Four women talk Head, Heart and Hands

02 December 2015

It never fails to amaze me to what happens when you put a group of committed, passionate, positive women in one room to discuss the things in life that really matter. I say this with no disrespect to men, but there is often a different vibe, different dynamics and a different outcome. Anyway that’s not what I am here to blog about…

Head, heart and hands on the other hand is what I would like to share with you. It’s easier starting with these words as I think they mean something to anyone working in social care who really cares about the work that they do.  It strikes me that whenever something works in social care, or makes a difference in someone’s life, you can usually find individuals involved who are using their head, their heart and their hands as they engage with their work

helen and circle

In my work around personalisation, I have always started from the premise that it is about thinking and doing and that one cannot happen without the other. Too many times in social care we are fooled into believing that a new system, process or procedure will offer the tools needed to make a positive impact on individual’s life. As a practitioner, I was always frustrated when my practice didn’t affect change. Looking back I am sure that had more to do with my naive perspective, which reflected a somewhat overflowing glass, let alone a half full one. I decided that to make real change, I would have to move into policy and affect the big decisions. After a couple of years in this role, I started to realise that it’s not systems and procedures that change practice but the people implementing them. It was at this point that I started to understand the bigger picture. I understood good policies and frameworks could support practice but that good practice could only be achieved if those practicing believed in what they were doing. So after 8 years into practice, I started my search for a philosophy that would support my belief in what I was doing. Along the way I have experienced a number of light bulb moments, which have profoundly changed the way I see the world and my role in social care, the social model of disability and personalisation are two that spring to mind. Morgan (2012) in teaching social work students about the social model of disability, beautifully describes how students cross threshold concepts and become troubled by previous understandings as their world view expands and irreversibly changes.

Well, I think I may have crossed another threshold concept, social pedagogy. I joined a team of enthusiastic colleagues, some of the passionate, committed, positive women that I described above, who suggested I read a book, ‘Social Pedagogy in the UK’ by Kieron Hatton. By the end of chapter one, I was literally bouncing off my chair with excitement. It felt like after 14 years of searching, I had at last found the philosophy I was looking for. It all sounded right and seemed to articulate what I believed working alongside individuals was all about.

The first problem with social pedagogy is not many people know what it means and its not that easy to define. Central to social pedagogy is not what you do but how you do it. It is therefore useful to explore some of the key concepts informing this way of working.

Key to social pedagogy is a belief that relationships are central to any engagement and intervention with individuals.  Notions of well-being, learning and growth based on humanistic values and principles are fundamentally important to how we work.

Another key concept is the idea of the common third, which is an activity to strengthen the relationship between the individual and the practitioner. The common third creates a shared strand that becomes a symbol of the relationship. It is something third that brings the two (practitioner and individual) together. It is about being connected. Where the common third is used well, it can bring equality to the relationship as both the practitioner and the individual engage in learning a new activity. The experience of learning together helps the relationship develop and allows a more genuine and smooth transition to delve into and address other issues. The common third can be anything from learning to cook a new meal, learning a new language or learning a new physical skills. It can be anything as long as it is of genuine interest to both individuals and they both have the motivation to learn.

In every aspect of our work, the employment of one’s head, heart and hand is essential. The head represents the knowledge, academic research and theories we use to inform our work. The heart refers to the emphasis paid to relationships and emotional investment in our work. This is combined with a focus on using practical tasks, creativity and everyday activities that provide vital opportunities for learning and growth.

Although social pedagogy is relatively new in the UK, it is commonly used across Europe with a rich history as far back as Rousseau (1712-1778) and Pestalozzi (1746-1827), whose work is still of huge significance in this academic discipline.

But I don’t want to get too caught up in reeling off theorists, dates and historical influences as it would be near to impossible to explain it all in one blog. However if any of these concepts and ideas have ticked a few of your boxes, lit up any light bulbs or got you bouncing off your seat, I would thoroughly recommend that you research it further. I have added a couple of resources and I will be tweeting using #HeadHeartHands from the  Social Pedagogy Development Network conference next Thur 3rd and Fri 4th December, hosted by the University of Central Lancashire. If you are really interested there may also be some places still available.

At the end of a powerful meeting with Jane, Lowis and Helen, a clear path and partnership had been forged, with four women bouncing off their seats in unison. The next step is to bring together social pedagogy with Community Circles to plan how to embed this into our brand new course at UClan , Social Pedagogy, Advocacy and Participation

Jane Llyod, Lowis Charfe and Ali Gardner are Senior Lecturers at the University of Central Lancashire working on the Social Work Programme and will soon be working on the new Social Pedagogy programme due to start September 2016 following a successful validation event on 1st December 2015, when leading professionals in Social Pedagogy, who were part of the validation panel, described the programme at UClan as being ‘excellent and pioneering.’


Resources and references

Hatton, K. (2013). Social Pedagogy in the UK: Theory and Practice. Lyme Regis: Russell House.

Morgan, H (2012) The Social Model of Disability as a Threshold Concept: Troublesome Knowledge and Liminal Spaces in Social Work Education. Social Work Education: The International Journal. Volume 31, Issue 2, 2012


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