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“WhatsApp-ning?” WhatsApp as a site of support and empowerment for NQTs – A critical reflection

Sonia Morris Sonia Morris has recently completed a Post Compulsory PGCE in Literacy and ESOL at the Institute of Education. Currently, she teaches at Working Men's College in Camden where she works onsite as well as outreach delivering ESOL and Functional Skills in English classes.

On the very first day of my PGCE course, the course leader made a seemingly innocuous statement regarding the importance of nurturing an effective social network among our peers. Nearly a year has passed after the rigours of the course, yet this advice has even more resonance than the day it was given. Forming a strong social and professional network has served as a necessity as we make the transition from being trainees into the foray of further education, a sector experiencing tumultuous change.

This change brings uncertainties. It is disturbing to hear stories from individuals new to the profession (and even experienced staff) whose morale is at rock-bottom. It is at this point that a sympathetic ear or a practical suggestion becomes integral to a teacher's survival, as we struggle to adjust to different ways of working. This article will be looking at the efficacy of WhatsApp messaging service as a locus of support and empowerment and an important tool in forging resilience, particularly among newly qualified teachers.

As an NQT, I have found that we tend to be employed as sessional or hourly-paid staff, often working in offsite locations delivering outreach or community classes, or providing cover. As a consequence, our teaching experience is often a disjointed solitary activity, seeing our colleagues weekly rather than daily. This lack of face-to-face contact can have quite a disorientating effect – as part-timers and outreach tutors can often be unintentionally 'left out of the loop'. Staff members are encouraged to check the college's intranet and mailbox at least once a week. However remote access can sometimes be problematic, and for those who are 'technologically challenged' it is easier to wait until the next visit to the staffroom.

The staffroom is often a hive of activity, as well as the space where we experience 'downtime'. We fledglings often 'pick the brains' of the more experienced colleagues in our desperation to grapple with the unfamiliar elements of teaching such as paperwork. The preparation of schemes of work and lesson plans, coupled with the compilation of course files often places us far outside our comfort zone. Unfortunately, due to timetabling, opportunities to consult more experienced staff are rare. In a desire to maintain professionalism, unpaid hours are dedicated to preparation and planning. Often, caretakers and security staff usher us out of the building a couple minutes before closing time, laughingly inquiring whether we have homes to go to.

Therefore as new recruits, maintaining contact is an important element of our teaching practice. Sharing our 'highs and lows' is valued as an effective coping strategy with our mobile phones as a useful conduit. After persistent badgering from a couple of my colleagues, I decided to sign up to WhatsApp. According to, this is “a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages for free”. What distinguishes this form of communication from other forms of social media is its accessibility. Although is quite similar to texting, it offers greater flexibility – you can send and receive voice messages, videos and images, all without charge!

It is also a more interactive activity – cues, such as 'typing...' and the double ticks, give an assurance that your message has not only been read but will be imminently responded to. Using WhatsApp is more aesthetically pleasing than texting for each contact usually has a profile picture. I use a photo of myself but others are more


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