Transcript: Social pedagogy in practice

Social Pedagogy Professional Association's conference Growing up, growing old and staying well in Edinburgh on 28 September 2018.

Podcast Episode: Social pedagogy in practice

Category: Social work (general) 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
MS - Mark Smith
LH - Lotte Harbo
GE - Gabriel Eichsteller
GC - Gemma Campbell
GM - Graham McPheat

MD You’re professor of Social Work isn’t it up at University of Dundee?

MS Yeah.

MD And from a social work perspective then, what is the significance of social pedagogy really?

MS For me some of the significance is it’s link back to some of the earlier ideas of Scottish social work, in particular Kilbrandon’s idea of social education and Cole Brandon thought of social education as education in it’s widest sense to work with individuals families and communities and if you think of the idea of social pedagogy then that is described as education in it’s broadest sense as well so, there are obvious sort of linkages. Kilbrandon was thinking about what to recommend in his report in 1964 and he very explicitly looked to continental Europe in particularly to Scandinavia for some of his findings as opposed to sort of looking towards an Anglo-American model and as I say the conclusion was a sort of socio educational model which in some ways was overtaken in the sort of period between Kilbrandon’s report in ‘64 and the 68th Social Work in Scotland Act but much of it was sort of maintained within there. And I think that early social work in the ‘70’s/80’s was largely socio-pedagogical in it, it was relationship based, it worked with groups, it worked with families and communities, community social work tradition obviously, as the recent Iriss paper suggests or shows. And I think that social work in many respects has lost its way, it’s become very individualised, very focused on deficits rather than strengths. There’s a conception in social pedagogy of the rich child rather than the child who needs sort of protection all the time or has vulnerabilities. So sort of catastrophising of childhood and of people generally I think that who’ve introduced a sort of protective discourse to adults as well rather than looking at strengths and assets and I think that for me social pedagogy gives a … it’s sometimes mis-conceived as an approach that you can set alongside other approaches such as attachment based or yeah some of these programmed approaches. It’s actually a way of thinking and most of these other approaches can actually sit within a … or under a social pedagogy umbrella and it’s a way of thinking about the individual and the individual’s relationship with society.

MD How do you think it’s different or if at all, to … or is it just an umbrella really for outcomes, you know personal outcomes, approaches, relationship-based approaches? So, it’s more rooted as you’re saying and more education?

MS Yeah.

MD But is it doing some of the same things as these other approaches or is it something a little bit different?

MDS I don’t think it’s just about outcomes, obviously it’s concerned about outcomes but it’s more concerned of … or as concerned about process and how you actually get to those outcomes and the realisation that a lot of … well outcomes are dependant on relationships, that’s one of the themes that’s sort of come through. But it also thinks about, what are the nature of those relationships, I think we bandy around terms such as relationship based practice whereas social pedagogy deconstructs those a wee bit in terms of what’s involved in relationship based practice and some of that might be about engaging in joint activities with children, adults, some of it might be about becoming reflexive in terms of understanding yourself. One of the concepts in social pedagogy is (… unclear), which expects you to sort of reflect upon your own stance, what you bring to a particular situation. Now, also in terms of relationships it differentiates between the personal, the professional and the private and I think within traditional social work ways of working we talk about the personal and the professional and actually if you’re doing to do affective relationally based work, you need to emerge the personal and the professional and it’s only private aspects of it you keep separate so, it’s about recognising that direct work with people is a sort of self-inaction type of task which involves the personal and professional coming together.

MD And do you think then it’s not as supported as it could be in terms of public policy here in Scotland particularly?

MS It’s not at all, you know I mean, I have a notion that it should speak to some of the national priorities in terms of sort of government policy, it feeds into them fairly directly I would have thought. I think that there are difficulties in the sense that it asks us to ask questions of the dominance of risk-based approaches. It is almost explicitly non-scientific, it’s a humanistic approach and I think we live in a world where people are looking for harder policy outcomes or policy sort of objectives whereas social pedagogy, one of the things that’s sometimes said about social pedagogy, if you ask a social pedagogue what to do in a situation, they’ll say, “it depends.” Now, that doesn’t play with managers and politicians and yet it’s absolutely true.

