All Education Is Group Work

Group work in education in challenging times


This paper seeks to explore and identify essential inter-professional collaboration opportunities between group workers and teachers when it comes to finding solutions for cyber bullying problems in primary schools in the Netherlands. The aim is to examine experiential learning as opposed to learning through teaching in the classroom and to identify the work skills and knowledge required by teachers of groups. Currently these skills and knowledge appear to be lacking in the field of education.

The aim of this paper is to make social group work educators and practitioners aware of the need to further the knowledge about groups and group work skills, for all to whom it is relevant but especially teachers in primary education who have the opportunity to work with and influence younger children.

This paper is based on an Action Research study that I conducted in a Dutch primary school and that I presented at the 39th Annual Symposium of the International Association for Social Work with Groups in New York, in June, 2017.

Keywords: group work; social obligation of (primary) education; teacher training; action research; experiential learning; group work roots; social media.


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In recent years the educational system in the Netherlands has increasingly become more responsible for dealing with social problems such as safety, inclusion, obesity, alcohol abuse, or dealing with different cultures (Onderwijsraad – Education Council – 2008). Lessons have been developed to address the varying needs and that include a focus on social skills, citizenship and media use. These lessons are generally taught with the help of text books, and the outcomes of these lessons are measured through tests. These lessons are added to the standard educational demands and many teachers appear to feel that these extra responsibilities take time at the expense of valuable learning time. Teachers are particularly concerned about this since they have to account for the outcomes of their academic education, and these outcomes are compared on a local, national and international level.

The theme of the 39th Annual Symposium of the International Association for Social Work with Groups was: “Group Work in Challenging Times: Creative Strategies for Facing Change”. In consideration of the modern challenges facing young people today, I agree with the symposium planners that group work can contribute to making changes. Since the organisation is called the IASWG, the International Association for Social Work with Groups, the symposium focus was on group work skills and the knowledge required for social workers and social work education and all those working with groups. However, I wonder whether the focus of Group Work should be on Social Work or on Work with Groups since I missed teachers in primary and secondary education in the presentations and as participants. Although not trained as social workers, teachers work with groups of young children in challenging times and also need creative strategies for facing change. This omission of two major educational sectors is contrary to the belief of Kurt Lewin (1943:115) who stated that “all education is group work”. The emphasis on all in this quote is mine, since I seriously doubt that practitioners in education, other than in group work education, are aware of what goes on in groups and the importance of group work. And likewise, I doubt that professional group workers are aware of this lack of knowledge in teachers.

Teachers work with groups all day, but does that make them group workers? Most often they think they are. It is not unusual for teachers to claim that they know all about groups, that they involve their pupils in making group rules, solving problems and finding solutions (Silverlock, 2000). In many classrooms, statements on the walls start with “we” as in “we do not exclude others” or “we walk quietly in the hallways”. Having over 30 years of experience in Dutch primary education, I have to agree with Miedema (2002) and Luitjes & de Zeeuw-Jans (2011) that: having a knowledge about groups, group dynamics and group processes, is an important condition for good education, however it is not regarded as an equally important subject in teacher training courses in the Netherlands.

Teachers in general are used to being in control and knowing all the answers. Listening and waiting for pupils to argue their way towards their own solutions, from a teacher’s perspective, is costing valuable learning time since the focus at present is on the academic learning and on the best didactics for increasing the outcomes of their education (Onderwijsraad, 2008; Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2011). Schools however also have a social obligation (SLO, 2006). My interest in social group work inspired me to carry out an Action Research study, using group work skills and knowledge in a primary school classroom.


Would a primary school class in Netherlands count as a group?

Before being able to answer this question, the concept of group needs to be defined. There are many different definitions of group such as:


• “We mean by a group a number of persons who communicate with one another often over a span of time, and who are few enough so that each person is able to communicate with all the others, not a second-hand, through other people, but face-to-face” (Homans, 1951:1).

