The other day, my kids and I were playing outside when I made the mistake of taking a call on my cell phone. Everyone seemed under control, at least momentarily.
Well, you know how that goes. At least chalk washes out.
But at your center, when you have teachers in charge of watching multiple kids over a large area, things can get dangerous very quickly if a teacher is diverted – even momentarily – by a phone call or text.
If someone gets hurt, your center can be held legally responsible for negligence. You may even be considered out of ratio during the time that teacher’s attention is focused elsewhere. Privacy issues can arise relating to photos and videos. And last but certainly not least, kids learn and thrive best when adults are fully present and interactive.
For all of these reasons, many child care centers have made the decision to ban employees’ use of personal cell phones during work time. And this is a sound policy, from both a legal perspective and a quality-of-care perspective. But there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Here are some dos and don’ts:
DON’T confiscate teachers’ cell phones. By all means, you should have – and enforce – a policy that personal cell phones may not be used during the work day, except during breaks.
But don’t confiscate the phones or require teachers to leave them in their cars. These are grown-ups, not children, and they should be treated as such. If you can’t trust a teacher to follow this policy (or any other policy you have in place, for that matter), then this is not someone who should be employed at your center.
DO enforce your policy. Teachers who violate your cell phone usage policy should be disciplined consistently and appropriately, up to and including termination. And don’t pick and choose – you need to enforce it for everyone (i.e., even the teachers you really like) in order to make it stick.
DON’T forget about field trips. You need to have some kind of plan in place for when teachers and kids are out and about. Ideally, you’ll have a few dedicated school cell phones for this purpose. If not, you may wish to allow one or two teachers to bring their personal cell phones on the trip and make clear they are to be used only in the event of an emergency.
DO train your teachers on the policy. For many younger teachers, being constantly plugged in to a smartphone feels as natural as breathing. Training on why the policy exists (child safety and engagement, legal considerations, and so on) can increase buy-in and compliance.
It may feel silly or unnecessary to explain your rationale, but some teachers will assume you are simply keeping them on a short leash for no good reason unless you explicitly spell things out.
DON’T leave teachers hanging. If you expect teachers to abide by a no-cell-phone policy, they need to be reassured that their loved ones have a way of getting in touch with them during the school day in the event of an emergency. This is especially true of teachers who are also parents.
In most cases, directing people to call the center’s office is sufficient. If there are chunks of the day when that phone is not manned, however – such as lunchtime – or if callers often get a busy signal, you should make a backup number available for emergencies. This could be the director’s or assistant director’s cell phone (assuming those folks are not watching the kids).
(As an aside, from a marketing perspective, you should get that busy-signal problem fixed ASAP!)
DO include parents in the policy. Many parents, too, are so joined at the hip to their cell phones that they forget to put them away when they’re picking up and dropping off their kids. Gently remind phone-centric parents that your “no cell phone” policy extends to them, too – not so much for safety reasons but so they can give their littles the full attention they deserve at the beginning and end of each school day.
Need assistance with your cell phone policy, or any other staff policy at your center? Contact me with the details and we’ll see if I can help you out.