MD Yeah, yeah.

MS Yeah, yeah. So, we retained perhaps increasingly integrated environment where health potentially dominates, we’re looking for more scientific approaches rather than humanistic approaches.

MD so, in a way social pedagogy is the kind of sophisticated approach that for complex situations and there isn’t a sort of one goal you can kind of achieve at the end of sort of working with people, really.

MS You can’t, yeah.

MD Yeah.

MS No, absolutely.

MD Okay.

MS I don’t think you can do that within any approach but other approaches at least try and promise it whereas social pedagogy almost says, “well, we can’t do it.” So, it’s less politically attractive.

MD Sure, sure.

MS Yeah.

MD Lotta Harbo, social professor at VIA University College in Denmark tells us about the work she’s involved in.

So Lotta, thank you for speaking to me. Can you tell me about your role and background in relation to social pedagogy?

LH Yeah, well I’m from Denmark, I live in Denmark and for the last 25 years, I’ve been either working on or studying and focusing my career life on social pedagogy. And as part of my career, I was part of the ThemPra organisation back in 2009/10 and have followed the development of social pedagogy in the UK over the years but now, I am a social professor at the University College in Denmark where we do continuing education for social pedagogues so, I function as a consultant and go into secure units for instance or you know places where social pedagogues live and do training with them there and develop on projects and then I’m doing a PhD on social pedagogy which is why I’m here now visiting Dundee University. Mark Smith, because his focus on values and practices, I find it quite interesting.

MD Right okay, and how would you define social pedagogy?

LH Yeah.

MD And what are social pedagogues?

LH What are social pedagogues? Well, in Denmark it’s a discipline, it’s a 3 and a half year education to become a pedagogue and then you either become a social pedagogue or a school pedagogue or a day care pedagogue and most social pedagogues in Denmark work with … look after children, with adults in their psychiatry and elderly, you know, we’re spread all over and due to the legislation in Denmark now the work that we do is more like outreach or we function as pedagogues in the public school because we’ve had these inclusion laws so, that a lot of the children with diagnosis and ADHD for instance, who were earlier in special schools are now in the ordinary public school which of course offers both them and everybody else some areas for development or where they could need support. So, that would be a typical job for a social pedagogue to support groups and social pedagogy is quite hard to define but I see it as a way of thinking, it’s a value base, based on humanistic values and it’s an approach where you constantly aim to support the person that you meet in your work towards inclusion in society. So, in that sense it’s a funny function because I can’t include a young person in school but I can look at the school system, I can look at the class that he’s going into, I can look at him and then I can, with my knowledge and my professionalism, I can try and support him in engaging with communities so, in that sense the function of social pedagogy is to support inclusion into the society that you are in.

You can do, you know, short span interventions as a social pedagogue or work with particular programmes or whatever that’s maybe over ten weeks or something but I find in my studies as well that, and with my experience as a social pedagogue that you have a lifetime horizon. You don’t know what life this twenty five year old is going to have in thirty years but based on the knowledge that you have here and now and whatever he and her is saying then it’s with the aim to support a good life.

MD Sure, yeah. And do you see differences in how you practice in Denmark compared to the UK?

LH This is where I’ve been mainly visiting organisations in England and I have a feeling, I’ve only been here in Scotland for two weeks, but I’ve got a feeling that there is a sense of integrity to the Scottish social workers or community workers that I’m quite curious on. It’s a whole different welfare state and then again, no, since there is free education, free access to higher education in Scotland as well so, I’m still trying to understand how the Scottish approach is, but there is something that I think that we could learn from in Denmark when it comes to that sort of sense of integrity among professionals.