• “A group is a collection of individuals who have relations to one another that make them interdependent to some significant degree. As so defined the term group refers to a class of social entities having in common the property of interdependence among their constituent members” (Cartwright and Zander, 1968:46).

• “A group may be defined as a collection of interacting people with some reciprocal influence over one another” (Schmuck & Schmuck, 2001:29).

• “We speak of a group when there is a common interest or a common assignment that requires cooperation” (van Engelen, 2014:14).

• “A group is a class or a year in primary education” (Van Dale Groot Woordenboek van de Nederlandse Taal, 2015).


Social group work and education seem to have different views on what defines a group. The first two definitions derive from social group work literature, but as a teacher in Dutch primary education, I have to work with the last two definitions of group. This educational view on groups suggests a pragmatic, organisational use of groups. Children are divided into groups by age, ability or instruction for reasons of efficiency (Braster, 2011). Group work in the classroom consists of working in a small group, for example on an assignment for geography or a presentation for a history project and thus can be defined as: “A form of active learning whereby students carry out a group assignment together” (TU Delft, 2017). Education would not be education if group work assignments were not a “learning component.” However, at least in primary education, it is the teachers who assign the roles and who make sure that all pupils fulfil all possible roles, regardless of their talents or preferences. That is not the same as facilitating the learning process of the group knowing that a group is more than the sum of its parts.


Dutch Primary Education

At this point some explanation about the Dutch educational system is needed. Since the Education Act of 1985, a year or form in primary education is called a group. Primary education in the Netherlands knows eight groups: group 1 (4 year olds) till group 8 (12 year olds). As of 2014 in the Netherlands we have Adequate Education, the Dutch answer to the world-wide call towards more inclusive education. Adequate Education is about presenting all children an adequate educational offer (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2011). The central question is: What does this child need to reach the set targets (Pameijer & Beukering, 2008). Children are diagnosed and labelled and their needs are written down in individual learning or behaviour plans. External specialists advise teachers on how to deal with the needs of their pupils.

An average group in mainstream primary education in the Netherlands consists of 23 – 32 pupils (Rijksoverheid, 2015). It is not uncommon that in one group there are at least one or more children with a hearing impairment, speech impairment, physical impairment, Dutch as a second language, learning difficulties, behaviour problems, dyslexia, PDD-nos, ADHD, highly gifted and so on. In other words, these groups can be very diverse.

External experts on speech impairments, autism, behaviour etc. advise teachers on the needs of these pupils. It is not unusual that, for example, the advice of the behaviour specialist for pupil A conflicts with the needs of pupil B with a hearing impairment, resulting in giving teachers the feeling that the ‘best horseman’ is always on his feet, since it is the teacher who has to find ways of translating this contradicting advice while working with the entire class.

Teachers are responsible for enabling all their pupils, with their individual needs, to reach their individual targets. Although the education is aimed at individual outcomes, it is organised in groups. With the focus on the individual needs, these groups can be defined as collections of individuals, with inevitable consequences for the social learning of the pupils. I not only experience this in every day practice, but it also becomes evident in the reports of the Inspectorate in which they write that for example 17% of the pupils in Dutch primary education stated that they had been the victim of bullying in the last year (Inspectie van het Onderwijs, 2014:20). Also in the school year 2012-2013 the inspectorate received almost 2300 complaints about sexual harassment, sexual intimidation, physical and psychological violence, discrimination or radicalisation within an educational context. More than half of these reports were about psychological violence such as bullying, threatening, ignoring, cyber bullying, extortion or stalking (ibid:21).


Social Media and safe use of the internet

As mentioned above, society and hence education are facing more than one challenge nowadays. In this study, I have focused on social media and in particular on the WhatsApp. In response to a series of suicides of young children who had been the victim of cyber bullying, the Dutch government introduced the Social Safety Act in 2015. This Act states that schools have to prevent all forms of bullying and can be held legally responsible unless they can show sufficient proof of actions taken such as:


– Offering social skills lessons

– Having an anti-bullying protocol

– Having a school confidant person for children to talk to about their problems in school or at home

– Monitoring the feelings of safety and wellbeing of their pupils twice a year


The educational inspectorate (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) monitors if schools live up to these rules (PO raad, 2015).

