‘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 www.celcis.org.uk)
Since the very first social pedagogy pilot project, run by NCERCC in 2007, an increasing number of UK organisations have embraced social pedagogy and developed the ways in which they work with children and adults. 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 or support the adults they work alongside to thrive. Below are some examples:
Social Pedagogy case studies of working with children:
Alex Jones from St Christopher’s Fellowship shows in this practice paper for the International Journal of Social Pedagogy how social pedagogy can help sharpen the focus on learning in the everyday and how this can enable stronger relationships. Click here to read Alex’s thought-provoking paper.
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.
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.
And this summary offers an insight into how social pedagogy can enhance foster care. Dave Kingswood shares some of his learning from the Head Heart Hands demonstration programme back in 2014-2016. You can find out more about Dave’s reflections here.
Matthew McFadzean from Care Visions and one of the participants in our Leonardo Mobility project has 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.
Claire Parker from Derbyshire has shared how their creative mentoring work with young people in care is making a difference and how social pedagogy underpins their brilliant work. You can read Claire’s excellent paper here.
Bianka Lang from Essex has been at the forefront of developing social pedagogy in children’s social work. In this article, she outlines how it can help find new ways at uncertain times. You can read Bianka’s paper here.
In 2012, we 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)
Social Pedagogy case studies of working with adults
Social pedagogical practice is not limited to supporting children. In this section you’ll find some insights into how social pedagogy can make a difference in adult settings too.
The Dundee Early Intervention Team used social pedagogy working alongside families to build their capacity to tackle challenges and make sustainable change. Their innovative approach is described in this case study on the IRISS website here.
Nicole Ashworth from Middlesbrough shared in a recent blog how she’s been using a social pedagogical approach with the people she supports as a social worker and how the concept of the Relational Universe can offer new insights. Read more about her experiences here.
Social pedagogy has been foundational to the ethos of Camphill Communities supporting both children and adults with disabilities. This IRISS podcast about Camphill Scotland’s pilot project with us offers some insights into how social pedagogy can strengthen relationship-centred practice in communities. Listen to the podcast here or click here for the transcript.
Rob Hunter from Leicester Ageing Together describes how social pedagogy and its focus on creativity can help create meaningful connections for older people in the community. You can find out more about this fantastic project here.