they wish to utilize them at school.  This includes the use of smartphones.

Smartphones are powerful computers that can be used in very beneficial ways for student learning.  Unfortunately, they can also increase distraction.  The increased use of personal devices, especially access to social media and electronic communications, have impacted our school environments and student cultures.  This impact is causing us, as well as many other school districts, to rethink our cell phone policies.

Last Tuesday at 10:00 A.M. I received a text message from my dad in Florida.  He texted a picture of something he was eating to me and each of my three daughters who were sitting in three different Worthington Schools at the time.  Within several minutes each of my daughters had responded to the text stream several times.  Before I saw the first text there were 13 comments back and forth.  I had to get on and text “ENOUGH!  Dad, quit sending texts to my kids during the school day, and girls, stop responding and pay attention in school!”  (BTW: this happened.  I’m embellishing nothing.)

As a parent it’s really convenient to be able to communicate with my child during the school day.  However, our kids are also communicating with one another during the day and I’m left to wonder how much distraction from learning this is causing and how much loss of face-to-face interaction with peers is occurring.

Our technology plan is well intentioned.  Smartphones have educational benefit.  On one hand, it’s our job as educators not to take things away from students but to help them learn how to utilize the tools they have and when things are appropriate and when they are not. On the other hand, as we all learn more about the addictive nature of our mobile technology we may need to rethink the role of the smartphone in the classroom.  

Current practice allows for teachers to set smartphone policy for their class.  However, we could create schoolwide policy.  Schoolwide policy could be: “Students will be asked to keep their handheld or wearable devices (ie. Smartphone, game systems, Apple watch, etc) in their lockers during the school day. ​Students will be able to bring personal laptops, Chromebooks, or E-readers to the classroom. If students need to communicate with their parents during the school day, they should come to the office. Parents can call our office line and our building secretaries will connect you with your student.”  

What do you think? Do we need a change in our smartphone policy?  Would you support a change to our smartphone policy?  Are we best to leave our policy as is with teacher discretion?  No decisions or changes are imminent on how we deal with smartphones but it’s something we’re always evaluating.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent


11 thoughts on “What is the role of the smartphone in schools?

  1. Sheila Gill says:

    I think leaving the policy for each teacher. Majority of my daughter’s classes do not allow phone usage which I really like. But it is convenient for her to have in her backpack for in between class periods to respond to me and others. She attends Kilbourne.

  2. Sarah says:

    I wholeheartedly support a change in the smartphone policy. If I truly needed to get in touch with my child at school, I would not rely on his cell phone anyway. Anything else I need from him can wait until he gets home. As a parent, I have grown incredibly frustrated by the fact that my child is allowed to be on his device during school. Occasionally he does use it for school purposes, but most often he is definitely NOT doing schoolwork. This is especially true for classes like Academic Prep or advisory when he should really be studying or doing homework. I’ve also heard about videos of fights at school as well as snap chat posts of things happening in school that just should not be shared/spread. On top of that, cell phones are being stolen all the time. I feel like things are escalating and we really need to be pro-active, not reactive.


    I would support change in the current policy. There have been so many articles written recently about the growing epidemic of depression and anxiety in teens, which has been linked to smartphone usage. Students are checking their social apps constantly throughout the day. This needs controlled within the classrooms at the very least. I understand parents wanting to get in touch with their children, however phones should be left in lockers, not available at all times as is the current structure.

  4. K. Arnold says:

    I’m a parent in a nearby district, enjoy your blog and wanted to provide some additional input. My thoughts would lean to keeping the current policy and make sure teachers recognize they need to clearly state (verbal and written) their policy and enforce it within their classroom consistently. Often times the lack of consistency is what leads to abuse of the privilege.

    Personally, I would not want the device left in a locker. My daughter (HS) uses her “phone” – let’s be honest, portable internet access device – during the school day for two primary usages: when the wifi is terrible in her science class and she needs to access the necessary materials, or in between classes / in study hall only as needed. The wifi does drop out from time to time and when more and more education materials are only available online, it is good that she has a backup device beyond the school issued wifi-only iPad. While she could visit the office if she needed to contact me, she saves education time by texting me in between classes. For example, recently her wrist tendonitis painfully flared up in an early morning class and as it had been feeling ok for a few weeks she did not have her brace. She texted on the way to her next class; I was able to bring her wrist brace to the office, which she picked up on her way to lunch later. The simple option to text and thus save class time instead of calling, saves learning time. How often do we adults text a quick message to a friend or colleague to save time vs. calling them? Just as we want to effectively manage our time, so do they. Not saying there are not students abusing the system, but the teenage brain needs constant training to moderate impulse control.

    Especially for HS students that may be heading to college soon (I have one at OSU), they need to learn how to appropriately manage their device time before they get there. Kids need to learn when it’s appropriate to check a phone or not; send a reply or not. (Some adults could use this training as well.) They cannot learn and practice that skill by simply leaving them in their lockers. It’s a different world from our school days and we need to adapt. Yes, be proactive – teach them device responsibility vs. reactive – just taking it away. Continually engage and re-engage parents in the lesson along the way so parents can reinforce the message at home with their own clear expectations for school.

