top of page
  • Writer's pictureShari Stein

Back to School, Offline

Back to School

Dear School Administrators and Teachers:

As the 2019-2020 school year is about to start (or already has), think back to some of the complaints we had or heard last year. Now is the time to make plans to reduce one of the top issues: “They (usually students, sometimes staff too) won’t put their phones down and away....Some of my students have games and YouTube in tabs and windows that they switch back and forth to....They don’t know how to write a coherent sentence anymore, they’re always texting.”

We are organizing our classrooms, both in the building and in cyberspace. We are creating exciting opening-week ice breakers, classroom rules, and introductions. Some of us are setting long-term objectives and goals. By now, we have many tech tools in place. We regularly use our slide presentations, smart boards, and perhaps makerspaces, and more. Our use of technology in the classroom has become rote.

Our students are returning from a variety of experiences. Some were at camps and summer programs that banned all personal technology. Others had complete freedom to use digital devices 24/7. The start of a school year is the perfect opportunity to embrace analog activities and to declare and enforce expectations and rules for tech use.

What will you do differently this year to help yourself and your students use technology responsibly?

Even a glance at newspapers, magazines, podcasts, etc. gives us a library of literature on how our digital devices and screens are usurping our attention. Most recently, Kim Brooks explained how We Have Ruined Childhood in her New York Times opinion piece. “We” includes many stakeholders who have an affect on children and the activities that now control their time.

Schools can and must take action. As she suggests, children “need longer lunches. They need free play, family time, meal time. They need less homework, fewer tests, a greater emphasis on social-emotional learning.” Too often we have allowed technology to become the default activity and mode of communication for our children and even ourselves. “Children turn to screens because opportunities for real-life human interaction have vanished.”

Teachers and administrators: We, educators, need to provide these offline opportunities.

It is never too late to tweak our lessons and objectives to fill the void our children are facing.

Here are ideas to start or bring back into our classrooms.

Teachers: The overarching question to be asked everyday and while planning lessons:

What value does this use of technology add to the lesson and for the students?

Make sure to:

1. Build lessons on character into every subject. From Shakespeare’s plays to Abraham Lincoln’s life to Louis Pasteur’s inventions. For example, discuss bullying and cyberbullying as you examine Caesar, Brutus, and Romeo’s friends. Discuss Lincoln’s schooling and values.

2. Think about the relationship between character and online activities. Join with Let It Ripple to make Character Day a springboard for developing better habits to be healthy, safe, and smart online.

3. Create lessons that use technology with variety and flexibility. Just because it exists and we can use tech, does not mean we should. Provide print dictionaries for vocabulary exercises. For more inspiration and activities, read Austin Kleon’s newsletter, especially items #6 - 9.

4. Help your students manage their online experiences. Provide tutorials and time to help students set up their notifications, reminders, calendars, etc. Give your students guidance in digital manners so they learn to use appropriate salutations and closings. Share guidelines on the timing of online communication, for example, explain that they should reply and in a timely manner. Manners matter online and off. Students can learn to code and still be polite!

5. Inform and educate your students about biased and unsubstantiated news. “Fake News” as a “Do Now” or Current Events segment.

6. Be a role model for your students. Use your own devices and social media appropriately. For example, provide references for the images and information that you find online. Write emails and notices that are thoughtful, time-sensitive, and composed appropriately.


1. Check your AUP and plagiarism/cheating policies. Make sure staff and students review these. And, then, stick to them.

2. Provide a framework for teachers’ use of technology. Make sure they know your expectations for their use of technology. Are they expected to use technology in every lesson? If your school is one-to-one, teachers may assume they should use computers every day and with every lesson.

3. Form a committee and/or encourage PLNs that focus on helping students and staff use technology responsibly. Include students and/or student feedback.

4. Designate Unplugging Days. Many schools are choosing one day per month or marking period to unplug. Form a committee to design and promote unplugging. Create challenges, bonus points, and other motivational strategies. Create the bridge between character development and screen time.

5. Keep staff informed of the latest and greatest tech tools. Turn back time- bring back some of the great activities that filled our lesson plans in the 80s and early 90s. Make sure they have everything they need to make the best choices of what, when, and how to use technology.

One more suggestion: Help parents partner with you. Parents often do not know how to help their children develop good habits in this intensely digital world. Ask parents to support and reinforce the rules, procedures, and expectations that their children's teachers set. Since the "classroom" is also online now, it is even more important for parents to help their children manage their online manners and attention at home.

Best wishes to all for this 2019-2020 School Year!


bottom of page