Thoughts and questions from a social pedagogue/mum/human (not necessarily in that order!)
There is a bit of a standing joke between myself and some friends about wearing capes. Capes are knowledge. We all admit some days are harder than others with our kids and some days you need all your knowledge about your child and need to use it as a superpower, so Cape on!
Whilst studying Social Pedagogy Leadership, I have thought that schools could benefit from having a Social Pedagogue and using models such as the Relational Universe model. It focuses on making relationships central to practice and builds positive relationships with others making decisions about a child. It builds a support web for those involved. Positive maintained relationships are necessary to support all children especially those with ongoing additional or SEN needs.
In reality, a lot of schools must use some Social Pedagogy already, working holistically and valuing parental input. But a number of parents that I work with are telling me about the same issue regarding knowledge and power. When these parents are trying to work with schools, many are treated as (and been told) they are too emotionally involved and parents are informed that their child is ‘fine’ in school, therefore the school doesn’t see why they need to refer to other agencies or listen to any other holistic points of view as the school feels they are doing their bit.
The issue is there are problems for the child in school sometimes, but they are not stopping the child academically achieving, therefore the school deems the ‘problems’ as not ‘problems’ to them. The question of power and knowledge, holistic working and being valued are all interconnected and I am questioning how some services work, or don’t work since studying for my Masters.
Lots of professionals are wrapped up in their capes and don't see others.
Hmmm… this got me thinking about knowledge as power … who has power in situations when dealing with professionals – does knowledge really mean power? Does being a parent equate to having no valid power when dealing with services? What is knowledge anyway? Is it an academic understanding of a condition or is knowing what a child likes to play? Is knowledge only valid if deemed so by a professional? Or is all knowledge valid, but getting the chance to use it can be a different story for parents.
So many big questions are hard to fathom when it is a cape wearing day already.
Parents use capes regularly – holistically – they know stuff! Valuable stuff! They know their child as a whole person. Some professionals they see only the work with their capes that deals with a small part of child and rarely ask about the capes that the parents (or child!) wears.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint about professionals and what they do – it’s just a chance to ask, could we work more holistically with parents, harnessing and improve their knowledge and learning from them. Using our capes to work more holistically with families?
What happened to DfE’s Think Family strategy and “no wrong door – contact with any service offers an open door into a system of joined-up support – looking at the whole family and building on family strengths “? (ref: SCIE.org.uk)
In my practice, when working with parents of children with ASD, the one thing they frequently talk to me about is power and knowledge. They have often said that they don’t feel valued as being a knowledgeable person in regard to their own children – they (the professionals) are the knowledgeable, powerful ones. But who really knows a child more as a whole person and sees the effects of their children’s issues in full – the professionals or the parents?
Relation Universe in practice means working holistically with families every bit as much as other professionals. This way of working highlights the need to be a web of support creating interdependence so everyone can provide knowledge rather than a professional being the one every one depends on. It is a more hierarchical way of working, respecting the value of the input from all.
A sharing of knowledge rather than an imparting of it from one person to another and seeing the child as a whole person, must make capes bigger and better all round. For example, a school has refused to accept a report from me. It was in support of identifying and meeting a child’s needs, but the school refused it point blank because they believe their cape is better than mine. My cape is deemed the wrong type and might infringe on their power to make decisions regarding this child. – maybe point out the need for some training and development by staff, all this is time and money they might not have.
Why would a professional turn down the chance to improve outcomes for a child, be more holistic in their approach with working with supporting agencies, the child and the family? … that power thing again.
Some professionals are cape wearing supremo’s, some wear amazing capes, understanding that everyone wears a cape, building a cape network! As a practitioner, I encourage parents to wear capes and to tell professionals that they are wearing it !
After being told about the power issues that parents are experiencing I reflected on my own practice. I did supply supporting information during sessions that parents could access in various forms with free access to it all. This was what some parents wanted, but most wanted the chance to be listened to, valued – to explain about their capes! To tell me what they know about their child, to work with me and to be heard as an equal. On reflection, I was imparting information, holding more power, not having an interdependence with parents and was ultimately missing out on creating a supportive network to improve outcomes for the child.
From a Social Pedagogical stance, since starting my Ma, I use the Common Third as a cape, sometimes the 3P’s – my working relationships are Professional, Personal and Private. The 3 P’s is not clear cut – -what happens when personal information moves into the private but is already out there?
The Common Third allows me to be a learning, working part of a situation, holding power equally – a more level hierarchy. I don’t want to hold all the power or knowledge, that reduces the impact of empowerment and the learning opportunities. I don’t know everything and I am happy to say that my cape is a work in progress, but I am happy to see what others are wearing.
Capes … Social Pedagogy … ? I’m using knowledge, not sharing it ! … see, even my cape can slip at times.
Professionals need to think more creatively, a bit more outside the box, including asking parents about their capes. Parents make valuable contributions regarding their children, so ask them about their capes!
The more I work in a Social Pedagogical way, the more I think other people need to too, especially in schools in relation to holistic working with families. Something I would like to help them with – both schools and parents.
We all have value, knowledge and power.
We all wear capes.
Contributed by Debra Dawkins, Founder at Brick and Click Club – St Anne’s, currently study for Ma Social Pedagogy Leadership
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