By Mike Crowther
I have no idea whether Shirley Bassey is secretly a social pedagogue and was an early proponent of ‘The Diamond Model’, one of Social Pedagogy’s key concepts, but somehow I doubt it. Especially when you consider that one of the lyrics from the famous James Bond classic is, I don’t need love, for what good will love do me? Well, Shirley (if I can call you that?), ‘Diamond Model’ is all about love and trusting in the unique potential of each and everyone.
So, I’m just going to put this out there, but Social Pedagogy has changed my life, and the strange thing is that it didn’t feel like I was discovering something new, it was more about an articulation of what I always knew was true. I first came across Social Pedagogy in 2018, when my colleague Diana enthusiastically told me all about it and how she was going to study an M.A. in Social Pedagogical Leadership at UCLAN. Diana’s enthusiasm was so infectious that I signed up for a ‘Taster Week’ held at UCLAN in April 2019; four days which were brilliant and left me wanting more. 23 years after I had left UCLAN in 1996, I decided to sign up again as a 47-year-old student on the M.A. course, which I have now been on for the last six months.
This blog is essentially about what I’ve learnt, what I’ve put into practice and why it is essentially just… True. Social Pedagogy is essentially for me about the following principles: humans are brilliant with amazing potential, humans flourish when they have a great set of positive relationships with other people and that (and this is crucial) we are at our best when we are curious and learning.
Central to Social Pedagogy is that we learn side by side and that we are not, as Freire would tell us, just empty vessels waiting to be filled with information. If the conditions are right, we can be set free to learn and find out how to be human for ourselves but always in relationship with others.
One of the things I love about Social Pedagogy is that you cannot just simply pin it down in one simple sentence or summary which, when you think about it is like life itself. i.e. messy! However, that does not mean that there is no substance to the whole theory as it is made up of a patchwork of connecting theories and concepts. The key concept for me which resonated deeply with me is ThemPra’s ‘Diamond Model’. I love this quote from ThemPra, ‘Not all diamonds are polished and sparkly, but all have the potential to be. Similarly, every person has the potential to shine out- and social pedagogy is about supporting them in doing this’.
Upon first reading this, I was so excited! Why? Because I have dedicated my adult life to believing in this yet for many years as a leader I had failed to put it into practice. Instead, I had slipped into a managerial role more interested in meeting KPI’s and ensuring the ‘bottom line’ was healthy. The Diamond Model reminded me and I suppose gave me permission to once again put into practice what I genuinely believed that each person is unique and has the potential to be brilliant.
The Diamond Model is made up of several strands which I will now reflect on for the remainder of the blog
Well-being and Happiness
Being happy at work was never important for me, in fact, I was miserable most of the time. However, I now believe this is absolutely crucial in the workplace and for me. At Empowerment, we have introduced such things as a Monday Tea and Toast for all staff and set aside a room in the building known as the ‘Time to Talk Room’ where people can offload and recharge. I also personally try hard to facilitate a relaxed and welcoming environment at our Empowerment Base, which is encouraged by our new Welcome Volunteers. As a ‘Time to Change’ organisation, we also are seeking to remove the stigma about talking and sharing about our mental health. Well-being and happiness in the workplace are not piped dreams, they can and should be a reality. As humans, we do our best when we are happy and safe.
Social Pedagogy has taught me that learning can take place in any setting not just in academic institutions. Based on this I challenged myself in the last six months to learn in new ways. As a CEO, I had become detached from the people who engage with our services, so I set out to address that. I now arrange to meet regularly with people with a lived experience of multiple disadvantages. This group of men who are honest in sharing their experiences with me, (and me with them) have taught me more about the reality of their former lives living with addiction, despair and hopelessness; but now through a loving community are flourishing.
Everything at Empowerment that goes right is due to a great relationship between two or more people. Everything that goes wrong is due to a bad relationship. This year I have introduced to Empowerment the notion of having ‘Difficult Conversations’ and to quote Brene Brown, ‘Choosing Courage over Comfort’. I have encouraged my colleagues to instead of coming to me to sort out their issues with colleagues, to take the brave step of having a difficult conversation with a colleague to resolve the issue in an environment of psychological safety. This has produced some remarkable results; people who have genuinely struggled to get along are now talking and listening with each other because they now understand a little bit more on what makes the other tick.
I am one of life’s ‘rescuers’. Nothing makes me happier than someone presenting me with a problem which I can then fix, and I have made a career of it. The irony of the fact that the charity I work for is named ‘Empowerment’ is not lost on me as I have in many instances been doing precisely the opposite. So, I am now trying to answer fewer questions with my own solutions and gently place the responsibility on my colleagues to work out their own solutions in the learning zone whilst being careful not to push them into the panic zone!
Ultimately, our wellbeing and our flourishing is down to having a continued set of positive experiences, good things happening, achievements and the changing of lives for the better. One thing I have reflected on is that I have rarely, if ever, taken time to reflect on my own positive experiences of which there are many, but if I do then it feels good and motivates me to do more.
So, putting all these things together, each human can reach their full potential and lead a happy and fulfilling life. Social Pedagogy and its praxis is for me the key to achieving this!