In the Netherlands, 86% of the children in the last two years of primary education (10 – 12 year old) have a smart phone or a tablet and use WhatsApp and / or Facebook (Broek, 2014) although the legal age for using these media in the Netherlands is 13. The children bring their problems, which originated in WhatsApp or on Facebook, with them into the classroom. In my professional circumstance in the period of 2014 – 2016 for example, these problems varied from hacking Facebook pages, being the victim of sexting, humiliation, stalking or gossiping on Facebook or in WhatsApp.

In the fall of 2016 I was asked to help solve a cyber-bullying problem in Year 7 of a school in my region. The problem had originated in the WhatsApp group. Now related to the theme of this paper, one could wonder whether a WhatsApp group is a group. According to the WhatsApp Support Team, a WhatsApp group can be defined as: “a group of up to 256 people who can create an unlimited number of groups, in which only administrators can add or remove group members, and who communicate through chats”, (

The problems in this class began after a mother of one boy created a group app for the class. Her son and his friends assumed the role of administrators and felt they could “punish” peers for their behaviour through chats, or by removing peers that did not belong to their “inner circle”. This resulted in conflicts in class between pupils who were friends but denied access to the WhatsApp group.

The problems had reached a level that made teaching difficult and sometimes almost even impossible. The school/teacher had acted according to the new legislations and after eight weeks of interventions, an evaluation was conducted. The school/teacher had employed an individualized approach, aimed at the victim(s) and alleged perpetrators. In addition, the class received a netiquette¹ protocol that all pupils had to sign. According to the evaluation, these actions had been very successful since all pupils had signed the protocol. Despite this, the problems continued. A bullying problem, in real life or in the cyber world, is never an issue only between the bully and victim. All members in the group play a role, which already becomes evident in the term ‘social media’ since it incorporates the word ‘social’. To emphasize this point, it is worth mentioning that the word social means “living in groups, not separately” (Oxford English Dictionary,1975).

With social media a new phenomenon entered the classroom and teachers had to start educating children in skills and knowledge that were, and in many cases still are, new to them as well. The children in this Year 7 were born in 2005 and 2006. Facebook was ‘born’ in 2004 and WhatsApp in 2009. The children have grown up with Facebook and WhatsApp whereas their teachers and parents have to learn how to use new technology and how to communicate on line. It seems obvious that, in dealing with this new phenomenon, a different approach to learning is needed when compared to learning to read or write. Although ‘media wisdom’ has become a new subject in primary education, teachers teach this subject with the help of programs and text books.


¹Netiquette = a combination of the words network and etiquette; rules of etiquette that apply when communicating over computer networks, especially over the Internet; an informal code of behaviour on the internet. (


Methodology: Practical Action Research and Experiential Learning

Carr & Kemmis (1986) explain how education is a practice sustained in society by the institution of schooling. There is always a tension between education and schooling and practitioners in education should be aware of the fact that schooling, at some point, might undermine the values of educational practice (ibid). In the particular example mentioned, such a tension became evident. Based on the latest “protocol” deriving from the 2015 Social Safety Act, the teachers had tried to school their pupils in a netiquette protocol. The effects of this schooling appeared to have been successful since the pupils were able to explain how “in general” one should behave on social media. This theoretical knowledge however, had not resulted in a change of behaviour in the WhatsApp group, which is why I was asked to intervene.

