From digital distraction to student connection.

How do teachers compete with smartphones?

They don’t.

Resistance is futile.

Competing with a machine is a downhill battle. Instead, teachers must focus on what they do best – connecting with students.  Rather than lamenting about students being glued to their smartphone, teachers should consider why students do it in the first place. You can’t solve a problem if you’re not asking the right question.

Step #1 Discover the underlying cause.

There is no doubt that smartphones have changed the way we live and learn. Which is why educators (including myself) must take a step back and reframe the smartphone problem. Student distractibility existed long before smartphones. Lack of attention is the common denominator.

We doodled. They text.

We passed notes. They facebook.

Step #2 Reexamine how you teach.

We all have an idea in our mind about how we perform at work. Yet the only way we will ever have an accurate picture of our performance is to collect data on our concrete behaviours. Click on Teacher Behaviors Inventory (TBI)  to obtain a PDF of this suggested assessment tool (used in my doctoral research).

Sample items from TBI inventory –

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The TBI assessment tool will help determine how you engage students, capture their attention, and sustain curiosity with instant gratification just one click away. The TBI also includes a measure of how you spark student interest and arouse curiosity in the lessons you teach. Completing the inventory will give you a baseline of your current teaching techniques. It will help identify areas of strength and challenge (potential growth).

Step #3 Model what you expect.

The next step in student engagement is to “become” what you expect from your students. Motivate students by being motivated!  For example, I write motivational quotes on the blackboard each day. The goal is to model each quote I post. And encourage students to do the same.

Grab attention by being attentive to the unique needs of each student, and responsive to the distinct personality of each class. Engage students by being engaged, passionate, and excited about the topics you teach. Enthusiasm is contagious! Stimulate curiosity by being curious about how students think.

Step #4 Show students you care.

In order to move from instant gratification to meaningful interactions in school (and in life), we must show students how much we care. We must be present and mindful  in our own classrooms. And in tune with each student and teaching moment.

Student leadership conference at St. Clair College.

For students need to know how much their learning matters. How much they matter. Week after week. Class after class. Students are our reason.

To Learn More: Click on Be The Motivation

10 thoughts on “From digital distraction to student connection.

Add yours

  1. Love this! Each of these steps are so important if we want to create an environment where true learning takes place. I have a “cell phone parking lot” where my students ‘park’ their phones until class is over. Occasionally we’ll use them for varying class activities but overall they don’t miss them.

    1. Such a great idea Pepper! Thanks for sharing. Setting limits helps our students to feel safe. And the tech break gives their brain a chance to recharge. (A timeout we all need.) 📱 ⏳

  2. There are some really great elements of classroom interaction to consider here. Just like Pepper suggested, I’m looking into integrating a “self-control tower” in my high school classroom. I am looking for old CD towers that I can up-cycle into a piece where students willingly put their phones during class, and if the need arises, where I can help some of the students by placing their phones there for them.

    But the best thing is to engage the students relationally and to express enthusiasm for your content, I agree.

    1. How creative! Setting students up for success at the beginning of class is essential. “Remove the temptation” then follow up with what you do best… Teach with enthusiasm about the content you are sharing. The topic of my doctoral dissertation.

      If you’re interested, my PhD research on teacher enthusiasm and student motivation is summarized in this presentation:


  3. This highlights the fact that I think current education systems across the globe need dramatic change and educators need empowering to be able to venture and teach outside the box rather than conform to a curriculum or standards. The ripple effect. Once you empower the teacher you empower the students.

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