Stories about Social Pedagogy

‘I am working with a boy who has attention difficulties in the classroom, and he talked to me for a good half an hour and showing me web pages of boats and saying he’s a skipper and what you have to wear, how you have to move etc… And I said to him, “you’ve got other people’s lives in your hands and it’s very important.” And I use that in talking to other people, teachers – who tend to talk very negatively about him – and explain a bit more about who he is and what he does. And they are really surprised, but it changes their perspective on him.’
(teaching support worker, Orkney Islands Council – full report available at


Since the very first social pedagogy pilot project, run by NCERCC in 2007, an increasing number of organisations have embraced social pedagogy and developed the ways in which they work with children. Their stories and narratives offer some insights into how they have developed social pedagogy and what exactly they have done to enable the children in their care to experience a happier childhood. Below are some examples, and we’d be grateful to add more:

Using nonviolent communication in practice

Matthew McFadzean from Care Visions and one of the participants in our Leonardo Mobility project has recently written a short article on how he has used nonviolent communication with a girl in his children’s home. It’s a truly inspiring read, and Matthew has kindly made it available here.

Social Pedagogy case study

As one of our participants on a 9-day social pedagogy course we ran for SIRCC, Michael Greig from Edinburgh City Council has been actively developing social pedagogy within his practice. He’s kindly written an insightful case study that shows how social pedagogical concepts can be applied in the interaction with children and young people. You can read his essay here.

The Relevance of Social Pedagogy in Working with Young People in Residential Care

This short paper comes from a presentation by Viki Bird, a residential worker from Essex. She describes how social pedagogy has benefitted the young people in their care by creating a culture that focusses more on relationships, helps them develop a sense of identity and challenges negative stereotypes about young people in care. You can read Viki’s inspiring paper here.

Social Pedagogy from the perspective of practitioners

This is a paper drawn together from essay excerpts written by practitioners in Essex. We published this in late 2009 in order to share some of their thoughts, feelings and actions around social pedagogy. You can download the paper here.

Reflections on Danish social pedagogy

In 2012, ThemPra organised for a group of residential care workers from Care Visions and Lancashire to work alongside pedagogues in Danish nurseries and children’s homes. Here are some of the learning experiences that had a particular effect on participants. These show what is important to social pedagogy. The full reports from all participants are available here.

‘Today, we met with Birgitte, one of the Hybler, throughcare team. We had a long conversation with her in her office. After yesterday, I was feeling impatient to get out and meet with more young people but I was able to reflect later that this had been an important time, because it had helped to ground me again and allowed Birgitte to find out who we were and explain about her work, establishing our “common third”.
Birgitte first took us to meet with Britta, who lives in a flat. Birgitte explained that we would not be invited into the flat and said that it had taken a long time for her to earn Britta’s trust. When she used to turn up for meetings, Britta would make her wait for up to an hour, before coming downstairs and joining her. Birgitte emphasised that this was an important period, in which she was being tested by Britta. Birgitte’s approach to this behaviour was to never book another appointment after meeting with Britta and then to sit patiently until the young woman was ready to see her. This patience paid off and today Britta was ready and waiting when we arrived. We were introduced and then went to a café to talk. The warmth between Birgitte and Britta was clear to see and Britta was very open about her life and the challenges she faces. She also acknowledged that it had taken her a long time to trust Birgitte and that Birgitte had been very patient with her. While we talked, the positive regard that Birgitte holds Britta in shone through and reminded me of a proud mother with her adored daughter. Britta told us about her musical aspirations and gave us the details of a website where we could view and listen to some of her songs. She also told us that she is studying to be a legal secretary, in case she cannot make a living from her singing. Although deeply hurt by the experiences of her childhood, Britta had a clear sense of future and realisation that it is her choices which will shape it.’
(Matthew McFadzean, Care Visions)