The educational challenge and focus of this study was how to make pupils in this Year 7 of primary school in the Netherlands responsible for their own problems originated in WhatsApp, using experiential learning strategies as opposed to teaching them how to act. Being an educator and practitioner in group work, it felt obvious to me that I had to choose a methodology rooted in both disciplines. Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947) is not only credited for creating the term ‘Action Research’ (Smith, 2001), but also for the term ‘Group dynamics’ (Doel & Kelly, 2014) and for his influential ideas on Experiential Learning. Although at first sight the Action Research cycle (figure 1) and the Experiential Learning cycle (figure 2) show many similarities since in both cycles the learner/practitioner is going through a sequence of actions, they are not the same. Action Research by definition is deliberate and planned and thus involves strategic action (McMahon, 2006).

In this study I was able to use the insights I had gained from ‘practical action research’ (Carr & Kemmis, 1986), in which I, as an outside facilitator, formed a collaborative relationship with the teacher of the class involved, to help him develop a strategic plan for change, monitor the problems and the effects of the changes, and help him to reflect on the value of the achieved changes and the consequences of these changes as opposed to offering expertise and advice. Secondly, for the process of the class in raising awareness of what exactly was going on, the experiential learning cycle was used.

Figure 1: Action Research cycle Lewin in Eyler, Giles, Dewey and Kolb (retrieved from:
Figure 2: Experiential Learning Cycle rooted in Eyler, Giles, Dewey and Kolb (retrieved from:

In this particular case study, I not only worked with the teacher, but also with the class. Carr & Kemmis (1986) describe my role as facilitator as ‘Socratic’ in that I provide a sounding-board, first of all for teachers to learn how they can assist their class in the process of collaborative self-reflection through a deliberate and planned strategic action. Secondly for the pupils to become aware of their reasons for their own actions, to learn about the process of self-reflection and to try out their new insights. Therefore I combined the teacher’s Action Research cycle with the pupils’ Experiential Learning cycle (figure 3). In this way the first Action in the teacher’s AR cycle would be the first Experience in the pupils’ EL cycle which involves: handing the problem back to the group and letting them identify the problem(s) themselves.

Figure 3: my combined cycle of Action Research and Experiential Learning


Process findings and analysis

In this section the research process and findings will be shared. As already mentioned, the teacher’s Action Research process was combined with the Experiential Learning cycle of the pupils. In this collaborative approach, one afternoon a week I facilitated the group while the teacher filmed. This meant that I was in the more vulnerable position whilst at the same time I could model facilitating group discussion, promoting active and respectful listening, creating a safe space for sharing, how to deal with emotions and expression of feelings, how to coach in conflict situations, and how to use activities for experiencing or understanding problems. The teacher was assigned the role of observer. His assignment was to film interaction (who is looking for ‘permission to speak’; what non-verbal communication is taking place; what messages are communicated). Once the problem was handed back to the pupils, a lively discussion started in class. Letting the group discuss (as opposed to raising their hand and waiting for a turn) was difficult for the teacher to observe without interfering. In the first video, the teacher focused on individual pupils (playing with their pencil, not paying attention; talking to their neighbour,) and on my role. The way we reflected on what had happened in class was adapted from Video Interaction Counselling (Brons, 2008). First the teacher would show me selections of the video and query some decisions I made. For example he asked: Why don’t you intervene? Why didn’t you correct this pupil? Why did you allow and even repeated that statement yourself without judging it? Why did you want that pupil to make a contribution? Following this I would select fragments, and share my observations: Do you see this pupil? He is eager to say something but when he has an opportunity to share, he ‘forgot’ what it is he wanted to say. Now let us go back a few seconds……….do you see this other boys’ non-verbals? How is the relationship between these two boys and what are their roles in the group? What are they trying to communicate?


Action Research cycle teacher

Teachers are encouraged to improve their practices in a deliberate and planned way, which is what this teacher had been doing prior to this study. He had stated the problem and had planned what he wanted to achieve.

Problem: “The atmosphere in the classroom isn’t comfortable for all pupils. Once in the classroom it seems to be okay, but outside and after school many things occur which influence the atmosphere in the classroom and take time at the expense of learning time. Most of these ‘things’ have originated in the class’ WhatsApp group. Parents come to school with their concerns and expect that the school comes up with solutions or they announce that their solution is that their child is not allowed to have contact with certain other children and that school has to make sure this doesn’t happen”.

