Our approach to Social Pedagogy 

This is part 1 of a 3-part blog series – parts 2 and 3 will be about how we’ve used language and relationships to build the culture in our home – keep an eye on our social media channels for parts 2 and 3 over the next few months. 

“The first year of opening a children’s home is the hardest. It’s going to be tough”. If we had a pound for every time we’ve heard this, we’d be able to pay for another children’s home. Nonetheless, the statement is true. 

When trying to create a home environment for children who don’t know each other, with adults who don’t know each other, in a system whose default setting is mistrust, blaming and finger pointing, the challenges are immense. As we’re now into the second year of our home being open, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned and what advice would have been helpful to us in the early stages. 

Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust – our approach is in our name. Our understanding of social pedagogy is what’s helped us create our ethos, culture, and values. For this to start to make sense we should explain who “we” are, what our connection to social pedagogy is, how we understand it and how we implement it. Over the next three instalments, we’ll explore this, as well as share the learning we’ve taken from the journey to becoming a social pedagogic/relationship-based home where love, care, and nurture shines through everything we do. We’ll show how mistakes are essential for our learning, how social pedagogy is not for everyone, and how the people make the home. 

Who are we? 

First, let us introduce ourselves and explain who we are and what gives us the right to share our two pennies’ worth of social pedagogy knowledge and how it applies to children’s homes. We want to be very clear, though, that we are sharing our experience and understanding, and aren’t claiming to have a magic wand to change the whole system – we don’t have the answer to everything. We’re Hannah, Registered Manager, and Leoni, Deputy Manager at Treehouse, the first children’s home of Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust. Hannah has spent most of her career working across local authority children’s homes. She studied Social Pedagogy and is passionate about using this to inform day-to-day practice, as well as being a trustee of the Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA), which looks at professionalising social pedagogy in the UK. Hannah’s been involved in delivering training in restorative practice and combining theory with practical application. Leoni is originally from Germany and completed her diploma in Pedagogy at the University of Bielefeld in 2009. While writing her dissertation, she moved to London and started working in children’s homes as part of the social pedagogy pilot project run by the Department for Education and the Institute of Education. She’s worked with children in care ever since – mainly in residential homes – where she’s developed a solid understanding of the English social care system and the needs of young people. We both firmly believe that a social pedagogic approach can help many young people if applied in the right way and under the right circumstances. 

Our paths crossed in 2021 when we both joined Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust. We got to work setting up our first children’s home: developing and delivering the training for our newly assembled team and developing policies and procedures that are in line with our social pedagogic approach. 

What is social pedagogy? 

Social pedagogy is a term used across public policy, ethics and academia, as well as in theory and practice. The ‘social’ part centres around relationships, and ‘pedagogy’ around a broad educational approach. The two are combined in the belief that the best conversations happen when children and practitioners participate in activities, like sport or DIY, together – what we call ‘common third’ activities. Social pedagogy is still relatively new to the children’s care sector in the UK, but is well established in several other European countries, as well as in South America. 

In the context of our environment, social pedagogy is a holistic approach to understanding how our values impact our day-to-day decisions and help us to understand and process the world. Through building relationships and listening deeply, we want to process and challenge social inequalities via education and participation. We use relationships as a vehicle to help support our children to become the very best version of themselves. 

How do we implement social pedagogy at Treehouse? 

At Treehouse we focus on excellent people, purpose, and place (our 3 Ps) for our young people, and use social pedagogy’s (the 4th P) diamond model. This acknowledges there is something valuable about every child and identifies four key aims that – when developed – help children to thrive: well-being and happiness, holistic learning, relationships and empowerment. Although social pedagogy is the lens through which we view our work, we are influenced by the good evidence-informed practice that we find in other models such as PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) and TIP (Trauma-Informed Practice). 

A home is made of people. In our case, it’s the children who live here and the adults who look after them. Every adult has their own style of parenting, often influenced by their own upbringing. This can be conscious or unconscious, which is why it’s important for everyone to have a clear understanding of, and to sign up to, the ethos and values of the home. In a new home, the culture is yet to be developed and there will be many adults trying to influence this – whether it’s adults who are working directly with the children, or outside professionals like commissioners or regulators. Quite often this can result in the focus shifting from children to compliance, as well as resolving internal disagreements as the team is trying to establish what this home is. We can proudly say that our children are always at the heart of every decision that’s made, and we’ll start to explain how we’ve managed this in our next blog post. 

What’s next? 

That’s it – that’s the introduction done. In the next instalment we’ll explore how we established and developed the culture of the home. Be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly – but mainly the good.

Leoni Hagemann, Deputy Manager – Treehouse