As the saying goes ‘travel broadens the mind’ and the opportunity for students to go on overseas trips is a good way of helping with this. Here at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) we recognise the value for us all in being able to visit social pedagogical projects outside of the UK and the learning and reflective opportunities that these trips provide.
At the beginning of June we took a group of eight students to visit Berlin and gave them the chance to spend a day in practice with social pedagogues and social workers. The professional’s involved work for the company KJSH who provide a range of residential and support services for children and adults and have projects in Ireland as well as Germany. KJSH are also one of our Social Pedagogy Across Europe, Massive Open On-Line Course (MOOC) partners. Our students had the choice to spend the day at one of four projects that ranged from a child protection residential unit to temporary accommodation for 14 to 18 year olds. Here are some of the reflections the students had about our visit:
“Having completed the second year of our degree in Social Pedagogy, Advocacy and Participation. We had the opportunity to spend four days in Berlin, along with the first-year students. While there we were able to meet with a social work team and visit a residential assessment centre for families. Our guide for the day was Henrika a social pedagogue who works in the community care sector, working with families within the home, directed by the social work team’s assessments. Leaving the UK with a head full of knowledge, heart full of passion and hands itching with anticipation, I set off to explore social pedagogy. After spending the day with Henrika and the social work team and enjoying some very rich meaningful conversations, it was clear that the relationship being both professional and personal between the pedagogue and the individual was probably the most important part of their work. Along with their haltung, values, mind-set, attitude and their passion for the work they do. Henrika and the social workers where all very clear about this.
Every time I mention the word social pedagogy, I’m always asked what it is, and I find myself trying to explain. Ironically while walking to our first placement I was asked the very same question by one of our fellow first-year pedagogy students who said she “always finds it difficult to explain.” So, based on my understanding from our conversations, my definition of social pedagogy is that it is a relationship-based practice that respects and values every individual for who they are and what they have achieved. It’s about having a passion for the work we do, our values, mind-set and attitude, Haltung when working with people, and is a lot more but this is a starting point when explaining what it is I do.” – Ed
“As a Foster carer I’ve always recognised the importance of trying to put myself in the position of the child or young person, to ‘ stand in their shoes ‘, so as to try to understand what feeling and emotions they are likely to be experiencing and what I can do to care and support them in the best way possible.
As the day we spent at the Unit in Berlin progressed, I increasingly felt I should reflect more deeply on my thinking in this area. What prompted this need for reflection was the descriptions we were given of the narrative of those living at the unit. Their lives prior to arriving in Germany, so vastly different from my own life experiences, were vastly different from the lives they were embarking on. For them to find themselves in a strange country, unable to speak the native language, without belongings, friends, family and money, must trigger a whole range of anxieties, hopes, fears and stresses. And it led me to ask myself, is it so much different for a looked after child? Do not Looked after Children when taken into care suffer from similar fears, anxieties etc?
The truth of the lives of the young people in the unit is not the truth of my life. Similarly, the life truth of a Looked After Child is not my life truth, but in order to build the kind of relationship required to promote good Social Pedagogical practice I must strive to know their truth.” – Frank
“My trip to Berlin helped me to see social pedagogical practice in action and provided opportunities for me to develop my relationships with my peers as well as making new friends. Throughout the week I was able to reflect on my haltung and what my aims and values are. This gave me insight in what I would like to do in the future and proved to be an extremely positive and life changing experience for me.” – Dan
“One of the many things I took away from our trip to Berlin, was that even under the same financial and practical problems/constraints that we experience in the UK, our Social Work/Pedagogue colleagues in Berlin; in Social Care settings are still able to show positivity, dedication and love for their role and everyday tasks. In the UK many workers are disheartened and saddened by the difficulties they experience through the constraints put on them in their work, in similar situations as in Berlin and often they choose to leave and move on to a different role which ultimately puts more pressure on the services. In Berlin I saw Social Workers/Pedagogues with strong determination to improve the service and a strong sense of empowerment and optimism fully supported by equally empowered and positive management. The staff felt valued, that they played an important role in the lives of people who needed their help and support, they had a purpose, had strong relationships within their working environment and showed empathetic understanding towards each other. I believe this stems from each individual’s Haltung and Social Pedagogy practice. I felt the strong positive Haltung presence on meeting our Berlin colleagues! I mentioned this to them during our time there and they seemed pleasantly surprised that I was aware of such a personal and important aspect of themselves.” – Alison
“Before our trip to Berlin I was beginning to doubt myself and my decision to take on a Social Pedagogy BA. I understood and liked the SP way of thinking but I just couldn’t imagine how it would work in practice.
Berlin made me close my eyes, then reopen them and see the SP not just at the project I visited but all around.
I had made the mistake of presuming SP was a practice. Berlin made me realise SP is a way of ‘being’.” – Clare
These reflective thoughts sum up all of our experiences during our time in Berlin and there is no doubt that the trip has ‘broadened’ all of our minds. As students and lecturers we will be taking this learning back into the classroom and more importantly into our practice. But our journey doesn’t end there and there are plans a foot to visit Ireland and projects closer to home in the next academic year.
Finally we would all like to say a big ‘thank you’ to everybody at KJSH who took time out to make us feel welcome and share their practice and knowledge with us.
Please contact Lowis Charfe (Course Leader) at email@example.com or visit the UCLan website for more information about the BA (Hons) in Social Pedagogy, Advocacy and Participation or the MA in Social Pedagogy Leadership. Visit the ThemPra website for more information about the Massive Open On-Line Course (MOOC).