Goal: “I want to create a safe learning and living environment in which all children give room to each other to be who they are and in which all feel safe to express themselves. I want to make children aware of how they react to each other and what the consequences of their behaviour are to others in the group”.

Outcomes: “All pupils have signed the protocol. They know how they should act, but it is not what they are doing”.

Possible causes:

– Pupils don’t feel responsible

– It is difficult to involve pupils

– Social media / society in general


In this collaborative approach, I first asked the teacher to reflect on the process asking:

Whose problem is it? Who should try to solve it? Who has been trying to solve it?

The first step in the Action Research cycle was: handing back the problem to the group.


Experiential Learning cycle pupils

In the first group discussion we made a list of all the things that caused irritations, problems and conflicts. Apart from the problem of who could and could not be administrators, varying concerns were also raised such as: sending messages of only one word or one letter, sending 50 emoticons after each other, repeating “like” more than 30 times, sending photos, private quarrels in the group app, ignoring requests, misinterpreting what was written, and so on. Although the group agreed on what was written on the list, there was no willingness to change their behaviour. The general conclusion was that others had to change their behaviour to ultimately solve the overall problems.

For the next session I told the group that this time we would not verbally communicate but instead chat on the digital board. The suggestion was accepted with great enthusiasm at first, but it did not take long before irritation and frustration arose. I started the conversation with the words: “He has gone”. After half an hour and pages full of text, no one could answer the questions: Who has gone? Why has he gone? How does that make me feel? They had all been writing their own assumptions related to their own thoughts instead of reacting on what was written. When asked if this resembled their WhatsApp conversations, the group stated “yes” clarifying that they reacted without taking much notice of what others had written, and “no” because in this chat no one used abusive language. “In this text we all react nice to each other because you are in the group. In our WhatsApp group we are never so nice to each other” (pupil statement).

Before diving into the “abusive language”, we first analysed a part of the text we had written in this chat. Below is an excerpt of this: What has happened and why does not anyone know who has gone, why and how does that make me feel? (names have been changed for privacy reasons).


Hilda: He has gone
Mohammed: Who?
Justine: I think someone left the WhatsApp group
April: Yes but that has to have a reason
Sergio: You have to scroll back
Sandra: Yes perhaps he/she didn’t like the group
Stephan: I think we have to ask the administrator to put him back into the group


In the chat, Justine starts with her own assumption. She explains that because we are working on the WhatsApp problem, she assumed that my opening sentence was related to the WhatsApp group. April reacts on Justine, but the reaction of Sergio doesn’t make sense at all since there is nothing to scroll back to. He explains that he wrote this remark because: “mostly you have missed 40 new messages when you haven’t looked for 5 minutes so I thought that this could be the case now too”. Stephan assumed the chat was about a particular boy in the group with a history of ‘leaving the group’ when things don’t go his way.

To raise awareness of the limitations of chats and the fact that, in communication, we rely on more than just words, five students were asked to leave the classroom with five different scenarios of which the last sentence was: “he has gone”. Back in the classroom, they were only allowed to say that one sentence, in line with the scenario they had studied. What do we know now compared to the same statement in the chat? Why do we know it?

Although the text was the same, in all cases the group at least knew how the person stating this one sentence was feeling about the fact that “he had gone’ because they had extra information through tone of voice, body language and facial expression. Based on this information, it was also easier to interpret who had gone (boyfriend, burglar, bully). The group realised that this information was missing in written text. Perhaps feelings can be expressed with the help of emoticons, but other information does not automatically derive from written words and/or emoticons and additional text may be needed if one wants to avoid assumptions.

This information is not new and could have been explained to the group, substantiated with scientific evidence that most of our communication is non-verbal. However, now the group has discovered it for themselves, opening the possibility of finding ways to avoid falling into previous assumptions.

