Developing a culture from scratch: relationships

Part 3 of our current blog series by Leoni, Deputy Manager at Treehouse, the first children’s home of Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust. Part 1 was about our approach to social pedagogy, and part 2 was about our conscious use of language

Goodbye office culture 

Ah, the safe haven of the office. The one place where you can talk to your colleagues candidly and shut yourself away from any ‘teenage drama’ happening on the other side of the office door. Unfortunately, office culture has become normalised in residential care – we (Hannah, Registered Manager, and Leoni, Deputy Manager at Treehouse, the first children’s home of Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust) witnessed it when working in previous homes.  

We all need to have a safe and comfortable space at work: a place where we can take a moment to ourselves or debrief with colleagues. However, in the context of a children’s home, it’s concerning when the adults who are responsible for caring for children spend most of their time tucked away in the office. Imagine being a child in a children’s home, getting out of bed and coming downstairs in the morning to three adults sitting in the office, chatting and laughing away with the door closed. This immediately creates a divide between the adults and the children they are taking care of. The closed door is more than just a physical barrier; it represents a significant obstacle in building relationships between adults and children. At Treehouse, we’re incredibly proud that we do not have an office culture. For us, this is what has helped us build such strong relationships with the children we take care of.  

We were in the fortunate position to be able to craft the culture in our home and among our team. Most of our team joined us as their first job in residential children’s care, and they soaked up everything we as managers did, while they were learning and growing in their roles. From the moment we moved into Treehouse, there has been a conscious effort not to overuse the office, and we provided laptops so adults could use any space in the home to complete paperwork. In Treehouse, you might find an adult sitting in the living room arranging activities and appointments while the young people play Xbox. At one point, early on, the children referred to the living room floor as ‘Leoni’s office’, because she was so often sat there on a beanbag working on her laptop (this also doubled as an effective strategy to discourage children from watching TV in the mornings when they should’ve been doing schoolwork).  

How do we balance our statutory obligations with time spent with our children? 

We didn’t always get the balance right. In the early days, children would sometimes come downstairs in the morning to find three adults sat with their laptops at the kitchen table, instead of laying the table or preparing breakfast. This wasn’t contributing to a homely environment, so it needed to be addressed before it became part of our culture. We all agreed that going forwards, no one should be on their laptop while the children are getting up and ready for school.  

We acknowledge that there are still some constraints that prevent us from being perfect all the time. For instance, completing our expenses on time or ensuring reports are filled out in a timely manner. But we constantly strive to avoid slipping into habits that are more in line with an office than a home. What helps us compensate for time spent on unavoidable paperwork is the time children and adults spend together. In our home there’s an abundance of activities that children and adults enjoy together (we call these ‘common third’ activities) such as football, basketball, pool, trampolining, golf, photography, card games, table tennis, cycling – you name it, every day there’s something fun going on. Additionally, the time that is spent on laptops around the children is in shared spaces, such as in the kitchen listening to music while baking or cooking, or in the front room while children are watching TV.  

How do we strengthen relationships through ‘common third’ activities? 

Social pedagogy is a methodology that combines theory, practice, and professional training to support and strengthen relationships. It’s a balance of head (applying theory and reflecting), heart (understanding emotions and values), and hands (shared activities in everyday life). We use the concept of ‘common third’ activities to strengthen the relationship between adult and child, allowing them both to develop new skills. If we undertake any activity with the intention of enhancing our relationship and learning together, it can become a ‘common third’ activity.  

A practical example of this could be assembling a new IKEA bed for a rapidly-growing teenager whose feet have started dangling over the edge of their old bed. Since neither adult nor child is a professional IKEA-bed-assembler, both learn how to do it together. They can divide up tasks, work as a team, get frustrated, manage frustrations, and after half a day finally succeed. In those few hours they’ll have learned so much about each other, and it does wonders for the relationship. For this to work, you have to be open to trying new things, be excited to learn and not be afraid of bringing part of yourself to the situation. The children will appreciate it – 100%. 

What’s next? 

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog series, where we’ve hopefully answered some of your questions about how and why we do things at Lighthouse Pedagogy Trust. We’ve certainly enjoyed this process of capturing what we do and why, and would love to hear your thoughts, as well as suggestions for any future topics to explore. Leave us a comment on the LinkedIn version of this post, or send us an email it’d be great to hear from you.

Leoni Hagemann, Deputy Manager – Treehouse