‘What I feel I gained most from my two placements and my time in Denmark was the essence of social pedagogy being a personal journey. You feel pedagogy in your heart. This is what makes a good practitioner. What I take away is the sense of solidarity within both units; staff, young people and parents all working together toward a shared aim. What I hope to share with others is the sense of the whole child. What I began to understand is that we are good at what we do. We have some very good practice and very good staff who are committed to the work we do. What is evident in Denmark is that social pedagogy is a part of society; it is integral to how people live their lives. We are not going to change the whole of society but if, by being more aware, better educated and having a greater understanding, we enhance the life experience of the young people we care for then perhaps this is justification for making the changes.’
(Dee Baron, Lancashire County Council)

‘I found even though the children are very independent and taught responsibility from a young age they still play like children. One of the things that is said back in the UK is children grow up too fast, giving them responsibility and independence at such a young age would take away their childhood. This I found not to be true: they still used imaginative play and were still children and played as such, they just appeared to have a mutual respect for each other. Two boys ran through the cafe area, and instead of saying ‘don’t run’ the pedagogue suggested it might be better if we walked fast through the cafe area, which the boys did. A good example of changing the way we say things, I know many children would have reacted differently if the saying was ‘don’t run’; it would have given rise to back chat. Offering the boys an alternative rather than being told what to do made them stop and think and comply. I will take a look at how I word things in different situations.’
(Debra Logan, Lancashire County Council)

‘During my time at Den Grønne Giraf, I was particularly inspired by one profoundly insightful tool/methodology that guided the nursery’s practice, “Non-Violent Communication” (developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD), which has since assisted me in my professional and personal life. One of my most important findings was that the pedagogue should make observations, not judgments. Within the context of the nursery, this proved to be crucial in achieving its peaceful and harmonious atmosphere. If one child took another child’s toy, or ran into another, or caused any other person to become upset or unsafe, Steve, the pedagogue, would make an observation on the child’s actions without jumping to the rescue unless immediate danger was present. This observation would always be factual: “look at what your action has done to the spilled glass of milk”, or “Ben, please look at Rosie. How does she look now that you have run into her? Do you think she is upset? Maybe you could apologize and look out for her next time?” The absence of judgments and threats is crucial here. As I watched these mini-lessons unfold before me, I questioned whether I would have reacted in the same way or if I might have said something like “Don’t be so clumsy Ben”, or “If you do that again you will not be allowed to play anymore”. Especially once I considered that Steve had to repeat these same calm, mild mannered, positive suggestions every day to countless kids year after year, I wondered if I could be so patient or if the frustrations might build and energy for the task drop as a result. I spoke with Steve about my reflections and he agreed that it would be very easy to become frustrated, as with children this age development is only seen over time and with repetition of key lessons. He stressed that it was important to leave yesterday’s baggage at the door with regards to any personal frustrations with individual children. Matching this with his vast knowledge on child development allowed him to frame the child’s behaviour and de-personalise it, thus allowing him to maintain high energy levels and enthusiasm for the task at hand. To remain in the present was crucial and something that he encouraged the children to do also. He was constantly attempting to frame his communication with them so that the focus was on increasing the child’s own awareness of their actions and the consequences for themselves and others. He said that he was very well supported by the nursery’s management system and in particular supervision. He spoke of how the pedagogic approach encourages non-judgmental attitudes extending from pedagogue to child but also from management to pedagogue. This allowed him to express his stresses, concerns and frustrations without the fear of judgment from colleagues or bosses. He knew that his responsibility was to bring these comments with the desire and focus on a brighter future (not to off-load) and as such problems and challenges could be shared amongst the team with new minds bringing new solutions.’
(Dougie Gould, Care Visions)

