How paper-free days can spark a tech transformation

Cutting out paper and pencils one day a week gets everyone thinking more creatively

Sometimes one simple question is all it takes to trigger revolution in a school. In the case of Kelly Mill Elementary outside of Atlanta, the question was: How can we more effectively engage our learners? It’s loaded, I know. The idea migrated from my head into staff meetings, and a variation on that question eventually ended up posted next to every copy machine in our school to prompt teachers to find new ways of teaching—without paper and pencils.

The term “paper-free days” may sound like a tactic to cut spending, but that wasn’t the main goal. I wanted to challenge my teachers to think differently about educating and engaging students. Are doing worksheets and reading textbooks really teaching our students what they need to know? Probably not.

What if we were to get young learners moving, get their hands dirty through project-based learning, incorporate more technology, and actually engage them in material? Would it make a difference? From there, paper-free days  were born, and traditional teachers quickly embraced the true meaning of being paper-free.


Kelly Mill Elementary is only four years old, but from day one we have been a bring-your-own-device school. We’re a school that’s willing to take new ideas, apply them, and see if they work.

About two years ago, I sat down with my staff for a brainstorming session on how to reallocate resources to build a more effective learning environment. We had a goal of making technology available to every student, increasing engagement levels, and closing the achievement gap. I walked out of the session with pages of notes for different ideas on funding, new tools, and ideas about how to make our school even better on a tight budget. Word quickly spread to the rest of my staff, and I was flooded with e-mails from teachers about how they believe teaching could be improved.

The topic of paper-free days kept coming up. It was something I’d only read about and never actually seen, but through research I found much negative coverage about the topic. Most schools ended up going to paper-free days due to year-end shortages or budget constraints. In programs like that, the teachers weren’t supportive of administration which, in turn, caused backlash against the system. I did not want that to happen.

Next page: How teachers embraced the change

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