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The journey of my PhD research explores the nature of relationships through the lens of social pedagogy. When one mentions the word ‘social pedagogy’, the initial thought is: what is social pedagogy?
I would describe social pedagogy as a concept that is viewed individually, solely through the practitioner’s thoughts, emotions and practical knowledge when working with vulnerable children and young people. However, scholars around the world of social pedagogy would describe social pedagogy as an understanding of the whole child. The understanding of the ‘whole child’ is based upon the pedagogy that resonates between the practitioner and the child or young person, which I would say is based on a co-constructive approach that adds to the building of a mutual professional relationship between both the child and the professional. I say the word professional with a loose sense of the term, as a relationship that has a sense of being socially pedagogic, has a continual shift in boundaries between the social pedagogue (the practitioner that practises social pedagogy) and the child or young person.
One way to describe a social pedagogues are that they are professionals who are considered the agents of social pedagogy that carry out social pedagogic work. There is similar context to the role of the social pedagogue that stem from such vocations as teaching, nursing and most importantly social work. But the social pedagogue solely works with concepts and reflective practice that underpin the theoretical knowledge and understanding from social pedagogy. So, my broadest definition of the essence of social pedagogy would be that it is a focus on the interrelationships between ‘society’ and ‘education’ and this involves exploring the relationships with children and young people.
The origins of social pedagogy can be found from many prominent philosophers of education or ‘pedagogy’, who have contributed to its formation as socially scientific concept. The conceptual nature of social pedagogy arises from the likes of prominent thinkers such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Paulo Freire, and Paul Natorp as well as many other philosophical thinkers around education, sociology and psychology. This evolution of social pedagogy from social pedagogic thinkers continues to grow through to the twentieth century and this is especially so from the adaptation of social pedagogy in Europe from Juha Hämäläinen, and more so to the concepts and practice of social pedagogy being introduced to the United Kingdom. And there is hope of social pedagogical thinking being spread to other parts of the world.
The theoretical elements of social pedagogical practice is the most fundamental aspect of social pedagogy and though the theoretical concept defines its academic stance, the practice of social pedagogy from professionals serves its purpose and authenticates the rationale from theory to practice. From my perspective having worked with children and young people for most of my professional life, as children’s nurse and educator, social pedagogy is a shared experience that encompasses both a relational and communicative approach between the practitioner and the child or young person.
The notion of social pedagogy places a strong emphasis on reliability, dependability and a strong supportive relationship between both the practitioner and the child or young person. This relationship with the child can come from any walk of life of the child at any given developmental stage. So, whether the child or young person is in hospital for treatment on a children’s ward , or a residential care home specifically for children and young people or in an educational setting, the common theme within these settings is that there is a professional relationship developing between the practitioner and the child or young person. So in a nutshell, social pedagogy plays an important part in the enrichment of relationships between the practitioner and the child. But most of all it is imperative that within the process of building relationships with children and young people, that the development and maintenance of those relationships is through a lens of social pedagogy.
One of the key characteristics of social pedagogy is the concept of the ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘hands’. This concept is influential in relating to dimensions of social pedagogy through the enrichment of human relationships.
So, the ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘hands’ approach frames itself as a holistic dimensional approach in the following way:
this is the professional self by this I mean that the practitioner is incorporating their skills, knowledge and theoretical grounding required for their role and bringing this all together within their relationship with the child or young person. For example, the Social Pedagogue would apply the concepts of social pedagogy to their practice with the child or young person.
This reflects on the personal self of the practitioner that encompasses personality, positive attitude, building personal relationships that move between dependence, interdependence and independence. This explores the emotions of both the practitioner and the child or young person they are working with. The heart is an expression of emotion, communication, confidence and self-esteem. This is arguably the most fundamental part of the relationship between the practitioner and the child or young person.
this forms the use of practical activities with the relationship and has a sense of co constructing and formation of the relationships through ‘doing ‘. For example, playing a game together or making a cup of tea together.
From theory to practice
As you can see on the ways in which social pedagogy can be incorporated into the practice of developing professional relationships with clients is by the ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘hands’ approach. The head , heart and hands approach is a unique way of formulating, developing and maintaining relationships as a professional. As a practitioner you can use the head, heart and hands approach in many ways to support and develop the relationships that you have with children and young people. I would say that we use this approach instinctively or without thinking about it, but having the knowledge that forms construction of social pedagogic thinking helps us to look at more ways to support the child or young person, especially when the child or young person faces any traumatic or turbulent times in their life.
We have established in some sense that a social pedagogic approach , such as the head , heart and hands approach, gives some credence and academic acknowledgement to the professional relationship between the practitioner and the child or young person, but it is worth bearing in mind the unpredictable world that surrounds us and as human relations are seen as essential in within the realms of social pedagogy, it is important recognise the life spaces that we share with each other. Therefore, the edifice of human relationships within social pedagogy is primarily grounded by acquiring the features of real world experiences in everyday life and it is through these worldly experiences that we are able to establish, maintain, develop, nurture and support relationships with children and young people.
Finally, though my PhD journey continues to enlighten my knowledge and understanding of social pedagogy, it goes without saying that the very approaches and conceptual nature of social pedagogy is an education in itself, as well as a unique opportunity to holistically work with children and young people through a distinctive and integrated lens.
Rohit Sagoo qualified as a children’s nurse in the late 1990’s and practised children’s nursing for several years.
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