    Thank you for the read – love the story about grandpa’s distraction! The struggle is real.

  5. Pat Stegman says:

    Having worked in a high school, I say let the students keep their cellphones, etc. with them as that would lessen the risk of theft. Worthington School District teachers are pretty savvy at knowing when to let students have their devices and when to take them away. I think the current policy works. Thanks Trent for all you do for Worthington Schools!

  6. Robert Rhoades says:

    As a student, other students don’t hide things from me. I see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Blanket policies are never good, to restrict the freedoms of everyone, in hopes of eliminating the small percent that cause problems won’t work. I doubt the students who usually play on their phone will obey this policy in the first place. The current system doesn’t work, some teachers are to relaxed about their phone rules. I have two teachers who have working policies. One teaches so quickly and with so much involvement from the students, no one touches their phone in fear of failing the test. My other teacher has the policy that I believe should become a school wide policy. You can turn your phone off and put it in a phone holder on the wall by the teacher’s desk, or you can plug it in to charge at the teacher’s desk. If anyone pulls out a phone or headphones, it is taken at the first offense, the warning comes on the first day when the teacher explains the new policy. This gives all students the safety and comfort of having their phone nearby, but restricts them from using it during instructional time. I would love to see this policy go school wide, and I am talking to other teachers about getting them to set up a similar system.

  7. Ryan Smith says:

    The teachers should continue to manage phone usage on a per-class basis. If you make a “no-device” rule at the district level, you are still leaving the teachers to have to enforce it. I’d argue the teachers would end up spending more time enforcing the no-device rule than what they have to do today. The tooth paste is out of the tube in regard to smart devices and how they are used. You will fight a losing battle trying to take them away. Embrace it more and create curriculum that uses them.

    Phone over-usage should be put on the backs of the parents to manage, not the school. I don’t expect the school district to set the rules for kids on how they use their phone. Teachers have every right to ask kids to put away their devices. If my kid doesn’t abide, I’d like to know about that so I can deal with it. If my kid’s grades are slipping, I’d like to know about that from the school so I could see if the phone usage was the contributing factor in the grade slippage.

    Bottom line, parents need to do better. The schools do a great job. I don’t expect the schools to try and solve this problem. It was the parents that got the devices for the kids and made this problem for the schools. It should be the parents who decide to take them away, and not the schools job to try and manage it.

  8. Milo Browne says:

    I am a student in Worthington schools and I believe our current way of the teachers setting the policy makes a lot of sense. For example, if I’m having a fibromyalgia flare and need my dad to bring me my cane I can text him between classes instead of going all the way to the office to call him. And if people are using their phones for bad reasons, it is a good way to teach them natural consequences, you don’t pay attention in class, you don’t do well.

  9. Sarah says:

    I didn’t read “change in the smartphone policy” as equaling a “no device” policy. From where I sit, there doesn’t really seem to be any policy in place. Some teachers allow them, some don’t. It doesn’t feel like any of my son’s teachers follow any consistent message. I agree that smart phones are here to stay and we do (parents especially) have to teach our kids the appropriate way to use these devices. However, I do not think cell phones should be used during class instruction. It is rude to the teacher and it is distracting to the other students. In the real world, most of us are not allowed to use our phones whenever we want in our jobs. Cell phone use would most definitely be frowned up on during meetings, staffing a public service desk, waiting tables. during surgery, flying a plane, etc. The problem is that currently there aren’t any lessons being delivered to our students by allowing such inconsistency between how teachers. There should most definitely be a change in the smartphone policy, but that does not automatically mean take them away. To me that means we should really be proactive about creating a solid, consistent message to students. It should be a policy that minimizes in-class distraction, that minimizes the time it takes for teachers to police it and should minimize any inconsistency in following the policy. It should be one that teaches students appropriate times to use a device, appropriate ways to use that device and one that has actual consequences for not following it.

  10. Phoenix Middle went to no phones out during the day this year and I think it’s been a very good thing… and listening to many moms in a Worthington moms group, I think they would agree, at least at the elementary and middle school level. High school might be a different story and I can see the points about, this is a new generation and they need to learn how to use the technology responsibly. Tough call for administration… when we were kids it was all about the fold and pass of the note. ;)(parent of Worthington Students)

  11. Rodney Hopkins says:

    As a high school teacher I think a zero tolerance policy during class time, including academic prep (study hall), would be a great solution. In my opinion there is a significant amount of instructional time missed by students because they feel the need to check their phones periodically for texts (even more when they’re in a group chat) and likes on social media. During academic prep many students spend more time streaming videos and texting than they do working on assignments, studying or just giving themselves a mental break for the day.

    With a zero tolerance policy if a student takes a phone out for any reason the teacher would confiscate it and take it to the office for the student to pick up at the end of the school day. The parents would receive notification of the situation so if they need to contact their student they know they will have to go through the office to do so. A student will only get 2 opportunities to pick their phone up. After the 2nd occurrence the phone can only be picked up by a parent (even if that means not the same day).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s