It is easy to imagine how excited Maria Montessori would have been to see the power of computer technology – and how clearly she would have understood how to encourage freedom within limits. In a contemporary Montessori school setting, younger students do not use technology, as they are in an important formative age to learn through their hands and physical materials, and older students use it to prepare for their futures and the future of the world we all share.
At WMS, we know that technology has many positive effects. Our students begin to learn to type in the 3rd grade. Upper Elementary and Middle School students use technology for research, for presenting information, and for connecting with people across the world. Their computer use is closely monitored, and students do not use computer games or social media. In grades 4-8, we actively teach students how to use technology effectively for research, writing, and creative projects. They arrive at their high schools ready to use technology for good.
Upper Elementary students use desktops in the classroom. Middle School students use chrome books during the school day. These durable machines work well for adolescent learners. Students can use their own computers at home. If a middle school family does not have access to a computer, we provide a chrome book for that student to use.
A STUDENT-CREATED CODE OF CONDUCT
Like all powerful tools, technology tools can be hurtful when used in ways that are not intentional and carefully considered. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, our middle school students and educators engaged in robust face-to-face conversations about the benefits and dangers of technology. In keeping with our approach to education, we focused primarily on the benefits, and worked with the students to come up with ways in which they can use technology for good while minimizing its negative effects. The policy our students wrote is still in draft form (see the end of this post for an early view!)
In the fall, Middle School students will be sharing it with students in the Upper Elementary, as that is the age at which some students begin to use technology more independently.
CELL PHONE POLICY
Our policy is simple and absolute:
No WMS student may use a cellphone, i-pod, Apple watch, or other electronic communication device at school, during trips, or on campus.
Our students do not need a phone for any school activity, and phones interrupt the relationship-building so crucial to the adolescent years. Therefore, students are restricted from using cell phones or devices to call, text, photograph, or message while on the WMS campus. If cell phones are brought to school, they are to be powered off and remain in backpacks for the duration of the school day, including during extracurricular activities on and off campus.
The point of this rule is to promote social interaction and community connection. In a world of screens and disconnection, WMS is and will remain a haven of face-to-face connection for all children.
THE SCIENCE OF ADOLESCENT BRAINS
Restricting cell phone use at school aligns with adolescent brain development in several ways, including providing an environment that supports cognitive development, fosters healthy social interactions, promotes self-regulation and impulse control, and enhances overall well-being. It has also been recommended by the US Surgeon General.
Cognitive development: The adolescent brain is still developing, particularly in areas related to decision-making, impulse control, prioritizing tasks, and other executive functions. Excessive cell phone use can interfere with these cognitive processes and lead to decreased attention span and diminished academic performance. By restricting cell phone use during the school day, we provide an environment that supports cognitive development and helps students focus on learning.
Social-emotional development: Adolescents undergo significant social and emotional changes during middle school. They are exploring their identities, building relationships, and learning to navigate social dynamics. Cell phone use can hinder face-to-face interactions and impede the development of important social skills, and keeps students from being “in the moment” with their teachers and peers. By discouraging cell phone use, we promote healthy social interactions and encourage our students to engage with their peers and adults in meaningful ways. Additionally, in a school community that fosters inclusivity, restricting cell phone use limits access to social media which can invite exclusivity and limits “friend groups” to select audiences.
Self-regulation and impulse control: The adolescent brain is still developing its ability to regulate emotions and impulses. Cell phones, with their constant notifications and access to instant gratification, can be particularly challenging for adolescents to resist. Offering them a six to eight hour reprieve from this has both short-term and long-term benefits.
A COUNTER-CULTURAL DECISION
As a Head of School, I am responsible for the physical, social, emotional and academic well-being of all our students. Enforcing this policy is truly one of the best things I can do for our young learners. I am proud to have a staff fully aligned with this decision. In order to do the work we need to do, we ask WMS parents to join us in partnership in supporting our policies.
As a school that has held fast to this policy, we have seen the benefits. At WMS, families can be confident that their students are growing and learning together. Our students are developing robust social skills and do not feel pressured to be on social media, which is not designed for children under the age of 13.
At schools with looser phone policies, teachers often find that they are in constant competition with their students’ phones for their attention and spend a lot of time and energy enforcing the rules. Educators also discover that students turn to their devices and not to their classmates and educators for connection and guidance.
In schools where cellphones are more common, students often do not develop the social skills that are the hallmark of a successful WMS child. We have decided to make this rule absolute at WMS so that there are no gray areas, and so that students do not ever feel pressure to get a cellphone.
The decision of when a cell phone is necessary for a child needs to be left to a child’s family, not influenced by the earliest adopters in their class.
We know that parents often feel that their children are safer if they can reach them or be reached at a moment’s notice via cellphone. At a school where children are closely supervised, including during trips off campus, it is our job to keep them physically and emotionally safe.
In the very unlikely event that a child is separated from a group during a trip, that child learns how and where to ask for help. This is a life skill that we want our students to develop, even as we watch children carefully to be sure they stay together.
If a child needs to reach a parent for something that the parent needs to provide, that can always happen via a school landline or a chaperone’s phone. Otherwise, we ask students to turn to their teachers, chaperones and classmates for the help they need.
HOW WE PARTNER WITH PARENTS
Because technology (TV, computers, phones, games, social media, etc) is a part of many children’s lives outside of school, we partner with parents to give the best educational advice we can provide, understanding that parents make the decisions that are best for their children.
Our best advice is that the adults in a child’s life need to talk with one another and come up with reasonable, enforceable guidelines for children. If left to their own devices (so to speak) many children will develop unhealthy habits. It is up to parents and guardians to set guidelines for screen time, bedtime, keeping technology out of your child’s bedroom, and what devices you do and do not provide.
To that end, here are some helpful resources that have been helpful to us, and might also be helpful to you.
Common Sense Media resources for parents: the gold standard for evidence-based guidance
This New York Times Wire cutter article reviews apps you can use to help your children manage screens and phones outside of the school day. (Please note that WMS does not believe that children under the age of 13 need their own cellphones. Your child really can wait until high school!)
WMS Technology and Social Media Agreement (Draft proudly written by WMS MS students and Staff)
Before diving into the vibrant world of technology and social media, there are a few guidelines that our community of students and educators agree are important to ensure a happy and safe environment at WMS. There are many benefits to technology and social media, but we need to remain safe and respectful for them to shine through.
As a community, we agree
To Use Technology for Positive Connectivity
- Keeping in touch with friends and family
- Reaching out to new people
- Supporting people
- Spreading news and positivity
To be Mindful of Safety
- Holding boundaries with self and others
- Getting consent when sharing pictures and videos of yourself/others
- Don’t do bad things
- Staying out of arguments on the internet and while online gaming
- Taking responsibility for what you post and say
- Not oversharing personal information
To Use Technology for Learning
- Talking with peers
- Asking questions
- Researching new information
- Observing other people
- Exploring new places/topics
If you post, text, or chat, remember the acronym T.H.I.N.K;
T: Is what you are posting TRUE?
H: Is what you are posting HELPFUL?
I: Is what you are posting INSPIRING?
N: Is what you are posting NECESSARY?
K: Is what you are posting KIND?