10 Ways to Use Your Cell Phone to Make Your Teaching Life Easier

Caller, Are You There?

The title of this post is also what I named my This I Believe Personal Narrative assignments in the fall. Let's talk cell phones. I would like to start this post by recapping every single conversation I have ever had with a new teacher, a seasoned teacher, or an intern about the use of cell phones in the classroom. The dialogue goes something like this:

"You give out your number to parents?" she/he asks. "Doesn't that seem like crossing the line between personal and professional?" she/he turns head to the side slightly to best receive my answer. 

"Absolutely it blurs a line. However, I have to be mobile in order to be effective. My main goal is to establish great rapport and connection with families, and unfortunately, the parameters of my position do now allow me to remain tied to a landline. Also, call blocking is a feature that works if needed," I reply. 

The other person normally shrugs and walks away. Cell phone use in the classroom by teachers is a conversation that needs to be had by all teachers and is rarely the highlight of the conversation because we are worried about students' phones. I am not saying I give my number out to everyone, but I am saying that I use my cell phone as a strategic tool to partner with me in regards to classroom management and efficient communication between families. I use the following rules of etiquette when I establish contact with families on my cell phone:

Rule #1: I am available on my cell phone during school hours, and then until 7 pm. You could adapt this to your own lifestyle. I am still working on school work from 7am-7pm. 

Rule #2: I always greet the parent and let them know this is my personal cell phone. You can save my number as another way to reach me if needed. 

Rule #3: I don't call every single parent from my cell phone. I find that using my cell phone to call home for my behavior students gives me power as a teacher, and also my students that receive accommodations. Families that receive frequent contact from me above the usual form of contact are those that I reach out to with my cell phone. Some families are fine with an email update, other families need more intense communication about student success. 

Rule #4: Students don't call or text me. Ever. I have two former high school students that help me with poetry and writing clubs throughout the year. They have my cell phone number and are allowed to text or call me. That is as far as it goes. 

Rule #5: If anything were to make me uncomfortable (Example: An extremely angry parent about a given situation), not only do I have a record of it with my cell phone, but I then can provide pertinent details to an administrator if needed. I like using my phone because it is a call log. 

There are multiple take-a-ways you can pull from this post. This post is for the people who are able to get on board with using their cell phone more or the people who just want to become more strategic, but perhaps are not ready to go there with opening up your cell phone to families and the community. Remember, this is a personal choice that is up to you. I just want to provide some insights on how using my cell phone has made my teaching life that much easier and more effective. 

The Ten Ways I Use My Cell Phone

#1: Call or Text

This may seem like the most obvious, but it is the way that I use it the most. In eight years, I have observed a trend where calling home is something that just doesn't happen that often by teachers or schools. We have too many students. The behavior specialist will call. Someone else has for sure called that parent, right? Wrong.

We (and I include myself in this) need to be doing better about touching base with all families for positive and negative interactions.

I have used my cell phone to call families for eight years, and I have only had one instance where I had to cut that line of communication. The reason for that cutting was that a parent of a student would constantly text or call me at any time of the day or night. While this was not appropriate, it was one time in eight years. In that amount of time, I have texted back questions, responded to parent concerns, and reached out thousands of times. 

If teachers establish relationships with families and use quick communication, it can also help classroom management. When my general English class of 35 is having a particularly rough morning, it is a simple text home or a call home that can set one student back on track. For example, I had one student refuse to do his focused writing warm-ups one day, and I simply texted mom and said, "Good morning! Heads up, ____ is having a rough day. I will call you if needed." She responded back with, "Please do, I appreciate the heads up." I showed the student this line of communication and the conflict was immediately resolved. Yes, I am from the "old school" mentality that teachers need to handle their classroom management business in their classroom, but I am also from the mentality that having connections with families is the ultimate under-used classroom management tool. 

#2: Remind Messaging

If you aren't using Remind in your classroom, you are making life more difficult for yourself. Also, if you are a person that is reading this post and is saying to yourself, "there is no way in the world I am using my cell phone to call home." Then, look no further than Remind. I can send out reminders, post announcements, attach documents, and create individual classes to reach out to for communication. Remind sets up the account for me so my personal information is never released. I can decide if it is a two-way type of conversation like messaging or a one-way type of communication like an announcement delivery. 

