My Tried and True Way of Managing Phones in the Classroom

This post needs a disclaimer.  I have admittedly only used this method with high schoolers.  The homeschool co-op I’m working with right now has a strict no personal technology policy, and honestly I don’t know if all my students even have a phone, so I haven’t been able to try this with middle school kids.  But in high school, this is my go-to system for managing kids and their phones.

My tried and true way of managing students and phones

My method for handling students and their phones

During my teaching certification observations, I realized very quickly that the teachers who forbade phones with no exceptions had more kids trying to sneak them, or had more phone policy violations than teachers who were more lax (within reason).  Plus, I found periodically that for some activities, students need to look up information and in the last school I taught in classroom computers barely even existed for teachers, let alone for students, so I knew I needed a policy that accommodated cell phones but while making sure I had “no phone” times in class too.

So my policy very quickly became this: when the cell phone sign is red, your phones are in your backpacks and when the cell phone sign is green, you can have them out but they can’t make noise.  My “sign” was red and green construction paper.  Depending on what was going on in the classroom, I would just put either red or green in front so that my kids knew what was expected of them.  Typically these would be laminated to last longer.

my method for managing high school kids' phones in class

My method for handling students and their phones

This policy was thankfully respected by my students most of the time over the years.  When a student would occasionally violate the policy, I would give him or her a warning, and if they violated the policy again I followed the school policy of sending the phone to the office where the kid picked it up at the end of the day.

Those kids who worked better listening to music could have their ear buds in (when doing independent work), students could access the internet if they needed to look up some information, and since they knew the sign would turn to green at some point during class (except on test days), they didn’t try to sneak their phones and abuse the system.  Many of my co-workers had similar policies, just with slight variations for age/overall class trustworthiness/etc.  To me this seemed the natural way to go because it seems like the more you completely forbid something, the more a teenager will try to do what is being forbidden.

I do have a quick related story to share.  When I was in my very first month of subbing (honestly it was probably only my 3rd or 4th time in the classroom), a few years before I was certified, I didn’t mess around with kids and their phones.  I was strict because I was the sub and  I wanted to follow the school policy to a T.  So this one junior, after being warned twice, was using her phone again and I told her now I had to take the phone and send it to the office.  She, and I can’t make this up, put her phone down her shirt and into her bra so that I couldn’t physically take it from her.  I called for a hall monitor, she was brought to the office, and they took whatever measures they took.  That was a VERY eye-opening experience for me in terms of the things kids will do to feel like they are in control, to try to embarrass a sub, to put on a show for their classmates, or whatever the case would be.

One last disclaimer.  I know this system won’t work for all groups of students.  Some teachers have to abide by the overarching school rule no matter what, some teachers can have a classroom rule in place.  I don’t expect this to work well for me each year and depending on my school and kids I know I’ll have to try out different methods.

I’d love to hear how you deal with students and their phones.  The more tips and tricks we have up our sleeves the better!

4 replies »

  1. I love this! I have a similar policy for my high school students except I don’t use red / green… although I may start with my freshmen next year! My policy is there are no phones during direct instruction, when I’m giving directions, or when working in groups (we talk about how annoying it is to try talk to someone who is on their phone…) But when students are working indepently I give them the chance to manage their own phone use while still completing their work. Overall seems to work with seniors… I’m taking my first crack at freshmen next year so we will see what works best with them!


    • Thanks Alexandria! Like Samantha shared, there are very clear cut “teacher/red sign” times and “independent work/green sign” times, but for the last 6 years this has worked pretty well, fingers crossed for this next school year 🙂


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