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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

Gotcha! Tackling mobile phones in the classroom.

Shelley’s Frankenstein was subtitled The New Prometheus, implying that the temptations of science and technology presented us with new and interesting ways to fall victim to hubris and the perils of our conceit and vanity. Fast Forward to this week and we can see that mobile phones, while undoubtedly one of the game changers of the late 20th Century, also brings with them opportunities for the vile and the vicious to exploit others. And, if you haven’t noticed, they’re in your classrooms, too. There’s an old aphorism that claims that, in a big city, you’re never more than ten feet from a rat; add to that the modern mantra that you’re also never more than ten feet from a pink Blackberry covered in v*jazzle with an Enrique Iglesias ringtone. There are genuine, positive ways that they can be used in the classroom- dominos, I imagine- but for the majority of teachers, they’re a pain in the ass. Here are some suggestions to soothe your savage breast when you feel like Raging Against the Machine:

  1. The School should have a policy on their use and possession- if it doesn’t, then you’ll be doomed to dealing with them on a perpetual case-by-case basis that makes Sisyphus appear lazy. Some schools insist that they aren’t brought in at all, but I think that is simply trying to turn back a tide like old Canute famously didn’t. Phones aren’t just accessories anymore- they are as integral to the contemporary teenager as socks. And if they have one, they don’t leave home without them. Perhaps a safer compromise is a ‘no visibility’ policy, ie if they’re seen or heard, they get taken off the student, which is a bit like amputation for some.
  2. Make it clear to all of your students that phones are to stay in bags, and switched off throughout your whole lesson- no checking for the time, etc, which is simply a foot in the door to further mischief. Some kids, like adults, are pretty much addicted to social media platforms, and get a good deal of their social esteem from the validation that it provides. They’re going to have to understand that the classroom is not primarily a social space, but a learning one, and any social activities have to be subordinate to those goals. And clearly, texting unimaginative insults at someone two chairs away isn’t usually a good way to learn about the Tudors.
  3. The stiffest penalty for the phone abusers is to simply remove them: schools now have the right to search and confiscate students for a number of prohibited items- contraband, nicotine, fireworks, pornography, and with the Education White Paper also mobile phones, particularly if there is suspicion that, for example, bullying is taking place using the equipment. Such data can then also be erased in order to prevent it appearing on Youtube that evening. While forced confiscations/searches are a minefield, the general principle of confiscation should be upheld for students who blatantly abuse the rule. And if they object, then the incident should be treated as an escalation of misbehaviour- failure to follow a reasonable instruction, as described by the school behaviour policy. As long as everyone- parents, students, teachers- all know what the rules are on this, then there are far fewer pitfalls to safe and effective management of the Brave New World, that hath such devices in it.

 Good luck

Tom

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