How Electronic Devices Mess with Your Teaching Life (And How You Can Fight It)

A recent research study on technology use revealed that on average, adults checks their phone 85 times a day. 85!

The saddest part is a lot of that phone time is spent in the company of others, especially our family. How does this addictive phone checking impact a teacher’s family life at home?

Imagine a student with their phone in class…

  • responding to texts every time it vibrates while you’re teaching
  • sending silly selfies through Snapchat during group work
  • playing Candy Crush during the test

That distracted kid might pick up on some of the content being covered in class, but there would be a lot of gaps in their learning. The impact for teachers at home is no different.

For students, too much technology distracts them from learning. For teachers at home, it distracts us from loving and connecting.

How You Can Fight It

  1. Take all email off your phone.

Scrolling through your inbox on the couch may not seem like a big deal, but what if you read a spiteful message from a parent that gets you fired up? Or what if your principal asks you to turn in something by the end of the week? Then what happens?

That email can drop your mood, increasing your anxiety for several hours while you’re with your family, when you really shouldn’t be worried about it until you are back at work the next day.

Check your email 1st thing in the morning when you get to school and before you leave each day. You don’t check for mail from the post office 20 times a day and you don’t have to check your email more than once or twice either.

  1. Have designated storage spots in high-traffic rooms of your home.

If you keep your phone in your pocket or sit it beside you, you are going to be more likely to pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind, so have a place picked out in each room to place it while you’re cooking or helping your kids’ with homework.

If you are in the kitchen, put it on the counter by your keys. You can still keep it in the same room in case you need it, but make accessing it just a little more inconvenient than normal.

  1. Make Screen Swaps.

I learned from a movie called Screenagers that the reason we check Facebook every few minutes is because we are craving a boost in serotonin via new notifications-comments from friends and personal messages.

So cutting down on phone checks is just half the battle. We also have to replace them with a separate activity that provides the same serotonin boost.

img_0459In Reset Your Child’s Brain, Victoria Dunckley suggests a tip that can benefit adults as much as kid-stocking up on kinesthetic, tangible things-board games, comic books, magazines-and having these on hand throughout the house. Pick these items up instead of your phone and you still get that jump in happy juice.

  1. Use wallpapers, backgrounds, and screensavers as redirections back to your family.

My wife recently gave me an Apple Watch for my birthday. I love it of course, but I was checking ESPN a lot, receiving text messages, and scrolling through emails, even at the dinner table.

I realized it was getting out of hand and decided to delete all the apps from my watch, except for one-the Photo app.

I made an album with 100 photos on my phone of my all-time favorite family pics (at the beach, graduations, basketball games, and on our wedding day) and linked the album to my watch-making it the Watch Face.img_0458

That’s the only purpose now for the device. Every time I bring my wrist up, a picture from the family album pops up. It makes me smile and redirects my attention back to the people around me, the most important part of my life.

No messages. No emails. No distractions. Just fam.

Sometimes I also check the time, but that’s it.

img_0457I read a book by Richard Freed, called Wired Child, where he shared a prophetic quote from John F. Kennedy about technology. He said technology has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man.” (and woman)

By strategizing and limiting your phone use, you are using it to your advantage rather than giving it power over your personal life.

For more tips on tech use and work/life balance, my 1st book, The Balanced Teacher Path, is available for pre-order now! Support me by ordering it from the publisher, Free Spirit. Also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target.

The 1 Decision That Transformed My Family

A few years ago, I remember typing up lesson plans for the first week of school as the summer was coming to an end.

My family was spending our last summer day at play while I was trying to get ahead for work.

My planning spot was on the dock of a lake. My wife was sunning herself beside me. My four-year-old son, Cole, was jumping around on a giant water tube, tied to the dock.

To him, it wasn’t a water tube. It was his pirate ship. He waved his sword around as he protected his treasure from an imaginary Captain Hook in the water.

Then he stopped abruptly. “Daddy,” he begged, “can you stop working and play pirate ship with me?”

He wanted me to join his crew.

