What social pedagogy means
Social pedagogy is essentially concerned with well-being, learning and growth. It is underpinned by the idea that each person has inherent potential, is valuable, resourceful and can make a meaningful contribution to their wider community if we find ways of including them. This requires that we also tackle or prevent social problems and inequality. In the short videos below, Pat Petrie (Professor Emeritus at the UCL Institute of Education) offers her unparalleled insights into what social pedagogy is, some key concepts in social pedagogy, what it does, how it could relate to you and much more.
The term ‘pedagogy’ stems from the Greek terms país (child) and ágõ (to lead, to guide). ‘Social’ pedagogy has grown organically out of a longstanding tradition of educational philosophers, social thinkers and practitioners who were concerned with creating a more just society through educational means. Social pedagogy therefore aims to connect each person to society, with society supporting its most disadvantaged members and each individual taking responsibility for wider society. It aims to create the conditions in which each person can grow and become both more independence and integrated. As this is a lifelong process, social pedagogues work within a range of different settings, from early years through adolescence to working with disadvantaged adult groups as well as older people. Consequently, what exactly social pedagogy means depends very much on the context or setting. Social pedagogues who are working with marginalised adults will draw on other specialisms and theories than social pedagogues working with very young children, but they will be connected through a shared ethos and principles underpinning their social pedagogical orientation.
Social pedagogy is very closely related to society and reflects cultural attitudes and traditions in many ways. It provides clues about how a given society thinks about children’s upbringing, the relationship between the individual and society, and how society supports its disadvantaged or marginalised members. This is why social pedagogy has developed in somewhat different ways across different countries over time – and why a Spanish social pedagogue might explain it in slightly different ways than a Swedish social pedagogue.
Irrespective of the cultural contexts and the different settings in which social pedagogues can work, there are shared underpinning principles: What connects all social pedagogies is the way of thinking, the philosophy and Haltung (congruence between values and actions) with which different methods are used. What characterizes social pedagogy in practice depends not so much on what is done but on how it is done and with what rationale. This means that social pedagogy is both a science and an art form – it’s not just a skill to learn but needs to be brought to life through the social pedagogue’s Haltung.
This perspective of social pedagogy means that it is dynamic, creative, and process-orientated rather than mechanical, procedural, and automated. It demands from social pedagogues to be a whole person, not just a pair of hands. It also offers an insight into how we can develop social pedagogy in the UK: following the same principles, we need to put people at the heart and connect to their Haltung. And we can only construct a social pedagogy for the UK together, in dialogue with each other. Only then can it offer a holistic overarching conceptual framework that can guide professional practice in a meaningful way. And only then can we capture the spirit of social pedagogy which makes it an art, not a method.
Social Pedagogy Standards
Over the last few years, much effort has gone into developing a clearer understanding of what the principles and practices of social pedagogues and social pedagogy practitioners in the UK are. In 2016, as part of a UCL Institute of Education-led project called Scaling Up Social Pedagogy, we consulted widely with professionals engaged in social pedagogy as practitioners, students, managers, academics or policy-makers to compile social pedagogy standards.
Standards – Philosophy and Haltung
These threshold standards address the philosophy underpinning of Social Pedagogy and the Haltung we expect Social Pedagogy Practitioners and Social Pedagogues to develop and maintain in their practice. These standards should be held in a person’s heart and guide their way of living and working.
As a Social Pedagogy Practitioner / Social Pedagogue, I agree to:
- Develop and nurture an attitude of empathy and unconditional positive regard for people and cultures and the world of which we are a part
- Foster relationships that respect human dignity and promote human rights, mutuality and well-being
- Recognise the inherent resourcefulness and potential of human beings to bring about change
- Appreciate that human relationships, in all their complexity, are intrinsically valuable and therefore central to Social Pedagogy
- Enable people to use their voices and effect change within their own lives and wider society
- Understand and work with the tensions inherent in valuing individual autonomy and social interdependence
- Engage with social and political aspects of human development, childhood and community
- Develop an attitude of professional curiosity and critical self-reflection
- Be open to and informed of new theory, research and good practice relevant to social pedagogical practice
- Use situated professional judgment and maintain appropriate confidentiality
- Understand issues relating to the protection of vulnerable individuals, groups and communities and address social inequalities
- Recognise the value of creativity, playfulness and adventure
- Be accountable for my practice, engage in meaning-making and know when to seek advice
Standards – Practice
These standards represent the threshold level of practice for Social Pedagogy Practitioners and Social Pedagogues. We expect their employing organisations to provide a working culture and support that enables Social Pedagogy Practitioners and Social Pedagogues to apply these standards within their practice.
As a Social Pedagogy Practitioner / Social Pedagogue, I agree to:
- Engage with others in ways that respect their equal value and human dignity, understanding the part played by personal communication that supports this
- Make decisions with a high degree of situation awareness, recognising the complex factors involved in different circumstances
- Recognise and respect that personal histories, characteristics and social and political contexts have brought each person and group to their current understanding of the world
- Invite, consider and integrate multiple perspectives in decision making as a means of deepening social justice, community and well-being
- Create opportunities and contexts for people to actively participate in society, express their own views and listen to those of others
- Hold my relationship with the people I work with and support in the foreground in all my practice
- Value the opportunities that everyday activities provide for developing relationships
- Facilitate learning processes that enhance well-being and enable individuals to find meaning and purpose in their everyday lives
- Work collaboratively and be willing to both support and challenge colleagues
- Use theory and research in my everyday practice
- Support the individuals, groups and communities I work with to realise their hopes and aspirations by identifying, with them, the steps required to meet their goals
- Adapt my practice to take account of the physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social and cultural needs and strengths of individuals, groups and communities, in keeping with the principles of social pedagogy
- Practice safely and competently within the legal and ethical boundaries of my profession
- Take into account relevant social policy and at the same time bringing critical awareness to any tensions existing between our values and such policies.
- Support community development by encouraging networking and connections through participatory processes that draw on the community’s resourcefulness.
- Promote inter-professional dialogue and co-operation across settings and agencies.
You can find these as a downloadable document here.