The SPDN in Hackney on 14 May, 2013

The SPDN meeting in London enabled participants to make the best of their trip to the capital. The Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy at the Institute of Education organised an international conference titled 'Social Pedagogy across Settings' on 13 May, which provided great opportunities to link to the SPDN the following day. Thanks to the support of the London Borough of Hackney, who had agreed to host the SPDN, participants could benefit from both the international conference and the free SPDN meeting, and they certainly turned up in large numbers. The conference itself was attended by around 80 delegates, and the SPDN attracted a record 110 participants. Many of them had not been to an SPDN event before and seemed to get a lot of information and inspiration from the day.

The event kicked off with an introductory activity aimed at connecting people and creating a passionate atmosphere. The first programme point then was an overview of social pedagogy in the UK. Against the backdrop of recent policy interest - for example the Association of Directors of Children's Services making much reference to social pedagogy in their position statement 'What is Care For?' - there was a lot of interest amongst the audience to find out how different organisations have engaged with social pedagogy. Robyn and Alex from ThemPra thus interviewed representatives from a number of organisations to find out what they have done, how people in the organisation have felt around social pedagogy, what the results have been so far and what plans there are to continue their social pedagogy journey. We heard from the hosts, Hackney, about their involvement in the Head, Heart, Hands programme and the connections they have made with systemic social work; The Fostering Network gave more detail about Head, Heart, Hands and how this demonstration programme is anticipated to make a difference to children in foster care by introducing social pedagogy to fostering services; Staffordshire, which is one of the demonstration sites, mentioned why they decided to be part of the programme, how much excitement has already built up and how they envisage connecting developments in their fostering service with their ongoing social pedagogy journey for their in-house residential services; Derbyshire has also continued its investment in social pedagogy and is about to expand this as part of their Uni-fi project, with a new video showcasing the impact social pedagogy has had so far; Aberlour Sycamore Services have been developing social pedagogy since 2008 and shared their positive experiences so far, including opening a new children's home which has been built on a social pedagogical foundation from the very beginning; the Camphill School Aberdeen reported about their longstanding tradition of social pedagogy and work on Outcomes that Matter©; Lancashire talked about their experiences of training all its residential care workers in social pedagogy, participating in the ThemPra mobility project and a flurry of great ideas for future social pedagogical projects; Professor Pat Petrie from the Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy (CUSP) at the Institute of Education informed us of CUSP's activities at building an international academic network and dialogue around social pedagogy in the UK; Jacaranda Development described the impressions from the social pedagogy field trips, which they have organised to enable UK professionals to learn about social pedagogy on a study visit to different German cities; and ThemPra reported on our EU Leonardo Mobility project and the experiences of participants who spent 2 weeks working alongside Danish pedagogues in children's homes and day-care institutions - we encourage all organisations to find out more about EU funding opportunities via the Lifelong Learning Programme website.

Another highlight of the morning session was Prof. Paul Stephens's presentation on the importance of a theoretical foothold within social pedagogical practice. He presented several core theories that he considered vital in order to have a clear professional understanding of how we can aim to make a difference to children, young people or disadvantaged groups of adults. Giving examples of his own work in Stavanger, Norway with the Roma travelling community, he conveyed how often small changes such as access to the health care system or the unemployment register can be significant steps for individuals - he persuaded a dentist to treat a traveller who had been suffering from tooth ache for years and subsequently managed to take more control of his own life, and he also helped many individuals find a job that meant they no longer had to live in poverty and beg in order to survive. Through these example Paul highlighted a number of important themes: we cannot underestimate the great difference we can make, sometimes even with what may seem to be small steps to us. This requires a resource-orientated and non-judgmental perspective or Haltung. And in order to make such a difference social pedagogues must both try to both support individuals and work towards achieving the wider social and political change necessary in order to create conditions in which every individual can develop their potential and contribute to society. Theory and reflection are essential if we don't want to get caught up in the complexities and challenges of this enormous task. Paul has kindly made available his manuscript, which you can download here, and you can now also purchase his book 'Social Pedagogy: Heart and Head'.