The next activity was to understand that words can be interpreted in different ways. In this activity, the group split up in groups of four. Two children (A and B) sit opposite of each other with a barrier between them. The other two children (C and D) sit in the middle and can see both A and B and their table. A and B both get the same amount of blocks and small items. A builds something and provides instructions to B, to build the same. C and D are not allowed to say anything, but have to observe.

This activity was a real eye opener for the group. The assignment was easy, and the words used were simple and known. But nevertheless, the results were disappointing. How come? “Because we know the words and we think that we know what the other means. And then we continue with our own interpretation of these words to end up with something completely different” (summary of pupils’ statements).

Now how does that relate to the groups ‘WhatsApp problem? The group used what they had learned in this activity and at this point one of the pupils suggested to “write down some rules”. The list started with:


• No one word or one letter messages; the whole text in one message

• Read what the other has written before reacting

• If it is not clear to you, first ask before making your own assumptions


In the next session we pulled up a “real” WhatsApp chat on the digital board and analysed it since the group had stated that they used more abusive language and were less friendly to each other in the WhatsApp group when compared to our classroom chat.

Analysing this chat resulted in a discussion about what it means to be part of a: WhatsApp GROUP? What should be communicated in the group and what is private? What triggers irritation and abusive language? New items were added to the list:


• The group app is for sharing information that concerns all, or at least most members of the group

• No announcements that no one is interested in should be shared

• Individual appointments, arguments or problems should be communicated in private


A last but not unimportant problem still needed to be addressed: who should be administrator of the group. The boy whose mother created the group app, was still of the opinion that he (and his friends) were entitled to be the administrators. The group however believed that the administrators had to be chosen by the group. The group deliberated and voted. Four children were elected as administrators with the restriction that none of them had an individual veto and every problem had to go through the group first.

The boy in question had no other option but to agree with the group’s decision. Meanwhile he created a new WhatsApp group in which he only invited his friends and still had the power to decide who could be in and who should be out. This became the topic of the next session. The boy himself was pleased with his own solution. This way he could obey the new group rules while at the same time remain in charge of his own new group. However, his best friend and member of the second group stated that he was not happy with this situation but did not know what to do because he agreed with the group rules but on the other hand, he did not want to go against his best friend. This resulted in the themes for the next sessions: loyalty and perspective.

Perspective: in this activity all the pupils had to find their way through a labyrinth. They had to help each other, but were not allowed to talk. In this activity they experienced why it is easy to see the right way when you are standing at the side but extremely difficult when you are in the labyrinth. This activity opened the discussion about why the boy in question had different ideas than the group. It is all a matter of perspective. Now how does that relate to loyalty? Again, a difficult concept that needed defining.

With the help of the video that was made of the labyrinth activity we addressed the concept of loyalty. The goal of the activity was that the entire group had to go through the labyrinth. At some point a boy responsible for finding the right way at that moment, received directions from his friends but the rest of the group signalled that he had to go in another direction. He listened to his friends and went the wrong way, costing the group points. Viewing this on video made it possible to discuss whether you should always be loyal to your friends, even if you know they send you in the wrong direction or get you in trouble. Where does your own responsibility come in? What does the word “loyalty” mean? When should you be loyal to your friends and when is it important to take your own responsibility?


Action Research cycle teacher

When viewing the first video, the teacher stated that he was surprised and impressed by the way the pupils approached the problem. He also confessed that, at first, he doubted my “teacher skills” because I did not intervene when the group was discussing in an unstructured way, voices were raised and emotions got high. “I had no idea where you were going and felt frustrated that you took so long to discuss single words or statements”. After the last session we summarized the skills and knowledge that were gained:


• Less can be more (less control can lead to more own responsibility)

• Some skills and knowledge cannot be ‘instructed’, but need to be learned by doing

• Knowledge about informal leadership in the group; about group dynamics

• Active listening as opposed to hearing what pupils answer

• Asking ‘open’ questions (clarifying and summarizing)