MD And, I suppose today is one of those days to sort of try and understand a little bit more about what is happening across Scotland …

LH It is.

MD … there’s lots of organisations here, I think …

LH Yeah.

MD … and they’re doing lots of really good practical work.

LH Yes and it’s a chance to have an understanding of how does social pedagogy take shape and form in the UK/Scotland now? I’m chair of the Danish Association for Social Pedagogy, where we run a journal and that has a strong focus on: So, what is social pedagogy? And this is where, if I put that identity on, I’m quite curious on how it’s forming itself here when it comes to both being … you know, a social pedagogue is probably most times hired by the government state, local authority and you’re obliged to record into the politics somehow but as a social pedagogue you’re obliged to secure and support the emancipation of the person that you meet or the group that you meet and that’s something that I’m quite curious here in Scotland, how do you … with all the independence, discourse, and rhetoric’s and I’m just … maybe you’ve got something or ways of handling this dilemma that’s just a fundamental dilemma in social pedagogy, nowhere, you know all over the world. How do you balance that if you work within local authorities or you know a political system? How do you then support the liberty ad the freedom of the person?

MD And you’re up in the university of Dundee for a small period of time?

LH Yes, two months.

MD two months.

LH Yes, I’m leaving again in November.

MD Right, okay great.

LH Yeah, yeah.

MD Well enjoy your trip here.

LH Thank you.

MD Okay, thanks for speaking to me.

LH You’re welcome.

MD Gabriel Eichsteller talks about the work he does for ThemPra social pedagogy.

GO So, I’m Gabriel Eichsteller, I’m with an organisation called ThemPra Social Pedagogy and we’ve been supporting a whole range of different organisations in developing social pedagogy both in practice and within their organisational culture. So, trying to ensure that the values and principles and theories and concepts and that we use quite a lot in social pedagogy in day to day work with the people that we normally support that these principles are also used in the way that people work within the team and work with other agencies so, really trying to strengthen the whole kind of team ethos, team culture and into professional practice.

MD Okay, can you give me some examples of the sort of principles that you use in the work out, what makes this sort of approach different to other approaches?

GO Yeah so, one of the key starting points in social pedagogy is what we kind of talk about as the diamond model so, the idea that every person has a diamond within them. It’s intrinsically rich, has potential and abilities and our role as professionals is to kind of help bring that out so, help kind of bring that diamond to shine in a sense and that applies both to children, young people we might be working with or older people or communities we might be working with or families and it applies equally to ourselves as colleagues and as a team so, it’s all about how can we use the many talents, the unique potentials and insights and experiences that people bring. How can we actually kind of bring that together, how can we orchestrate something that is much more enriching, much more beautiful as a result of those different unique skills that we all bring to practice? The diamond model basically describes the 4 key aims of social pedagogy so, the first one is about wellbeing and happiness, and nurturing that. Recognising that wellbeing and happiness are both unique to individuals, so, what makes you happy is possibly something very different to what makes me happy and wellbeing is also something that is very holistic and very much about the long term so, it’s not just about being happy in the here and now but actually looking for like just that enhance my overall wellbeing and looking at wellbeing, not just physical and mental wellbeing but also emotional, social, spiritual wellbeing and what can we do as professionals to kind of further increase that so, it’s not just something that is static but it needs our constant mindful attention and yeah there’s always things that we can do together to kind of try and improve people’s wellbeing and happiness.

MD And what kind of organisation’s then are you working with, is it across the UK?

GO Yes, it’s across the UK and we work with both children’s homes and residential care providers, fostering services, we’ve actually done some work with St. Christopher’s in helping them develop social pedagogy. We’ve worked with early intervention teams and family support services, we’ve also worked with Camphill Scotland on a pilot project a couple of years back on developing social pedagogy within their adult care communities so, it’s really kind of spans the whole spectrum. What we’re trying to do through social pedagogy is to try and bring it back to: what are we really trying to achieve? How can we support relationship building? How can we support learning and how can we do that in dialogue with the people? Because I don’t have the solutions for everybody’s problem and neither should I have and if somebody else is really engaged in their own learning or in their own service whatever that might be then they’re much more likely to fell like this is making a difference to their lives.

