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Introducing the College's Relational Practice Curriculum


This month Simon Frost, the College’s Head of Education, reflects on the development of the College’s Relational Practice Curriculum, which is due to be launched at the this autumn.


I’m back. Having left the College (pre-merger) in November 2021, I re-joined (post-merger), on a permanent basis in September 2022 as Head of Education. For anyone who has left and re-joined an organisation, you will know it is a bit like moving into a new house. In my packing boxes was everything I knew and loved about YMCA George Williams College, a 50-year training legacy, in all its pedagogical glory, and countless recollections of students riding the waves of critical reflection through their work with young people. However, I wasn’t just moving into a new house, I was moving into a house which was already inhabited by an array of talented, brilliant people. As I continue to take stock of my new surroundings, there is lot of new exciting stuff catching my eye which wasn’t there during my time at the College, such as impact and evaluation work, organisational support projects, and an ever-increasing number of research projects. It is really exciting to be involved in this synthesis of high-quality training, evaluation and practice.

Straight out of the blocks I have been working on our new curriculum, the ‘YMCA George Williams College Curriculum of Relational Practice’, to give it its full title. Many former associates of the College will recognise the three principles which guide the curriculum, namely dialogue, reflection, and authenticity. In and of themselves, none of these ideas are original, but as a sum of parts, they provide a co-constructed pedagogy which enable human growth and development, and which we believe are essential to work with young people. More than just a list of courses, the curriculum reflects our pedagogical approach and our organisational culture. To fully embrace the development of relational practice, it is important we embody the same values and principles in our research, training, and working relationships.

Within the curriculum, we think of dialogue as more than a conversation. It is an exchange, a relationship in which people share ideas and experiences, to find meaning and understanding of the self and the world around us. In this sense, dialogue is co-constructed; it is something that happens between people, not something that is ‘done’ to others, and working in this way can help promote equity and autonomy. As the thoughts and ideas of those involved are brought to the fore, so we see evidence of a commitment to truth, knowledge, and understanding.

Synonymous with dialogue is reflective practice. It is through dialogical reflection that we find the opportunity to attune with, attend to, and learn from our experiences. Working in this way provides a safe space to think critically about ourselves and the world around us; disrupting taken for granted, normative assumptions and beliefs on a journey of growth and development.

For the principles of dialogue and reflection to have most impact, a clear value base is required. Relational practice is dependent on the integrity of all involved. Herein we are all called upon to promote and model genuine and authentic versions of ourselves in all our working relationships.

As an applied pedagogy, relational practice affords opportunities to work across a range of relational contexts, including work with the self, others, community, young people, and society more broadly. Similarly, the range of professions that have benefited from relational practice beyond our sector have spanned health, social care, and even leadership and management. With the introduction of our ‘Curriculum of Relational Practice’, we intend to support practitioners to continue to place high quality, dialogical, authentic, and reflective relationships at the heart of what they do – watch this space!