The Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues

Pat Petrie is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy (CUSP) and is Blue Cabin’s forever mentor, guide and critical friend. Here she explains more about the word ‘pedagogue’ and describes how the Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues came to be.

Professionally, I started out as a primary school teacher. I’ve also been a drama teacher, working with youth groups and disadvantaged young people. Later, I turned to research and teaching at UCL Institute of Education, where I’m now professor emeritus. For at least 20 years, my main research and development interest has been in social pedagogy and I’m a founder member of SPPA, the Social Pedagogy Professional Association. I’m an enthusiastic singer. 

A Learning framework for Artist Pedagogues (LFAP) [1] (Chambers & Petrie, 2009) is based on research and development by Helen Chambers and myself, commissioned by the Arts Council England, Creativity Culture and Education, and Youth Music, among others. We had found that was little support for arts agencies within UK social-care structures, although social care services sometimes commission creativity sessions, such as holiday music or drama schemes for looked after children[2].

Visitors to Blue Cabin’s website will have no problems with the word artist, but ‘pedagogues’ may be less familiar. Yet the social pedagogue is a familiar occupation in much of Europe: they work in what we know as social care services and often the arts contribute to their education and professional practice (Petrie et al, 2006[3]; Petrie & Chambers, 2010[4]). Social pedagogues set out to form relationships grounded in the principles of social justice and human equality, recognising that people are rich in potential and have a right to creativity, social participation and social agency. For arts practitioners who identify with these principles and wish to draw on the theory and practice of social pedagogy, we came up with the name ‘artist pedagogues’.

We hope that what follows will be useful and that LFAP will help produce a safe and welcoming framework for creative activity. Artist pedagogues are, firstly, artists who draw on their own experience of music, drama or the visual arts and they are also pedagogues when they provide learning opportunities. Artist pedagogues see themselves as welcoming people into a space where creativity and discoveries can happen, where participants contribute their own experience, energy and ideas.  A central part of the work is building a positive social context, where participants aren’t afraid to take risks: being creative may feel like stepping out into the unknown, being vulnerable.

Key elements in developing a safe and positive creative space, are the relationships built between artist pedagogues and the other people present. A disrespectful or unthinking practitioner can undermine another person, while one who is trustworthy and empathic is more likely to promote a sense of self-worth, as well as a readiness to take creative risks.

An artist pedagogue sees everyone present at session as contributing to the overall emotional and ethical climate of the group – of which they themselves are one member. One way of building the sense of all being ‘in this together’ is for everyone to eat meals and snacks together and all to help clear up afterwards.

Equally important, artist pedagogues are aware that different personal histories and social and individual characteristics affect how people respond to an activity. It can be helpful to establish at the beginning of a session that if someone wants to take a break, it’s alright for them to sit out for a while, to watch or chat to someone perhaps. The artist pedagogue is aware of others as whole persons, with head, heart and hands. They bring with them their talents and uncertainties and their actual, or potential, capacity for fun and joy – activities do not need build always on problems.

The artist pedagogue is also involved as a whole person: they are observant of their own emotional reactions to their work (the heart) and make space to reflect on these (the head). Staff and volunteer meetings are opportunities to share reflections, address difficulties and decide how to build successes. This may mean paying attention to every-day practical activities (the hands) alongside the more directly creative. Practical organisational details need attention: perhaps mealtimes and snacks need organising or arranging a settling-in time while people arrive.

Artist pedagogues value teamwork and respect the contributions of others as partners, they think in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘us and them’. They form good working relationships with social workers, with members of the local community and, as appropriate, with parents and carers. They also need to understand relevant care systems, and how they impinge on both professionals and on those who are the focus of services.

To sum up, artist pedagogues are multi-creative – in their chosen art form, in coming to understand the people they work with and in providing a secure base for creativity.


[2] LFAP was first intended for creative activities with looked after children, but it’s also appropriate for adult and youth services.

[3] Petrie, P., Boddy, J., Cameron, C., Simon, A., Wigfall, V. (2006) Working with children in care: European perspectives, Open University Press: Bucks