MD So, what’s the biggest challenge you face do you think with this work?

GO In that sense, probably the key challenge is to give people a real sense of that actually change starts with each individual. Change isn’t something that happens from the top down, it needs to start at the grass roots and it needs to be about organic small scale change. About trying to improve what we do here and now, trying to take ownership for the decisions that we can actually make. I’m also really encouraged as at wider level we are talking about things like social justice within society you know, it’s really kind of entered the political discourse a lot more recently so, we’re starting to ask some of those bigger questions and I think there’s real opportunities to kind of say, social pedagogy kind of provides a framework that people can recognise because very often when we talk to practitioners, long standing practitioners about social pedagogy, they’re saying, “well this is why I came into this job in the first place, ethically from a value base, this really speaks to me and it now gives me a theoretical framework as well that helps me to kind of basically use the many experiences, the many kind of different approaches I might have been trained and it kind of helps me marry all of that together to connect it, to create meaning.” And I think that’s both a challenge but at the same time, I think when people kind of really understand that, when they really open up and see, “Oh, this gives me even greater strategies, even more of an understanding of what I do and why I do it and it really connects me to why I’m doing this in the first place.” then great things really happen from there.

MD Gemma Campbell, practitioner at Kibble Education and Care Centre, tells us how social pedagogy makes a difference to her work with children.

GC So, I work for Kibble Education and Care Centre and I currently work with the early years’ service which works with children age five to twelve so, we tried different approaches for the kids. I’ve just recently kind of moved down to Arran Villa, that it’s called, so, whenever I moved down there it was around the time that I done social pedagogy, the training.

MD Where did you do your training?

GC I done it through Kibble.

MD Oh, through Kibble?

GC Yeah, uh huh.

MD Okay so, Kibble are supportive of this approach?

GC Yeah, yeah absolutely. I also took part in the social pedagogy facilitation course as well so, that I could become a trainer and a wee bit more confidence in putting the approaches out there. So, whenever I moved to Arran Villa, as I say it was a new service and I kind of had fresh eyes and different approaches with a lot of the kids it’s to do with self-esteem and boosting the self-esteem and finding the good in everything that they do, what the improvements are whether it’s how they’ve handled a situation or being encouraging and praising other kids, you know it’s all recognised and it’s different ways of how you approach certain situations where you know, before the training, I probably did approach in certain ways but it kind of confirmed that what I was doing was right and put a theory to practice.

MD Put a theory to practice then for you?

GC Yeah, yeah. So, the service that I work for as well it is a very social pedagogy approach to practice styles, allowing the kids to feel empowered. It’s like child led and we’re also you know, finding the balance between allowing them to be risky, going and climbing the trees and going and doing kid things but also having a wee bit of learning in it. I find that social pedagogy is so relevant to the residential care practice, it’s relevant in all areas for me as a worker and for the kids because it gets you thinking about yourself as a … like reflecting on your practice and is what you’re doing, best meeting the needs of the kids that you’re working for and I feel like social work and social care, they have their positions and they’re good in lots of ways, they kind of more formality for me, the practice and the approach that I have with the children is more important and I feel like whenever you do social pedagogy, you know, you’re talking about different theories like the three p’s, the comfort zone and learning zone model, the lollipop moments, all of these different things that you kind of do on a daily basis I find that relates more to me as a care worker. From what I’ve learned and the approaches that I have tried from social pedagogy, it definitely has its benefits. It’s a lot more child centred, I feel where other qualifications would be in … I feel that when you go into a job, you need to bring something to it and I think that social pedagogy beings a lot of things to every kind of practice that you do with children and young people and I think that, you know, being creative in your approaches will benefit others but also influencing others to be a bit more creative would be beneficial.

