Like many of us, I’m growing increasingly concerned about the way folks (myself included) are using their cell phones and other devices. The idea of the attention economy and how we all navigate it has me thinking a lot these days – so much so that I facilitated a session at EduCon this year, asking folks to play with those ideas for a while.

And, like many (most? all?) schools, we’re seeing kids having a harder and harder time the way they use their cell phones during the school day as well. But I still don’t think banning phones is the answer. It’s nearly impossible to enforce, it sets up a huge “us v. them” situation, and it doesn’t get kids to think critically about how they are using their cell phones – which is a huge part of what it means to be a member of society these days.

So then what?

Here’s our answer. We’re taking a two week cell phone reboot. We’re asking kids to put them away, turn off notifications, and really work intentionally on being present. And in Advisory, we’re doing readings, tracking our personal phone use, having conversations about how we spend our attention – and why our attention is currency, and how we make more intentional and conscious use of our devices.

In short – we’re putting all of our uses of these devices under the scrutiny of an inquiry lens, which is the most SLA way we all can think of tackling this challenge.

Here’s the letter we sent home to families today:

Dear SLA Families,

All over the country, schools and parents are seeing more and more students enthralled by their cell phones, and SLA is no exception. Parents, mental health providers, and school leaders are all concerned that increased cell phone usage is leading to poorer performance in school, lower self-esteem, and increased anxiety. It is all a part of what many scholars are now calling “The Attention Economy.”

And… banning cell phones in schools is widely considered to be an exercise in the most frustrating game of Whack-A-Mole ever played. 

At SLA, we believe the answer to our hardest challenges is to engage in inquiry – to have the conversation, and to help our students come to the best conclusions for themselves. 

As such, starting on Monday, April 17th we will be engaging in a two week Technology Reboot at school. During Advisory classes, students and teachers will read about cell phone usage among teens, examining their own ideas and behaviors around technology and attention, and asking questions about how the school day feels without the distraction of the phone. The goal of the two weeks is that, at the end, kids are more willing to self-regulate cell phone use and have a better understanding of how the attention economy affects their day to day life. 

During those two weeks, kids will be expected to keep their cell phones and headphones on “do not disturb” mode and off their person while in class. Phones and headphones may be stored in bags, lockers, or secure locations in the classroom. Teachers will collect cell phones and headphones from students who have them out, and if students are consistently having their cell phones collected, we will ask parents to come to school to retrieve them. Our goal, as always, is to appeal to student’s better nature and have kids understand the experience we are engaging in and keep their devices away, but we know that some students may struggle with that. Here are a few conversation starters to help your student prepare for the experience at school:

  • Access your “screen time” totals together. At what times of day do you look at your phone? What role does the phone play at that time?
  • What are your family expectations for communication during the school day? How much do you expect them to be available via text?
  • How do our cell phones change the way we all communicate and interact?

As always, our goal for SLA students is that our time together helps students become more thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind, ready to be fully aware and engaged citizens of their world. It is our hope that helping students be more intentional about how they spend their attention moves us closer to our north star.

Thank you,

Mr. Lehmann

And here’s the slide deck for the way we framed the next two weeks during Advisory today.

So far, the feedback we’ve gotten from families has been overwhelmingly positive. The feedback from the kids has been more… varied. I think that’s to be expected. I’m hopeful that at the end of two weeks students have a deeper understanding of the ways we use our phones, the ways our phones (and the technology companies that design the apps) use us, and that all of us at school are more intentional in the ways we choose to be present together.

I’ll keep you posted.