Want to Keep Phones in Check? Here Are 9 Rules and 8 Tips to Craft a School Cell Phone Policy That Works

Many schools are banning students from using cell phones in class, citing distraction and interference with learning as primary concerns. This stance is understandable, as the aim is to maintain an environment conducive to education. Despite these concerns, it’s worth considering the potential benefits of integrating mobile phones into classroom activities.

Do You Use Cell Phone Policy in Your Classroom?

Not all are convinced that prohibiting phones in schools results in improved academic performance:

In my own teaching experience, I’ve found that cell phones can significantly enhance learning. They serve as gateways to a wealth of information, interactive tools, and resources, instantly accessible at students’ fingertips. Instead of outright bans, a more nuanced approach involving a well-thought-out cell phone policy can strike the right balance. Such policies can delineate when and how gadgets may be used, thus harnessing their educational potential while curtailing their capacity to distract.

Imagine a classroom where cell phones become tools for interactive learning. Students could engage in real-time polls, access digital textbooks, and collaborate on projects with peers from around the world, all under the guidance of their teacher. Furthermore, mobile phones can aid in teaching digital citizenship, preparing students to navigate the complexities of the digital world responsibly.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how a cell phone policy can benefit all stakeholders at a school, keep reading! I’ll share:

Why We Need a Cell Phone Policy at School

Despite the number of school districts that have banned the use of cell phones in school, banning phones from school is not the right answer.

Obviously, most students are against these bans. Watch what they say about it in this video.

There are actually a number of reasons students should be allowed to use their phones in school. These include increasing the use of technology in the classroom, improving communication between teachers and students, helping students stay organized, and saving schools money by allowing students to access digital materials rather than relying so heavily on printed materials. Learn more about why students should be allowed to use cell phones in class in this article.

However, We Also Just Can Let Our Students Have Their Phones Out to Play Games or Post on Social Media
Rather, it’s about creating a balanced and clear policy that guides students to use their phones responsibly and as a means to enhance their learning.

Developing a cell phone policy at school is essential to ensure students and teachers are able to enjoy the instructional benefits associated with using gadgets, while also ensuring that cell phones don’t become a distraction from learning.

Cell Phone Policy at School — 9 Rules

Coming up with the right rules for using cell phones in school is essential. Below, I’ve put together some rules to get you started with creating your own cell phone policy for your school or classroom. Every situation is unique, so you will want to think about your specific students and modify these rules to help them meet the needs of your building.

  1. Cell phones may be used on school grounds before school, during lunch, and after school.
  2. Cell phone use is prohibited in classrooms, restrooms, and school offices unless otherwise stated by a teacher.
  3. During the instructional day, cell phones must remain out of sight and in silent mode.
  4. Unless explicitly allowed by a staff member, headphones and other listening devices may only be used before and after school hours.
  5. Cell phones must be placed in lockers, backpacks, or other locations away from students and their desks during tests and assessments.
  6. If students need to place an emergency phone call during the day, they should request to go to the main office to use an office phone.
  7. Students may be subject to disciplinary action if their use of their cell phones disrupts the school’s educational environment. Examples of this include, but are not limited to: cheating, bullying, harassment, unlawful recording or photographing, and violating other school rules.
  8. The school and its staff are not responsible for any damage to or theft of a student’s cell phone. Students must properly secure and take care of their own phones.
  9. Students and their parents must read the cell phone policy and return a signed copy to the office at the beginning of the school year. Signing the policy acknowledges acceptance. Students will not be permitted to have their phones at school until the signed policy is returned.

If students violate the school’s cell phone policy, the following may occur:

  • First offense: The student’s cell phone will be confiscated by a staff member and held in the main office until the end of the school day. Before being allowed to pick up their phone at the end of the day, students must discuss and review the cell phone policy with a staff member.
  • Second offense: The student’s cell phone will be confiscated and held in the main office until the end of the school day. The student’s parents will be contacted and informed of the refusal to follow the school’s cell phone policy. Students may pick up their phones following after-school detention.
  • Third offense: The student’s cell phone will be confiscated and held in the main office until the student’s parents are able to come to pick it up. The student will receive after-school detention and will be prohibited from bringing their cell phone back on school grounds for two weeks.

**The administration reserves the right to adjust these consequences on a case-by-case basis if needed. For example, extreme behaviors that break the law or engaging in bullying or harassment of other students may result in suspension.

