Head, Heart, Hands - November 2015

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Welcome to the seventh edition of our Head, Heart, Hands newsletter.

A reflective space

Stefanie Dorotka, Niina Robinson and Jutta Weber, Hackney’s social pedagogues, run monthly workshops for foster carers and staff to keep up the momentum of the social pedagogy training. Jutta Weber explains how they work:

The three-hour social pedagogy Action Learning Sets (ALS) offer a reflective space for foster carers and social work staff. The topics chosen, including Beginnings or Social Pedagogy - Lens on the Image of the Child, help to give a starting point for discussions and reflections. They are deliberately left very open to allow participants to explore and share what is important to them. Participants experience a variety of “check in” and “check out” exercises which are linked to the topic of the ALS. In addition, theories which underpin social pedagogy are used to guide the participants.

Since the start of the Action Learning Sets there has been a growing attendance from both the cohort of foster carers who attended the core training and foster carers who are having their first encounter with social pedagogy. Social workers from the fostering service have been attending consistently since the beginning of 2015.

Immediate outcomes

Participants share their day to day experiences and jointly reflect and work on questions that arise from the session’s theme. They have embraced the space the ALS gives them to find solutions rather than expecting a “ready-to-use remedy” from the social pedagogues.

The foster carers have become more confident about sharing challenging situations they face at home or in dealing with the fostering service. The ALS is a non-judgemental space where foster carers trust each other to give and receive advice. Furthermore the social work staff representing the fostering service during the ALS have taken discussion outcomes back to the wider service to act upon.

Longer term impact

The ALS contributes to the development and sustainability of good working communication and relationships between foster carers and social work staff. Sharing the same reflection and learning space on an equal level will increase the understanding of each other’s work lifeworld, increase co-operation and positively influence the services we jointly offer to the children in our care.

How does this story illustrate social pedagogy?

The outline and facilitation of the ALS takes into consideration the lifeworld of the participants. Despite having a topic for each session, the participants determine where the discussion is going. For example, during the recent ALS with the topic Social Pedagogy Lens on the Image of the Child we had planned for the check in to take a maximum of 15 minutes. Participants were asked to share an image of their childhood. The check in actually took at least 45 minutes as the participants felt comfortable sharing quite long and personal descriptions of their individual childhoods and special images that had stuck with them since then.

This sharing offered the possibility for the participants to look behind their professional masks and allowed for the group to overcome possible individual reservations. After this activity the group felt closer than before. The discussions and role play activity that followed very much benefited from the trust developed in the check in round.

We envisage the participants taking more and more of a lead in facilitating the ALS within the next six to 12 months. By empowering participants to take the lead in facilitating the ALS we are following the overall aim of social pedagogy to make itself redundant.

Survival skills for life

Darryl Gough, Youth Inclusion Officer at Staffordshire County Council, explains the similarities between social pedegogy and Forest Skills:

For me, I see the experiential learning elements bringing the social pedagogy and forest skills together and the only way I can begin to explain this is to highlight the benefits.

Forest skills provide children with knowledge about woodlands, bushcraft and survival skills, in a fun yet safe environment.


Young people take time to become familiar and confident with the concept of forest skills and the routines associated with them. As they do, they develop a relationship with the woodland setting at their own pace, which encourages them to relax.

The forest skills routine provides stability, consistency and security. Knowing their boundaries leaves freedom for thought and encourages them to engage with an activity. They are allowed to take risks that are managed, providing the scope for independence and a desire to explore things further. The activities are led by young people in a setting flexible enough to adapt to their interests, enabling them to make their own discoveries and construct their own learning.

Social skills

This is about encouraging young people to identify their own strengths and recognise the value they bring to the group in terms of relationships. I want them to be at a stage where they value the contributions of others. Social behaviour such as giving, helping, sharing, supporting and comforting are encouraged throughout the forest skills project. ​

Language and communication

The young people are constantly conveying messages, expressing feelings, and making social contact. They take turns, negotiate and listen to others. Their enthusiasm inspires them to use new words and with greater fluency. Confidence and communication are linked – an increased willingness to communicate is for me an indicator of greater confidence. An inspiration to learn new words, create imaginary play and make up stories comes from their surroundings.

Motivation and concentration

Outdoor environments tend to stimulate young people’s curiosity. Concentration spans are much longer than in indoor environments for most young people.

Physical skills 

Young people are helped, tested and challenged at forest skills, improving the range and quality of their movements. Stamina may be gained just by the exercise of playing/working for three hours outdoors. Confidence to undertake challenges comes through learning how to do things safely and through pushing at boundaries.


Knowledge and understanding 

Curiosity developed in the woods transfers to the world beyond forest skills, increasing the desire 

to learn and explore. Over the weeks, young people increase their awareness of the impact of their actions. A sense of ownership also develops over time, giving a degree of pride and confidence.

​Ripple effects on the young people, their families and the wider community

Open days and celebrations can help allay worries about risks, exposure to inclement weather and the process of learning. This ripples out into the wider community, and importantly, all manner of strengths that aid success in formal learning are transferred back into the indoor environment.

Next steps – equal participation in decision making

Social pedagogue Verónica explains how Capstone Foster Care is looking to the future and sharing decision making:

At Capstone Foster Care we have recently held workshops as part of the Head, Heart, Hands programme. The aim was to bring participants from all the different areas together to look at how we could sustain, nurture and grow social pedagogy developments after the programme ends in December 2015.

