From the editor: Back to school with WhatsApp

As the big back to school looms next week the class WhatsApp groups are warming up again. Become a WhatsApp dad this term.

mobile phone being held in two hands


The class WhatsApp group is buzzing again. About a week out from my son’s school returning the volume of messages showed a marked increase.

I’m one of very few dads in the class WhatsApp group. I’ve written before about why men need to get involved with the nitty gritty of their kids’ school life. Turning up at the Nativity is not enough.

However, many of us working dads were confronted with the reality of school life in lockdown as we became makeshift teachers. The homeschooling experience was different for everyone. But it made many working dads engage with their kids education in a new way and at a new level. We have to keep that up. And joining the class WhatsApp group is a vital first step.

And it’ll be easier for men to take their involvement offline too. With so many of us still working from home there ought to be more dads at the school gate dropping off and picking up their little learners.

This first term in particular is going to be a bit of a nightmare as pupils and parents get used to new rules and ways of working.  Scottish parents already know what I’m talking about. There’s been a drip-drip of new coronavirus cases since schools returned there three weeks ago.

There will be a lot of activity on class WhatsApp groups. Much of it useful, some of it extremely unhelpful. Rumours will spread, fake news will pop up. We mustn’t be too harsh on those responsible. All parents are worried about the return to school. Yes, most of us are keen for pupils to get back in the classroom. But no parent wants to send their child somewhere unsafe.

To their credit, the people at WhatsApp have stepped up. They’ve issued advice and tips on how to make the most of their app but crucially also what to look out for to avoid spreading scares and misinformation.

So my advice for working dads is not to be put off by any of the below but take it on board, get in the class WhatsApp group and make socially distanced small talk at the school gate, particularly with any other dads who might look a bit lost.

My experience of the class WhatsApp group is that it can be infuriating and distracting. But it can also be hilarious (like when one mum’s child shared their mum’s ‘dating for men’ message last week..). Most importantly it keeps me connected to what’s going on in the classroom so I can be a better and more useful father to my son. That’s worth all the emojis in the world.

Here’s the WhatsApp advice:-

Take time to fact check what is being said and shared in group chats

To avoid inadvertently spreading COVID-19 misinformation it’s important to understand which messages have been forwarded to you, rather than being written by your friend. To avoid sharing misinformation, look out for these handy tips to help you:

  1. Look out for the ‘Highly Forwarded’ double arrow label, which is automatically attached to messages that have been previously forwarded five times or more. These messages have most likely originated outside of your friendship group and should be treated with caution, and fact checked before sharing. Note: a ‘Highly Forwarded’ message can now only be sent to one chat at a time.
  2. To fact check your own messages, WhatsApp’s is piloting a ‘Search the Web’ feature, which allows users to search the text from a ‘Highly Forwarded message’ in Google Search. Simply click on the magnifying glass icon next to a highly forwarded message, and search the text contents online, to see if something you have been shared is true.
  3. Get your information from reputable sources. WhatsApp has partnered with the World Health Organisation, national health ministries and the International Fact-Checking Network to set up coronavirus information services which have the latest official information on the virus.

Voice notes for when parenting gets in the way

Everyone knows that parenting is a full-time job, and with the majority of children being at home since March, multitasking skills have been tested to the limit. Voice notes are a time-saving godsend, saving you the precious minutes that it takes to type out a longer message when you’re in a hurry..

Sending a voice note is easy – just touch the microphone icon to start, and if you don’t want to have to hold the button, swipe upwards on the microphone icon, which will allow you to remove your finger and continue recording hands-free. Just press the send button when you have finished.

Video calls for up to eight people for discussing more sensitive issues

Linguists regularly highlight how written messages don’t always land their desired goal – and in particular if you are a serial ‘full stop’ user. For those times where a face to face discussion is best, make use of a WhatsApp Video call. All calls (and messages) are end-to-end encrypted on WhatsApp, so it’s perfect for any sensitive conversations. You can now speak with up to eight people, up from four thanks to a product update this year.

To start a group call, simply press the video camera logo in your WhatsApp Group chat and pick the people you’d like to speak with.

Muting notifications temporarily when you need a breather

Muting a busy WhatsApp group is ideal for those moments of respite; to process all the information shared, and to make a decision that best suits you and your child. Group chats can be muted for 8 hours or longer if you wish.

To mute a chat, swipe the group to the left in the Chats tab. Then tap More … > Mute > and choose how long you would like to mute it for.

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