Upon first glance, the headlines associated with Tom Bennett’s recent comments regarding the use of mobile phones in the classroom are likely to send any self-confessed progressive into meltdown. At the very least, it would provoke a sharply tapped 140 characters, defending the use of technology. However, upon further inspection of one of the said articles, what becomes apparent is that Tom is not making any outrageous statements, he is merely stating common sense. The use of technology in the classroom being done so sparingly and only when it is appropriate to do so. Statements which anyone would find difficult to disagree with. His musings being a great deal less controversial than the numerous headlines might suggest. Hence why you should never judge a book by its cover or a story by its headline.
Mobile phones are a wonder of the modern age, most of us use them throughout our day but exactly how much of that time is our use of productive? Human beings welcome distraction. How many of us have whiled away hours of our lives watching funny cat videos or playing Minesweeper and Solitaire in the days before reliable internet connection when we should have been typing up our dissertations? It’s clear that the benefits of technology both in professional settings and in our personal life far outweigh the disadvantages but like anything, surely too much of a good thing can be bad for us?
Where schools have epidemic problems with inappropriate use of handheld devices there is a tendency to rush for a blanket ban, which is understandable. In schools where this is the case, perhaps it is more pertinent to ask how did the problem get to this stage? It is more likely to be just the tip of the behaviour iceberg. When the decision is made to apply a strict blanket ban, there is a need for consistency of approach across all staff which can sometimes be as difficult to enforce as the expectation itself. Schools need to be fully prepared for the battles which may lie ahead as potentially innocuous situations could very quickly escalate and move up the food chain to SLT intervention on a large scale. Friday night SLT detentions may need to be moved to the all-weather pitch in preparation for the mass of phone addicts who will be joining the regular suspects. Additionally, do these policies impact effectively on the students they are designed to serve? Does this approach curtail the persistent offenders or catch the more compliant middle ground? After all, is the odd tweet to a classmate not just the twenty first century version of passing a note around and which of us haven’t done that in our school days? Occasionally, this can have adverse effects on the relationships teachers have with the largest body within the student demographic. These are the students who are precisely the ones we are trying to get on side as they are the quiet revolution.
More generally though, issues with inappropriate use of technology are isolated ones; either certain students or in certain classrooms. Working together with the teachers and students where this happens can sometimes be more effective than enforcing a ban that may be counter-productive to what a colleague in the next classroom is trying to achieve. It is important for senior leadership teams to consider all perspectives when a policy is implemented and always much more empowering to give the decision-making over to class teachers in their classrooms with guidance and support in place. The rider should always be as long as it contributes to the students’ learning. As Tom suggested, if there’s a low tech way of approaching the task then use it; young people get enough of Google in their diet, let’s give them a taste of something different.
Expectations of students is important, taking lessons, assemblies and form time early on in the school year to set out the stall can be invaluable. Listening to a talk from the erudite Martin Robinson last year, I experienced a light-bulb moment. He talked about choice and opinion. There was a suggestion that sometimes teachers give students choice and allow them to express opinion too early on in their school career when they are not fully equipped to make informed judgements. Expectations from a teacher or school don’t need to be justified to students all of the time, they simply need to be set out and followed through. Authentic is the word that leaders tend to use.
What superficially seems an archaic response to mobile phones from Tom Bennett is actually a very well-founded common sense approach to behaviour management which all teachers would do well to follow. It’s proof that you should never judge a book by its cover, a story by its headline and always be willing to take a view through different eyes.