The SPDN in Ireland - Sligo on 24/25 May, 2012

For the first time ever, the Social Pedagogy Development Network made its way into the Republic of Ireland. Thanks to the Institute of Technology Sligo, who kindly offered to host this SPDN, and The Irish Association of Social Care Educators (IASCE), who provided the funding for this event, we were able to welcome 95 participants to the evening seminar and full-day event. And filled with excellent presentations by a range of international academics, the events stimulated many reflections and conversations.

The evening seminar was kicked off by Perry Share from the Institute of Technology Sligo, who set the scene for social pedagogy within an Irish context. His reflections were followed by Bodil Weirsøe from University College Sjælland with a presentation on social pedagogy in a learning perspective. She outlined in very practical terms a range of social learning theorems and explored the relevance of non-violent communication in creating learning situations rather than resorting to behaviour modification. Jan Storø from University College Oslo and Akershus focussed in his presentation on the difficult connection between theory and practice in social pedagogy, which highlighted the importance of reflection in connecting theory with practice.

All three presentations at the evening seminar generated much anticipation for the following day and provided a clear thematic focus. On a more theoretical level, this was explored in great depth by Juha Hämäläinen from the University of Eastern Finland. One of the leading international theorists in social pedagogy, his presentation explained the diverse understandings of social pedagogy and offered insights into what it means to see the world through social pedagogic eyes. Connecting theory with practice, Elisabeth Grønning from Oslo and Akershus University College gave a concrete and captivating overview of how to use puppets in dialogue with children. Her talk involved the entire audience into short puppet shows - participants had created their own hand puppet at registration using a white sock and a range of creative materials, and the room was full with fantastic creations. You can listen to her presentation here.

The afternoon provided more in-depth time for participants to relate social pedagogy to their own context. In action workshops they could engage in meaning-making around developing social pedagogy in practice (incl. hearing from a number of pioneering organisations about their journeys so far), explore social pedagogy and its implications for policy and strategy (drawing on research findings and examples from Denmark and Germany), look at the possibilities of integrating social pedagogy within qualifications (with examples provided by international academics), or participate in a process-orientated lecture on inclusion by Lotte Harbo (VIA University College, Århus) to get a sense of how such a topic is taught in Denmark at an academic level with hands-on focus.

The resonance from participants was very encouraging. One participant stated: "I thoroughly enjoyed every part of it. The presentations, the participation, the networking... I found myself looking at empty seats and spaces in groups of people and seeing opportunities for growth and learning there. Everywhere I stood or sat, everybody I spoke to, the enthusiasm I encountered was stimulating for me. I could have stayed for ever!" Another commented: "This was varied and interesting and provided a real insight into where the audience was in relation to integrating or struggling with integrating social pedagogy into practice."