‘The main things I noticed in this placement were just how the most simple tasks or activities were turned into learning experiences for the children. An example of this was a guessing game where the pedagogue was drawing pictures and children were guessing what he was drawing. As he finished and the children were guessing the pedagogue started to ask questions and give information about what he had drawn. On another occasion, while reading a book to the children while waiting on their snack, pedagogues asked questions and had the children think about the storyline, spoke about the author and his work. They were also very good at setting up an activity and then letting the children take over until the pedagogue could disengage and leave the children to play on their own.[…] While on placement at Den Grønne Giraf I went to visit the kindergarten class based within the local school. During my morning in the class I witnessed and was part of a very heart-warming and special celebration. As it was a young boy’s birthday the pedagogue asked all the class to sit in a circle on the floor. The young boy whose birthday it was sat on a chair within the circle, allowing him to feel a little more special. All the children and adults sang a birthday song to the boy who sat very proudly on his chair. Once everyone finished the song we were all asked to give gifts. These were not material gifts but imaginary gifts. Everyone was very excited and one by one we all gave the young boy an imaginary gift. As each person gave a gift we all imagined that gift on our heads and hearts. Each person who gave a gift felt good and was smiling and the young boy, receiving the gift, got excited and was very happy. This activity was so lovely and left everyone feeling warm and happy and reminded me how the little things in life can be so special. We do not encourage our children to use their imagination enough, and such a small and simple activity can create such love and joy. Everyone in the room that day became part of something special and everyone was included in celebrating a young boy’s wonderful birthday.’
(Michelle Morrison, Care Visions)

Developing Social Pedagogy in Everyday Practice in Essex

Other organisations have engaged with social pedagogy through training courses and strategic development aimed at creating a more pedagogical culture within the organisation. Essex County Council in particular worked with ThemPra on a 3-year programme to develop social pedagogy across its 12 children’s homes. Our report, which provides many examples of how teams improved their practice through social pedagogy, is available here. We’ve chosen some outstanding examples below:

‘Social pedagogy has enabled me to speak confidently about the relationships I have with the children and how it is important to be authentic within these. Children are seen as children and not defined by their past experiences. Our relationships with the children are personal, and each participant gives something of themselves to enable the attachment to grow. It is only by residential workers showing the children that they are worthy, loveable and valued human beings that they can then go on to develop and grow into adults that have a chance at maintaining loving healthy relationships’.
(assistant homes manager)

‘I was sitting in the playroom with the other children, and we started an activity that involved someone tapping actions on a person’s back and made stories up to the actions. There were four children and two adults involved, and we would take it in turns to be tapped and be the person who tapped. This resulted in a lot of laughs and enthusiasm to continue with each other. Gradually the rest of the group began to leave the playroom, leaving the young girl and myself. We both were still experiencing the excitement of the previous game. We were looking at each other and she stood up and made a silly noise and waved her hands about. I immediately stood up and did the same thing. She laughed and said “copy me”, which I did, and then I said “copy me”, which she did. This went on until her bedtime, and each time we would fall down together on the sofa laughing uncontrollably. As she was going up to bed she called out “that was good, it has made me so happy, I’m going to go to bed happy tonight”. I remained on the sofa and felt a warm glow inside. I felt happy, and this was compounded when I heard what she had said.’
(assistant homes manager)

‘We had a meeting at a child’s school regarding his education plan and what we were going to do to help him access education at his pace. Taking the pedagogue way of thinking, I took the child along to the meeting so that he could hear what could be done to help him and so that he could hear it first-hand. At the meeting, one of the professionals that attended was not happy that the child was at the meeting as she felt she could not talk as freely as she would like. Whilst I understood that it was hard for her to convey what she thought without offending the child, I felt that it also stopped her from thinking of the child as just a problem and had to make her think of him as a person as she could see him. I found that the child got a great deal out of the meeting as, when we both discussed it afterwards to make sure he understood what had been said, he seemed very happy and instead altered the plan to suit him better. The original plan involved a few more steps in the arrangement to get the child into school, but the child decided to skip some of these steps and move straight to being at the school. I could see that the child felt empowered by this decision as he knew that no one was making him do this and that it was solely his decision; by being at the meeting he could also see how many people were prepared to help him and offer him support to achieve this goal. On reflection, I was glad that I had taken the child to the meeting as it had given him the empowerment he needed to make the first steps in re-attending school.’
(residential child care worker)

