Distraction Management: Preparing Students for the Future

The Skills List | Case 74: Distraction as a Workplace Hazard edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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In classrooms and workplaces, the biggest enemy of productivity and safety is distraction. During the edLeader Panel “The Skills List | Case 74: Distraction as a Workplace Hazard,” Kevin Baird, Chairman of the Global Center for College and Career Readiness, talked with Ruth Brus, Vice President of Learning Services at Meteor Education, and Levi Belnap of Merlyn Mind, about managing the biggest cause of distractions in the classroom.

From the beginning, Baird emphasized two things: cell phones are the number-one distraction at work and in school, and teachers must prepare students for future careers by helping them learn to manage distractions. He started by going over how students need to be taught to prioritize work themselves and fend off distractions and then suggested that having students work together both in and out of school could help.

He then talked about a study from the University of California that found that the average worker spends about 12 minutes on a task before being interrupted and then takes about 25 minutes to return to the task. Workers feel that they are too distracted and don’t have enough uninterrupted time.

Brus suggested that there should be a space for students to put their things and organize for themselves, such as their desks or cubbies, to minimize the distractions caused by having to dig out what they need. She then talked about time she spent in a CTE mechanics classroom where students were required to keep their phones in Yondr pouches, which had the effect of letting them keep their phones on them without being distracted. This was vital, as any distraction in a mechanics class, much like in the workplace, can be very dangerous.

Baird elaborated on the issues with cell phones. Studies showed that teachers mostly see phones as distractions, and it’s hard to use them for class because different students may not have access to phones compatible with what the teacher is doing, or they may not even have a phone. Furthermore, Baird stated, that cell phones in the classroom can even put students at risk of human trafficking and bullying through social media.

He went on to explain that the appropriate use of cell phones in the workplace is a critical skill. The majority of phone usage at work is personal, and the more phones are used in the workplace, the greater the risk of damaged productivity and rule violations.

Managing the distraction cell phones cause has been a major challenge for teachers. In fact, as much as 8% of class time is being consumed with device management. Brus has seen some teachers trying to make use of cell phones in productive ways, such as QR codes and web quests, but mostly they are just distractions.

Baird and Brus elaborated on the use of Yondr pouches in schools, which keep students from using their phones. This, studies showed, improves positive social interaction, learning, and engagement, while reducing disruptive behaviors, fighting, skipping class, and inappropriate technology use. It is also helping students learn to manage themselves and their cell phone use for future career environments.

Losing focus and being distracted by phones can cause problems not only in the classroom but also in less-supervised areas such as the bathroom, playground, or in between classes. Baird made it clear that schools need a policy for cell phones. As he put it, maybe we need to put the phones “away for a day.”

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, The Skills List | Case 74: Distraction as a Workplace Hazard, sponsored by Meteor Education.

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Article by Jon Scanlon, based on this edLeader Panel