You May Print Some Rules and Put Them on the Walls
The visual reminder of cell phone etiquette can serve as a constant, clear guide for acceptable use within the classroom.

In addition to using the tips above to help you create a cell phone policy for your school or classroom, you can also review the policies of other schools or school districts. This can help you gain additional ideas that can help you craft a policy that will work for you and your students. To help you in this measure, I did some research and looked up the cell phone policies for a few different schools and districts.

How to Maintain Cell Phone Management in the Classroom — 6 Tips for Teachers

Having a cell phone policy in place is just the first step. Proper management of your policy and gadget use in your classroom is also essential. Use the tips below to help you manage cell phone use in your classroom. This will help ensure students are using mobile phones in ways that will benefit their learning, not ways that will detract from it.

1. Purchase or Make Your Own Cell Phone Charging Station

A cell phone charging station and storage organizer can provide students with an acceptable place to keep their phones when they are not needed for instruction. You can add charging cables or allow students to bring their own chargers, to ensure their phones are ready to use when needed for instruction.

I Have 4 Charging Stations in My Classroom
This setup encourages students to see their devices as tools for learning rather than just social gadgets, fostering a sense of readiness and responsibility towards their use in educational settings.

You can learn more about cell phone charging stations and storage organizers here. For those who prefer doing something with their own hands, I recommend finding some DIY ideas here.

2. Use a Pocket Chart or Hanging Shoe Organizer

To enhance the organization, label each pocket on the storage organizer with a number, corresponding to a student’s assigned seat or roll call number. Upon entering the classroom, students are to deposit their cell phones into their individually assigned slots.

This system not only facilitates an orderly way to manage the devices but also significantly reduces the temptation for students to use their phones during lesson time, thereby minimizing distractions. Furthermore, it streamlines the process of collecting and returning phones, making it efficient for both teachers and students, and maintains a focused learning environment.

3. Create a “Cell Phone Jail”

Establish a classroom “cell phone jail” as a creative way to enforce the cell phone policy. Should a student be caught using their device during prohibited times, instruct them to surrender their phone to this designated area. The “jail” serves as a temporary holding spot for gadgets, ensuring that they remain untouched for the duration of the class.

This method not only reinforces the rules regarding cell phone usage but also acts as a deterrent for future infractions. It’s an effective classroom management tool that helps maintain focus and order, keeping students engaged in the lesson rather than their screens.

I Find It Quite Funny But Effective
This approach not only reinforces the rules but also teaches students the importance of self-regulation and the consequences of their choices in a tangible, yet non-punitive way.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

Implement a positive reinforcement strategy in your classroom to encourage adherence to the cell phone policy. Acknowledge and reward students who consistently comply with the rules regarding phone usage. This could be through verbal praise, a points system, or small privileges, like being first in line or a homework pass.

Such incentives not only promote a disciplined approach to mobile phone use but also foster an environment where positive behaviors are celebrated. This method shifts the focus from punishment to recognition, motivating students to self-regulate their phone activity and reinforcing the importance of being present and engaged during class time.

5. Create a Classroom Signal for Cell Phone Use

Sometimes students need to use their cell phones just for a moment to look up an unknown word, find a synonym, or review a topic. There may be times when you’re willing to permit such use and other times when you’re not, such as during a test.

Create a classroom hand signal that students can use to ask for permission without disrupting instruction or other students who are working. You can either give them a thumbs up to go ahead and use their phone or a thumbs down to let them know that now is not an acceptable time to have it out.

Create Your Personal Ringtone, the Students'll Like It
Implementing this non-verbal communication system ensures that learning continues seamlessly while maintaining the classroom’s focus and discipline.

6. Work in a Few Cell Phone Breaks During the Day

Consider implementing structured cell phone breaks during class sessions, allocating two to three minutes for students to freely use their devices. This brief respite not only acknowledges their desire to stay connected but can significantly diminish the urge to covertly check their phones.

By doing so, you’re likely to see a notable decrease in mid-lesson distractions, resulting in a more concentrated and engaged classroom environment. These scheduled pauses can serve as a compromise that upholds the integrity of instructional time while respecting students’ social needs, striking a balance between educational focus and digital life.

7. Integrate Cell Phones into Learning Activities

Incorporate cell phone usage into your curriculum thoughtfully by leveraging educational apps, facilitating research for projects, or engaging students with interactive polls during discussions. This method acknowledges the educational potential within students’ devices, turning them into tools for active learning. It offers a practical framework for students to interact with technology in a guided, purposeful manner.