A young boy had just come into the children’s home, away from his family for the first time. He felt very homesick and found it especially difficult to settle at bedtime. One care worker therefore decided to tell him about her own experience of going to boarding school as a girl, how she had felt and what had helped her gradually overcome her homesickness. Through the conversation the boy and the care worker developed a connection, and her personal life-story helped him realise that he wasn’t the only child in the world having these feelings and that he was cared for by people who cared about him and wanted him to feel at home here.
(example from a residential child care worker)

‘We did a small, ongoing project on finding out about the Chinese Zodiac. I drew a circle on the wall and one of the young people researched the Chinese Zodiac. We made a table of the years relating to animals. The children and their friends in the neighbourhood drew the animals relating to signs and we added them to the display. All staff, young people, domestics, gardeners and night staff (in fact anyone who came in the building!) had a name card made for them. We used wool as arrows to point to animals. This encouraged lots of interacting and conversations between staff and children, especially at mealtimes, about which signs people were. Many staff had not a clue which sign related to them and the young people were so happy to find out. After a week or so people began asking what the different signs meant on the Chinese Zodiac. So we again went to good old “google” and found out the meanings associated with different signs. These are now attached to the board as well. The board has been up for 4 weeks, the children are still enjoying asking people what sign they are and reading out the meanings. The children have begun to reflect and identify themselves and staff in some of the meanings associated with particular signs. For example children have said things like, ‘oh that’s true, I am like that sometimes’ or ‘that’s not true because I’m not like that!’ This has also encouraged the children to use the laptops for research purposes rather than games! Over the weeks this project has been of continual interest; even now new names are still being added.’
(residential child care worker)

‘By “boring” the child we were not giving the child any opportunity to want to learn for themselves or offering them a situation in which they could help themselves – and in actual fact [this] was putting them further into their panic zone, making them feel that there were only two sides: school, which they hate, or being bored, sat in a corridor at home. By giving the child worksheets to complete, this was not creating a situation where it was possible for them to learn, and in many instances the child would rather rip up the worksheets than complete them. By taking a pedagogic stance with this situation I found that the child would respond more by doing things that relaxed them and that when they were in this space they were taking more in and actually learning. For example, by taking the child to the local shops to buy ingredients for a cooking exercise, they were doing maths and learning life skills without even realising. When working with a child who is refusing to attend school I now question myself about what it is I should give them to work from and explore other situations I can create that may give them more opportunity to learn. I also reflect more on how they must feel and how their refusing to attend school is telling us something rather than just them being defiant.’
(residential child care worker)

‘Today I took a young person to school for her first day. However, timetables and taxis had been mis-communicated, making the whole thing a negative experience from the off. They were going to send her home despite the mountain she had had to climb to get there. The bit for me was having the professional confidence to question the impact this would have on the girl’s well-being and her future impression of educational establishments. This in turn seemed to give her the confidence to voice her own grievance, and the matter was resolved in her favour. This then later led to the most intense PEP meeting I’d ever participated in where the young girl articulated herself extremely well by explaining the very negative impact that moving schools and having no control over her education was having on her. I really hope that this event had an impact on the other professionals involved – it seemed to at the time. […] I suppose this is another example of how really getting to know our young people is so important, so in situations like this we can stand united to make sure we are being listened to in order to get the best outcomes. Making assumptions on their behalf is so detrimental and can make a difficult time a hundred times more difficult. I think the strength of relationships is also so valuable here as we both felt comfortable challenging this issue (I suppose it was a Common Third experience in a strange kind of way!) but I’m very proud of what she achieved today and was glad we managed to move it forward and still manage to have a good laugh on the way home!’
(residential child care worker)