MD To close, Graeme McPheat, Senior Teaching Fellow and Social Work at the University of Strathclyde, gives his view on the importance of social pedagogy in practice.

So, Graeme you’re a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Strathclyde.

GM Yes.

MD From your professional point of view, what’s your perspective on social pedagogy?

GM So, I guess that I kind of first became aware of social pedagogy going back to 2001, actually starting as a student at University of Strathclyde.

MD Right, okay.

GM On the MS Scene Advance Residential Childcare and I was a practitioner at that time so, that was the first time I became aware of it. I think it was really from 2008 roughly onwards when Circ started offering the ThemPra training to the residential childcare sector. I was working at university by that point and there was a real appetite in the residential sector in Scotland and beyond for social pedagogy so, I guess my involvement for the last 10 years has particularly been thinking about the application of social pedagogy in residential childcare and how it can help practitioners in terms of thinking about and reflecting on their practice and what they’re trying to do and achieve for the children and young people that they’re working with.

MD Okay, and is it successful do you think?

GM Yeah so, I mean, loads of interesting conversations today. I think there’s evidence of success in the organisations that buy into it and the organisations that buy into it are by and large represented here today and some of them in quite large numbers and I think that’s a sign of something in terms of the benefits that they see of it in terms of how it helps staff to think about their role and the way that they’re working with children and young people and the things that they’re doing and the things that they’re not doing. I think the challenge for us as a sector or for us as a group of people who are committed and interested in social pedagogy is: how do we take that conversation beyond the people that are here represented? There’s almost a … to a certain extent, even at an event such as this, and it’s almost like we exist in our own equi-chamber 3.45 to a certain extent …

MD Right, okay.

GM … and we’re preaching to the converted, whatever analogy you want to use, I think the challenge is, how do we move the conversation onwards and outwards so, that we’re thinking about it across a range of different organisations and services and thinking about what social pedagogy has got to offer in terms of an underpinning set of principles, theories, ideas, for how we engage with children and young people.

MD And what needs to be in place then to make that happen?

GM I mean that in many ways is the $64,000 question in terms of where we go from that. I think it’s got to start with the people at events such as this, the people that are already buying into it to a certain extent about spreading the word outwards. I think the challenge is what’s the best way of doing that? I think we’ve got to look to engage with as many organisations and practitioners as possible and encourage them to … cos I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding out there about what social pedagogy is or isn’t and actually I’ve just came from a conversation where we were talking about: is part of the difficulty that actually if you’d have said to somebody in two or three sentences, describe or define social pedagogy to me and even many people that have been about this for years, I think that can be a bit of a challenge. So, if you’re trying to introduce this concept to people that have never heard of it before, so there’s a range of challenges so, I think in many ways some of the organisations that are engaging with it best, I think some of the case studies, examples of what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and the perceived benefits and positive outcomes of it, that might be one of the ways to actually get more people on board actually that’s how people are won over in terms of that kind of tangible evidence.

MD Yeah cos I think the likes of Kibble, Camphill Scotland …

GM Yeah.

MD … these kind of organisations that are actually … or St Christopher’s, I was at a workshop earlier on they were all doing really good work …

GM Yeah, and …

MD … using it.

GM … yeah and Kibble are an organisation I’ve been involved in a lot in the last kind of 7 or 8 years now in terms of their kind of social pedagogy work so, very familiar with what they’re doing and them trying to use it almost as an underpinning philosophy to how they work and how they do things and then seeing how that then translates into the way in which, right from the beginning, the way in almost which they recruit staff and induct staff and educate and train staff so, that they’re thinking and practicing in that way and I think it’s those stories and examples from organisations such as that, they might have the best chance of converting some of the … I don’t know if I’m totally comfortable with the word converting but in terms of getting other people on board …

MD Influencing.

GM … influencing is probably a better way of describing it, yeah.

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