#3: Google Classroom

I am quickly becoming aware that Google Classroom is taking over the world one classroom at a time. I can assign posts here, ask students a question, create a classroom discussion, or post an announcement. I used to have two blogs not so long ago. One blog was for students where I posted all of my classroom information, and the other blog was this one. I got rid of my student blog because Google Classroom is that efficient. It also keeps a running tally of assignments throughout the year. So, one really amazing way I am using Google Classroom is to have students revisit their past work in writing. For the pre-test/common growth assessment, students wrote their essays in Google Classroom. As I enter the testing season, I am relieved that I can just "release" their first pre-test back to them and assess whether or not they are able to make revisions and edits to their original essays. Students don't have to write the same essay from scratch. I feel more efficient. #winning

Things I Love About Google Classroom:

  1. It keeps track of late work for you. Student resubmitted an assignment? An email is sent to your inbox. 
  2. It has a live stream like that of a blog. I can post classwork, notes, and more. I can even post assignments from TeachersPayTeachers because the classroom is password protected. This is something classroom blogs cannot do unless you go through the motions of providing password protection out to students. 
  3. Students can message for help on a particular assignment. I can message back. 
  4. I can set up discussions where students reply to each other. This is one criterion on my teacher evaluation that is often overlooked and now I have proof of student discussion online where they are asking questions of each other that does not go away. 
  5. I can see their documents as they are working on them. I am also convinced that the future of feedback is digital. If we figure out how to make it possible to give students more feedback, and this feedback can be in the form of comments on Google Docs, our students will be that much better off. 

#4: Scanner Pro App

I keep coming back to the Scanner Pro App all the time. It takes a picture of whatever document or image you need in PDF form and then can email it out. I have done this for field trip approval for my administrator, and I have done this for creating anthologies of writing journals. The list goes on. Teacher contract? Electronic PDF. Making a printed article a PDF and sending it to the printer? Done. Turning student artwork into a PDF? Handled. Bottom line, if you need to make something into a PDF, it is easy to do with this app. 

#5: Google Keep

Many of my recommendations will be Google related because my district is going all Google. However, I LOVE Google Keep in all aspects of life because I can create to-do lists that are color coded and mark them off. I currently have an idea-list going for a Testing Station for students on my list, Legs and Arm Workouts, a list for my Team Meeting agenda Tuesday, and more. This is the catch-all. I can create these notes on the fly and it keeps even the lady who adores notebooks organized. 

#6: Focus Keeper App

Ever hear about the Pomodoro method? I downloaded the Focus Keeper on my phone, and I have adopted this for many of my individual work sessions. You work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break or you work for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break. I use this handy little timer app to keep me focused on my work and as a way to tune out any other distractions. When the timer is going, my screen doesn't go blank, which means when I look at my phone all I see is the timer, not the updates, messages, etc. 

#7: Hero App

Hero is our school-wide reward system and tardy tracking system. I can use it to give students reward cards that they can cash in for treats, school supplies, to get into school functions, or replace their school ID. They also track their tardies in our building. Having this app on my cell phone rather than my desktop means I can be mobile while using this application. I can scan a student's ID and reward them on the spot, or I can walk around my classroom during a lesson to reward students who are working at that moment. 

#8: Stick Pick App

There are tons of programs and tools for randomized student selection in the classroom; however, one that I really like is the Stick Pick App. It has a visual of a stick jar with students' names on them and picks students at random. I can use this for establishing an order of presentation, random answer selection, and more. It is handly having this on my phone because again it is mobile. 

#9: Planboard App

I am in love with the free Planboard planning tool for teachers by Chalk. I have paid for subscriptions before that were not as visually pleasing or as efficient in the organization (Planboard, please don't get any ideas). I love having Planboard on my phone because I can easily see the day-to-day when writing the agenda on my board or doing a quick check-in for the next day. 

#10: Dropbox/Google Drive

I can't tell you how many times I have been sitting in a meeting or a collaboration group and someone will say, "I have that document!" or "I have that rubric" and it just a matter of sending it at the fingertips of a cell phone. I live by Dropbox for all files. If Dropbox does not have it on there, Google Drive does. And because my district is going more Google, all of my curriculum guides are shared electronically now. It has been more than invaluable to say, "I have that and I just sent it to you" rather than to say I will go find it later and send it over. 

Writing Mindset Reflection: Where do you stand about using your cell phone in the classroom? How do we make it easier for teachers to call home and establish rapport with families?