Foster carers, supervising social workers and members of management attended the workshops and put their heads, hearts and hands into reviewing the journey so far and looking at plans for the future. This is a key aspect of social pedagogy – equality and sharing decision making responsibilities.

It was sometimes difficult for those further up the hierarchy to be willing to devolve some of their authority but it is the only way for those who are at the lower levels of to be able to share the decision making. By creating this context, empowerment becomes possible.

One of the main aims in Capstone has been to increase the participation of children and carers in decision making processes concerning their lives and within Capstone as an organisation, as is stated in the Capstone plan from September 2013.

In this case we want to share an example of how foster carers are at the forefront of shaping and making strategic decisions for cooperative planning with social workers and managers.

A difficult process

Although there have been great achievements at all levels during the last three years, the Capstone board have decided not to continue to employ social pedagogues after the programme ends. When this decision was shared, the future seemed unclear.

Against all odds, this didn’t stop the workshop participants in engaging and committing to champion and support social pedagogy. They have had first-hand experience of the positive impact that social pedagogy has had on their own lives, their practice, and most importantly the beneficial impact social pedagogy has had on the children they are looking after. These achievements highlight what social pedagogy is all about: to take an active role in shaping your environment and to challenge decisions and situations when necessary, with creativity and an endless willingness for improvement.

There is hope, shared aims and lots of strength within Capstone, however, there are challenges in nurturing and growing social pedagogy without an infrastructure to support it.

We have, however, planned pathways for future development. The values of the organisation are starting to be reviewed, taking on the learning from social pedagogy. More training is being planned that will introduce new foster carers and fostering staff to social pedagogy and the groups and workshops that are in place are to be continued by the momentum group members.

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A problem shared

In this new feature, a foster carer shares a dilemma with readers and invites responses. These will be shared in the next edition.

My sixteen-year-old foster son wants to give up one of his four A-levels nine weeks into the course. He is supposed to do four until the end of year 12 and then give up one if he is struggling. He says he’s bored already and not very good at the subject. Should I let him?

My initial reaction was no, you haven’t given it enough of a chance, it won’t look good when you apply to university and sometimes life is a bit boring and hard! I also pointed out that his form tutor had said it was too early to give something up and questioned the influence of his friend who wants to give up the same subject. I also asked what he would do in the free time, suspecting it would not be used wisely.

As you can imagine, these messages didn’t go down too well and led to him becoming very defensive. He said he would spend the free time revising for the other subjects so that he could do better in them. However, he said this extra work would be done in the canteen, swiftly adding, on seeing my face, that he could do it in the library. Given that he is not particularly good at independent study, this worries me.

We ended the evening at loggerheads, but the next day I did some reflecting and researched university entrance requirements and an article about taking three vs.four A-levels. The research backed both our arguments. Most universities make offers based on the best three A-levels. However, some do expect you to take four subjects at least to the end of year 12 and say they want a statement from your tutor explaining why you have only taken three, if this is the case.

I managed to have a calmer, more reflective conversation the next day, sharing my research and suggesting we attend an open day at a London university college together on Saturday – a common third activity. He was enthusiastic about the open day and took on board my research.

I don’t want him to risk not being able to get into some universities when I think he is bright enough. I want him to achieve his full potential.

I know part of the teaching in social pedagogy is to let young people take their own risks and to empower them to make decisions – what would you do?

If you have any suggestions or a problem you want to share, please email hhhinfo@fostering.net

You can remain anonymous if you prefer.

Social Pedagogy Development Network meeting update

The next Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) will take place on the evening of 3 December and all day on 4 December at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

The SPDN is a grassroots movement for people and organisations interested in social pedagogy who want to nurture its development. The network provides a platform for discussion and learning about social pedagogy, sharing experiences and creating further momentum.

The theme of this event will be Taking Social Pedagogy to Scale. The aim is to explore ways in which social pedagogy can be individually and jointly developed further, drawing on experiences from pioneering organisations and the latest research in implementation.

The evening seminar on 3 December is designed to provide an overview of social pedagogy in the UK and insights into how organisations have been developing social pedagogy so far. There will also be a vibrant evening entertainment programme including samba drumming.

The programme on the following day will explore a variety of aspects around taking social pedagogy to scale in a range of thematic workshops. The day will aim to leave participants enriched with new ideas, new connections and even more passion for social pedagogy.

The SPDN is a forum where all participants can further extend their understanding of social pedagogy, no matter what prior knowledge of social pedagogy they might have. Anybody working with children, young people, families or other adult groups in a care or educational setting is invited to attend.

Registration is open and your free place can be booked here. Further details about the SPDN are available at spdn.social-pedagogy.co.uk or by emailing dialogue@thempra.org.uk

Survey for Head, Heart, Hands foster carers

The evaluation team for Head, Heart, Hands have prepared a survey for those who took part in the Head, Heart, Hands learning and development sessions organised in 2013-2014 and would love to hear from participants.

The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. There is also an invitation to find out more about an interview for the evaluation if you’d like to participate.

Click the link below or copy it into your web browser and you’ll be taken directly to the survey to complete.


If you would prefer a paper copy of the survey and a freepost return envelope, please contact Helen from the Evaluation Team at H.L.Trivedi@lboro.ac.uk or 01509 228 759.

We look forward to hearing from you.