“Not right now, maybe later.” I insisted.

He frowned for a second and started playing again without me. I knew he meant well, but he was a distraction. I had too much prep work for school.

After an hour or so, I decided to take a break. I plugged my headphones into my phone and hit the play button on Laura Vanderkam’s audiobook about what the most successful people do on the weekends. How fitting, or so I thought.

Her first point hit me hard: We’re not really living in the weekend when we spend it prepping for the workweek. The most successful people don’t put off enjoying the weekend until they are less busy. They do it now.

I flashed back to what I had said to my son when he wanted to play, Maybe later.

11357121_10101957322701777_3722685524054468080_oThen I thought, Maybe not later, maybe now.

I turned my phone off and closed my laptop.

I yelled out to my son as I ran toward him, “Captain Cole, look out for the cannonball!” His eyes were as wide as an owl’s when I jumped off the dock and crashed into the water just beside him.

When I came up with water spewing, he was laughing uncontrollably. We spent the rest of the afternoon paddling around, fighting Captain Hook and searching for gold doubloons.

Later that night, I finished listening to the audiobook. It offered another tip for getting the most out of weekends:

Plan fun events that get you out of the house and keep you busy. I’ve come to refer to them as Family Field Trips.

On the way home the next day, my wife and I wrote down a list of 50 places we could travel as a family within a 2 hour radius of our home. We started taking our Family Field Trips the next weekend and we’ve been hitting the road pretty regularly ever since.

11010295_10101809732413897_5908070111211836526_nWe’ve chilled with Hugo at the Charlotte Hornets game.

10592686_10101530915734757_5918156526517522382_nWe’ve hit up the mountains in Asheville.

11038652_10101864816719507_7466305263163151959_oWe’ve stood under the same waterfalls where Katniss and Peeta hid in The Hunger Games.

10612631_10101561252694247_279980953322052667_nAnd we’ve shoveled out handfuls of food to giddy llamas at the zoo.

TBH, these trips have been a game-changer for my family.

There’s a deep connection that wasn’t there before-the stories, the memories, the shared experiences. And it all began with a decision to close my laptop and do a canon ball beside my son.

The teacher struggle is real. If you’re spending large chunks of weekend time on schoolwork, or you’re feeling burnt out through the workweeks, think about how Family Field Trips can help:

  • you are forced to have fun because you can’t take the schoolwork with you
  • you will feel more recharged and be more efficient for the workweek that follows
  • you will create a stronger bond with your family

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. the-family-field-trip-planMake a Family Field Trip Plan

By yourself or with your family, create a list of places you want to travel.

Try to come up with at least fifty places,
each within a 2 hour radius of your home. Setting a limit on the travel time saves you the added expense of an overnight hotel stay.  Use the  
Family Field Trip Plan Mini-Poster on my website under the Free Stuff tab at

  1. Keep the Plan in a Highly Visible Location.

Place your plan on the fridge or in the corner of your bathroom mirror. Put it anywhere in the house that works for you, so long as you’ll see it often.

Our list stays in our kitchen, just above our key box. Every time I drop my car keys off or pick them up from Monday to Friday, I get excited about the family vacation that awaits.

  1. Take at least 1 Trip Each Month.

Commit to an excursion on the regular, whether it’s once a weekend or every month.

The goal is not to take all 50 field trips in a year; it’s to build a habit of spending time with your family.

Still to this day, my son will sometimes stop and remind me about our pirate excursion on the lake. He refers to it as “The Best Day Ever.” It was as awesome for me as it was for him. And to think, it almost didn’t happen because I wanted to get ahead on a few lesson plans for the upcoming school week. What moments are you missing out on to get ahead?

Your weekend belongs to you-not your principal, your district, your students, or their parents-so own it.  

Escape. Get out of your house or apartment. You’ll discover a special part of yourself where your schoolwork can’t follow.


***The Balanced Teacher Path is available for pre-order now! Support me by ordering it from the publisher, Free Spirit. Also available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Target.

Excerpted from The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy by Justin Ashley, copyright © 2017. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.