• Assessment of social skills ‘in action’ as opposed to questionnaires and tests



After 7 weeks the group managed to solve their WhatsApp problem. That does not mean that there were no more problems at all. As one of the pupils stated: “Of course we still have fights and conflicts. That is normal. But now we have learned where they come from and how to solve them”. In other words, the group had learned to talk with each other and not to each other, that there is more than one perspective, the importance of common definitions and the risks of assumptions. The teacher stated: “Sometimes a colleague tells me that my group is having an argument on the playground or in the corridors. I prepare myself for dealing with it, but by the time the group comes back into the classroom, they mostly have solved it themselves or ask if they can have some time to talk about it”.

Seven weeks after this study, the teacher stated in a follow-up meeting that what he had most taken away from this study was the ability to see the class as a group; to be able to appreciate the dynamics instead of looking at individual pupils and their behaviour. He definitely wants to use this new learned knowledge and skills in next year’s’ group.



For experienced group workers this all might sound like “preaching to the crowd”. For the teacher on the other hand, the process of raising awareness of what goes on in WhatsApp chats and making the group responsible instead of teaching them how to behave on-line, was new. At first sight, the end result of this study was not so different to what the teacher had in mind: a written netiquette contract. Content-wise it was almost the same as the netiquette contract the teacher had offered. The difference however, was that now the contract was made up by the children, based on their own experiences, group discussions, and decisions that resulted from a democratic process. The group reached the outcomes themselves through experiential learning and felt responsible for living up to their own rules.

Teachers teach their pupils in ways they have learned in teacher training: by steering towards the right answers that are in the back of the book. Indeed, there is only one correct answer for questions like: what is the capital of France or how do you spell taxi? However, when it comes to dealing with problems, as in this case with the WhatsApp group, there is no one correct answer. My personal experience is that group workers themselves, like the pupils, do not know the right answers. What group workers do differently is facilitating learning by helping the children to find their own answers that work for them.

We never dealt with the original question of excluding children from the group or bullying peers in WhatsApp, simply because we did not have to.


Implications & Recommendations

When looking at the implications of this study for practice and teacher training I argue that, at least when educating children on appropriate use of social media, group work methods should be made available to all teachers. In this instance, these group work methods include handing the problem back to the group, facilitating group discussion, using activities to raise awareness and defining difficult concepts such as perspective, and respecting differences of opinion. If education wants to be successful in reaching the attainment targets for citizenship and social skills (in real life as well as on-line) beyond just theoretical knowledge, then at least teachers have to learn (again) that, indeed, education is group work. Group work and education share the same roots. In the last decades however, education and group work both went their separate ways. Where group work specialised in collaborative learning, education specialised in teaching techniques or didactics.

As a teacher, I grew up in the 1980’s with the ideas of Dewey, Rogers, Freire, Illich and Lewin, names that are familiar in group work history as well. The definition of pedagogy I learned was “the science of raising” (Van Dale Groot Woordenboek van de Nederlandse Taal). At present, the definition of pedagogy is more in line with the Anglo Saxon definition: “the science of teaching” (Oxford English Dictionary) since teachers in the Netherlands know in detail what “this child needs to reach the academic targets set by the Ministry of Education”. However, society is making social demands on those same teachers. Group workers know that this is not a contradiction. The goal of the IASWG is to advance social work with groups. Therefore I suggest that they include ‘groups in (primary) education’ in their endeavour and expand their invitations for the next symposium to the educational field as well.

Finally I want to propose a new definition of pedagogy that brings the roots of education and group work back together: the science of facilitating learning.


I owe many thanks to the children of Year 7 and their teacher who participated in this study. Without them this study would not have been possible. The group showed that, if given the responsibility, children in the last years of primary education are capable of finding solutions for problems. They also gave evidence to the fact that some knowledge cannot be handed over, but needs to be learned by actual experience. I want to thank the teacher for his trust in handing over his group to me one afternoon a week.



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