All Fired Up

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. William Butler Yeats 

Are you looking for something to re-light the embers of your passion in social care? Then read on about my first encounter with social pedagogy at the Fire Starter Event, and my subsequent voyage into the MA social pedagogy course at UCLan. 

The Fire Starter event day began with presentations of social pedagogy in other countries. There were smaller country groups so we could ask questions and find out more. I was fascinated and intrigued. In the University courtyard we used sparklers to share our own fire with the group.


I returned in the evening to share supper and chat to some remarkable people. To add to the enjoyment a local samba band had been asked to play. I could feel the sound of the drums, it made my heart beat quicker. The band got louder and faster. It was brilliant, the music made a carnival in my mind. After several pieces of music, we were offered the chance to join in and play a drum. Lots of people rushed to have a go. I hung back afraid to join in, until somebody shouted, “come on this is really pedagogical”. Oh no this was awkward. I felt I had to have a go otherwise I would be the odd one out and look stupid. It didn’t feel comfortable though.  I had told people at work that I was going to an event to find out more about social pedagogy, how can I tell them how educational the day had been when I am on video playing a very large samba drum! But I loved it!!!!!!


I am now coming to the end of my first year feeling like a different person! I have come to realise that my spirit and tenacity, which has often got me into trouble, sometimes resulting in quarrels and conflicts with people, comes from my Haltung. Loosely translated into English, Haltung means ethos, values and mindset. Our Haltung drives the way we think and motivates our actions. Haltung is essential in social pedagogy as it demonstrates authenticity.

Eichsteller explains this here:‘haltung-in-social-pedagogy.

My Haltung has led me to a career path in social care, which although I love, drives me to distraction most days because of the poor support we offer people and the outrageous way that social care staff are undervalued and dehumanised by the officialdom of the day. Hence why I became inquisitive but cautious about social pedagogy.

Social Pedagogy

Karl Mager coined the phrase social pedagogy in 1844. He was a German educator and collated ideas from many disciplines including sociology, philosophy and psychology. Social Pedagogy is a value-based approach used in social care. It offers creative theories and methods to develop the potential of human beings. It is a holistic, ethical methodology which is constantly curious about the world. Social pedagogy has deep roots in many European countries but relatively new to the UK. Social pedagogues admire the richness in people and endorses their potential while promoting human equality and inclusion. Social pedagogues understand that a person is the product of their interaction with their cultural and social environment, this is where they develop their behaviours and attitudes to life. It is a relational concept and is underpinned by many tools and models. Learning about the common third model helped me to appreciate why the energiser activities we did at the Fire Starter Event were crucial in developing my skills and building the strong connections with others.

The Common Third – a relationship-based approach

Image result for thempra common third

It is commonly recognised that relationships and experiences are more important than the outcome. Sharing activities generates a positive and authentic relationship, which is essential for human development.Januscz Korczak spoke about the ‘unseen’ potential in everyone. The Common Third process can create the right conditions for relationships to flourish. The ‘Third’ is a shared activity that is external to a problem or issue. The focus is on the task rather than on each other. The diagram shows the relationship between a worker and a child sharing an activity that puts them on an equal footing. This model could be transferred to any relational situation. The ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in meaningful activity promotes identity and self-esteem.  

I hadn’t realised how reserved I had been and how much I had held back, not exhibiting my true self, and that is why I initially found the activities so hard to do. They made me feel very vulnerable and exposed but weirdly also gave me the most pleasure too and where I have gained most learning, even though it has taken some time to work that out. I didn’t know I had a Haltung but now I have I’m pretty proud of mine. This is now a common word in my vocabulary. I can visualise using The Common Third approach at work to reverse the power dynamics often found in social care. The safe space at university was essential for me to achieve this transformation and now I recognise this, I want the people that I work with to feel safe too, to share their anxieties and be open and honest without the fear of feeling foolish. I want them to be true to their Haltung too. I have the autonomy and agency within my organisation to facilitate change. I started this course angry that social care systems were broken, now I know I have the power to change that, even if the change is small. Social pedagogy has given me a language and the tools to act on my intuitive feelings. It gives me permission to think creative thoughts and do what I feel is right. It offers me the research behind the visceral feelings I have. It has challenged me, inspired me, it has started my fire. 

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King.