By blending traditional teaching with modern tech, you create an interactive and dynamic classroom atmosphere, fostering digital literacy and responsible device management. Such intentional integration demonstrates to students the constructive capabilities of their cell phones, enhancing the educational experience.

Integrate Cell Phones into Learning Activities
This harmonious fusion of classic educational strategies and contemporary technology also prepares students for a future where digital proficiency is not just valued, but expected, thus ensuring their competence in a technology-driven world.

8. Establish a Classroom Tech Support Team

Empower students by forming a classroom ‘Tech Support’ team, assigned to oversee the charging station’s operation, provide assistance for tech-related problems, and monitor appropriate cell phone usage during lessons. This initiative fosters a sense of responsibility and community, as team members take pride in maintaining an orderly and functional learning space.

It encourages a collaborative environment where students become stewards of their technology, developing practical skills and respect for their collective educational setting. This involvement can transform the way students perceive and use their devices, enhancing the classroom’s digital literacy and management.

Useful Resources

Closing Thoughts

The right cell phone policy at school can help students learn and reduce distractions. When students are able to use their phones appropriately during instruction, they can be powerful technological tools for researching, engaging with a lesson, providing feedback to peers, participating in classroom surveys, and more. The best cell phone policies also prevent students from pulling out their phones during inappropriate times, which can distract them from learning. Are you ready to use what you learned and begin crafting a cell phone policy that will work for your students?

Simona Johnes
  1. How do you stop students from texting when they have their phone out for instruction? I try to incorporate the use of cell phones into some of my lessons and have my students use their phones for educational apps or to answer poling questions, but I know some of them are still texting their friends rather than completely focusing on instruction.

    • Make it clear to your students that you’ll only be able to continue using cell phones in class if they use them as is directed. If you haven’t made your cell phone policy clear to your students, now is a good time to review the consequences for improper use of cell phones during the school day. You can also consider designating a few minutes of each class period where students can send a text, since this may help them remain focused during the rest of instruction.

    • not rlly a “waste” of time when you give out clear instructions. maybe if teachers were clear about it then they wouldn’t have to keep reminding students about this concern. also.. what if that student has diabetes and they have to have their phone out to monitor their health? think + research before you say that they are a complete waste. they are only a waste of time because you make it that way

  2. I have tried 1, 2, 4, and 6 of the strategies listed, and I still had chronic overuse of phones and airpods. I did some informal data analysis and found (not surprisingly) that almost every student who I had to remind often to put phones away ended the 21-22 school year with a D or F in my class. I grade for mastery, not behavior, but it’s clear that you cannot gain mastery of a subject if you are constantly on your phone. Our school has a no cell phone use during the day policy, but it is NEVER enforced by the administrators- all of the enforcement is left to teachers. Without explicit backup and consequences this will never change. I recognize that phones are just a part of life now, but they are absolutely negatively impacting our children’s brains and ability to learn. Every parent and education professional should watch the documentary ‘Childhood 2.0’. It is heartbreaking and shocking. I wish there was a way for schools to block access to everything on phones except for the ability for parents to contact them- that’s why parents push back on cell phone bans. I totally get the need to be in touch with one’s children. I am just at a loss and not looking forward to the coming school year and the constant game of whack-a-mole.

    • Mary:

      Did your cell phone battle improve last year? This 2023-2024 year will be my second year teaching high school. I taught previously in middle school for 18 years.

      Cell phones are among my biggest challenge and a major part of student disengagement. Even with a school-wide cell phone policy, it is not really enforced. I could spend large amounts of time and energy patrolling and keeping track of cell phone abuse in my classroom, but it has gotten ridiculous! I don’t know what to do. Students don’t respond to positive or negative reinforcement strategies. I was even considering a cell phone signal blocking device, but it is against FCC regulations and I could lose my job.

  3. I have known some teachers tell their students they are able to see anything they send when using the school wifi. Our school has very poor signal, so using the wifi is the best option, plus it saves their data. During a different lesson where phones are used she will remind them of this rule and will say something like, “last time you guys were able to use phones I logged into the system and was able to see texts involving ______ I wasn’t kidding about being able to read text or know what websites you visit.” As far as I know it wasn’t true, but it sounded close enough to topics they have been discussing, and knew best than to text. However, there’s always a student that tries to prove the teacher wrong and will do it on purpose to see if they get caught.


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