It was on a sunny afternoon that Lea Green Learning and Development Centre near Matlock provided the surroundings for an unforgettable SPDN event. Hosted by Derbyshire County Council, whose social pedagogy journey has clearly drawn on the creativity and imagination of its care professionals and local arts practitioners, the event's overarching theme was 'creativity'. 180 participants joined us for the 24 hours, which included possibilities to engage in outdoor activities such as den-building and climbing the high ropes course just before the sun was setting.
The evening seminar started off with a joint curry provided by the hosts and a creative name badge station. Once everyone was seated in the large hall, we set the scene with a few thoughts on creativity as a holistic process encompassing heads (divergent thinking), hearts (expressing emotions) and hands (acting creatively). This led into Derbyshire's own experience with social pedagogy as a Creative Council, with its Director of Children's Services, Ian Thomas, and Nicole Chavaudra presenting the difference that social pedagogy has so far made to professionals and children. Ian's passion for improving the care experiences for children made a profound impression on the audience, who found the combination of hard facts and narratives about what has changed through social pedagogy particularly compelling: Ian and Nicole outlined that fewer children were now missing from care, children's educational attainment had improved significantly, staff used fewer physical interventions and were less often on sick leave, the physical environments had transformed, and there was a real 'movement' across residential services, which became evident from the involvement of resi workers throughout the event. You can see the presentation here:
In further exploring creativity, we were honoured to have Wendy Russell, senior lecturer in playwork at Gloucestershire University, give an uplifting and insightful talk about why we shouldn't take play seriously (it's far too important for that)! She invited the audience to draw portraits of each other - on a piece of paper that people had to put on their heads whilst drawing, resulting in much laughter and unique drawings. As she went on to highlight, the activity demonstrated how a potentially daunting and serious tasks can be turned on its head by introducing an element of playfulness that changes how we feel about a task - in portrait activity, participants fed back that they'd felt relieved that they wouldn't be judged based on their artistic skills, curious about what the portrait was going to look like, and enjoyed the hilarity of trying to draw like this. Wendy's presentation made important wider points about children's play and how we as adults can co-construct play spaces and enable children's play rather than constrain it through our own notions of where, how, to what end and with what children should play. She made a strong argument for not utilising or instrumentalising play but to recognise its intrinsic value. You can view her presentation below:
Wendy's presentation themes were put into action immediately afterwards, as the fantastic team of Lea Green's outdoor education instructors had prepared an orienteering treasure hunt in which small groups of participants connected to each other by rope tried to find a series of clues hidden across the vast outdoor area. All groups then came together at a bonfire to exchange stories, catch up with each other and toast some marshmallows. It was an apt way of concluding a stimulating and engaging evening seminar.
The 170 participants who joined us on Tuesday's day seminar created a lively atmosphere from the very beginning. Many had been there the previous evening, too, and were eager to share what had so far particularly resonated with them. And after short introductions from our side, we dived straight into (de)constructing social pedagogy through a Common Third. Wendy Johnson and Usha Mahenthiralingam from Derbyshire led the participants through a series of creative activities aimed at connecting participants with head, heart, and hands, which included creating new action phrases, finding titles for emotive black-and-white paintings, and creating our own head, heart, hands cut-out, some of which are shown below. It was a wonderfully creative time and a great opportunity to engage with others.
After the coffee break, Kim Johnson from Derbyshire introduced a video presentation by Richard Gerver, an internationally acclaimed speaker on change, leadership and education arguing that our educational system enables children to find a sense of higher purpose and connect with their own creativity. The inspirational talk, underlined by footage from Derbyshire's Creative Mentors programme that Richard is championing, is available here:
The full footage of the Creative Mentors can be viewed here:
Kim went on to introduce Derbyshire's Arts Awards journey, showing the film 'Reaching Out':
Given the great breadth and depth of expertise within the Social Pedagogy Development Network, the workshop programme offered an exciting variety of themes connected to creativity. Wendy and Usha offered a workshop following on from their earlier creative activities to explore the 'harmonious friendship' between creativity and social pedagogy. Matthew McFadzean and Ruth Allan from CareVisions led a workshop together with one of their young people. They shared a fantastic example of spontaneous improvisation featuring a ladder on a beach, then went on exploring with participants the many creative ways in which everyday items can be transformed through our imagination. A group of Derbyshire's practitioners visualised their social pedagogy journey and how their grassroots leadership had enabled systemic change. Kim Johnson and Christine Hayward shared more details about Derbyshire's impressive Arts Award journey. In another arts-inspired workshop, Wendy Smith, Jenny Young and Dawn Williams from Sage Gateshead talked with participants about the impact on social pedagogy on their cultural organisation and how they have developed social pedagogy through the NCB's learning framework for artist pedagogues. Another popular workshop focussed on mindfulness and explored its potential for care practice. This was facilitated by the mindfulness counsellor Jan Bagley, who gave participants a brief insight into this form of mind-body meditation, which can help provide greater awareness of one's thoughts and feelings. Manuel Kaska and Andy Carter from the Social Pedagogy Consortium examined in their workshop how practitioners can use the outdoors to engage with young people. And whilst, naturally, Lea Green provided the perfect setting for this workshop, Andy and Manuel also highlighted ways in which less stimulating environments could be used, for instance for micro adventures. 'Opening Mary Poppins' Bag' was the intriguing title of a workshop by Staffordshire County Council's foster carers Libby Thornhill and Amanda Jane together with their Head, Heart, Hands social pedagogue Soulmaz Bashirinia. They explored with participants how social pedagogy can help practitioners to take a holistic approach to education and support children in learning creatively. The final workshop, by ThemPra's Charlotte Firing and Alexandra Priver, looked at well-being and creativity. Participants shared ideas for and challenges to nurturing their creativity in their workplace as well as extending this to their teams and professionals from other agencies. Overall, there was much positive feedback from the workshops and a flurry of conversations that continued into the lunch break and beyond.
After the two rounds of workshops, which were interspersed by a delicious buffet lunch and a great energizing activity on the sports ground, the event concluded with a creative reviewing activity. Participants around each table discussed their learning and what they were keen to take back home with them and wanted to develop further. They were also given play-do to inspire their imagination whilst reflecting on these questions.
Participants seemed to really get into the activity and left some very heart-warming comments next to their little play-do pieces of art. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and participants departed feeling energized by a sense of being connected to a strong, vibrant and creative movement. We were once again very lucky to have in Derbyshire a wonderful hosting organisation whose professionals did their utmost to make everybody feel welcome and enabled us to run an unforgettable event.
If you would like to join us at future SPDN events, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.