22 Sep 2022

Surviving your school WhatsApp group

You’ve sorted out the uniform, bought the rucksack, pencil case and lunch box, delivered your child safely to the school gate, and helped them to navigate the myriad complexities of life at school. The first week or two of the new school year can be exhausting for both parents and children. But the fun is only just beginning – now is the time to enter the wonderful world of classroom WhatsApp groups.

These group chats are now de rigueur for school parents. They offer instant connection with other busy working parents of children in your child’s class, and are a means of disseminating vital information about class activities and deadlines straight to your phone – ideal when you’re multitasking, juggling work and home commitments and feeling like it’s hard work keeping all the plates spinning.

As such, WhatsApp groups can be invaluable. They are accessible and convenient – you no longer have to spend hours hanging around the school gates in order to glean crucial intelligence from other parents. They will help to ensure you never forget important occasions, provide you with reassurance about the tricky homework your child has been set, or act as a useful forum for practical concerns like retrieving lost property or dress-up days.

But there are many hazards; the most obvious risk is that you will suffer information overload, or feel increasingly swamped by redundant or irrelevant communications. At their worst, classroom WhatsApp groups can turn into a nightmare of gossip, hostility and mob rule, stoking negative feelings and, in some cases, inciting parents to spread misinformation and fake news and collectively turn on staff and head-teachers. Teachers can feel bullied and defamed by belligerent WhatsApp groups and there is a real danger that the parent-school relationship will be seriously undermined.

Clearly the classroom WhatsApp group is an invaluable tool, but like all social media it needs to be used with caution. If you follow our recommendations below, you will ensure that it is an essentially benign and pragmatic forum, which enhances your relationship with the school and other parents. You may also be able to spot signs of danger, and ensure that your own group does not turn poisonous, defamatory or destructive:

Classroom WhatsApp Groups: Dos and Don’ts

DO

• Be friendly, polite and courteous at all times. You really can’t hide behind your phone – you are communicating with people you have to see all the time at the school gates, plays, fundraisers, sports days etc.

• Keep content relevant. These WhatsApp groups have been set up with a specific purpose – to discuss matters relating to the school. You may feel impassioned about local or national politics, but rants have no place here, and using the forum to enlist supporters for causes you feel strongly about (for example circulating political petitions) is completely inappropriate. You’ll drive other parents mad if you continually forward audio, videos, photos, memes or jokes to the group.

• If you’re speaking to one or two people directly, take the conversation off the group chat and message them separately – you really don’t want to force a whole cohort of parents to eavesdrop on essentially private communications.

• Keep gossip or complaints about the school to yourself, or maybe just vent to a few trusted friends. Stirring up negativity is a very slippery slope. Once gossip gains group traction it can easily run out of control with alarming consequences.

DON’T

• Try not to ask the same questions over and over again. If you’re not sure when PE is, search back through the group chat to find the information, or check your school emails and newsletters, rather than relying on someone else to keep you informed. Consider buying a diary or weekly planner, and noting down important timetabling information at the beginning of term. Remember, the constant repetition of the same questions and answers is the main thing people hate about class WhatsApp groups.

• Don’t post birthday invitations on WhatsApp unless the whole class is invited – the last thing you want to do is to sow the seeds of division and discrimination within the class. 

• Don’t share photos featuring other people’s children without seeking their permission first.

• It’s tempting to lapse into a lazy tendency to post a torrent of questions onto WhatsApp, confident that some helpful person will reply and save you the trouble of finding the answer or thinking for yourself. Ponder carefully before asking a question – are you genuinely going to benefit from informed advice, or is it something you can sort out yourself? All too often common sense disappears where WhatsApp is concerned, and other members of the group are not going to feel very well-disposed towards you if they’re repeatedly having to scroll through a daily diet of your stream of consciousness.

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