After an excellent buffet lunch the afternoon started off energetic with another social pedagogical activity. Following this, we presented the different talking circles for the afternoon session, which were designed to enable participants to explore those themes in greater detail, which they felt most passionate about. Here is an overview of the different themes:

Social Pedagogical practice versus behaviour management: Charlotte from ThemPra and Matthew from Care Visions held a talking circle on social pedagogical ways of supporting children with challenging behaviour. Here's how they summarised their conversations with around 20 people: 'The theme of our circle was social pedagogical practice versus behaviour management. We initiated the discussion with a quote ("The Art of Helping") from the Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard (1813-1855) and Matthew told his story of how a young girl changed her behaviour due to being listened to and having her needs met (available here). This initiated a debate contrasting some different views on practice and highlighting the different aims/intentions of when and why we engage in conflicts. When a young person is building up anxiety/arousal, are we escalating their emotions and the situation by trying to control their behaviour or are we taking care of the young person’s needs by listening to what they are trying to tell us? At this point, we had a discussion about the role of restraint/safe holding, in which the view was put forward that restraint is essential, as young people will always need to be restrained. This led to a discussion about the importance of listening to young people, because the moment when restraint becomes the only available option is not the beginning of the incident - the analogy being "if I whisper and you do not hear me, I will speak louder. If you still do not hear me, I will continue to raise my voice until you hear my screams". It is important that we learn the language of each young person. This is in line with Kirkegaard saying "if one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there". It was observed that we don't always know how to read a young person, especially if they are new residents in a care home, so cannot stop incidents of restraint. The point when the young person comes to live in the care home is the beginning of the journey, and that is when we must heed Kirkegaard's advice. We may not understand where the young person is at when they arrive but that has to be one of our first tasks. Only then can we begin to contemplate helping them to make real and lasting change to their world view and experience of life.
The talking circle also raised the question of the purpose of restraining. When we use restraints are we doing it to help the young person or to protect ourselves/others, the house, the décor or?? It is widely agreed that the purpose of restraint is to protect the young person and others from physical harm and to prevent significant damage to property. The discussion acknowledged that it is sometimes used as a method of exerting control over a young person, for staff members to get their own way. This leads us to Kirkegaard's approach to helping: "But all true helping begins with a humbling: The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness to, for the time being, put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands." Knowing that we as humans pick up on each other’s emotions, it’s very important to stay calm and talk to the young person instead of talking at them in order not to escalate situations. This is not to be confused with not dealing with the issues, but simply postponing the "dealing with" until the young person is calm and able to reflect the issues. We believe that the most important thing that children have to learn is to deal with their emotions in a healthy and empathic way. And to be able to learn that, we need to give them a language that enables them to express their emotions in words rather than violent or challenging behavior.'

Creative Activities to Develop a Common Third: Helen Chambers facilitated this talking circle with around 15 participants interested in exploring the contribution of the creative arts. Here is Helen's summary: 'Our circle focused on the role of arts and creative work as part of the Common Third of social pedagogy. One of the group was a trained graphic artist, now working in social work, and the rest of us were involved in care and education in its broadest sense. People spoke of the importance of creative activities to build relationships and give a place for people to play, share and have "permission to fail", as well as create something tangible. The arts can provide fun and laughter, encourage another way of thinking, not as therapy but rather personal expression and achievement through a boundaried and meaningful relationship with others. The group had different experiences of working through arts/crafts based methods in their practice to build communications, and we had two impromptu demonstrations of these. We thought further about the role of professional artists working with participants (of all ages), as an enriching experience for participants and staff, where everything is brought into one space together, as a creative work – co-created. This helps to shift the power balance between staff and participants mediated by artists – where all contribute different skills and life experience and are affirmed by what can be co produced and celebrated. It is important that artists, staff and co-workers share similar values and have opportunity for mutual support and reflection.
My reflections are that there was:
- engagement with the idea of what the arts can provide, and that social pedagogic practice offers opportunity to bring these together in the Common Third.
- desire to develop simple skills to enable ordinary non-professional "artists" to be creative practitioners in their daily practice.
- clear acknowledgement that "artists" can help "the diamond to shine" in an individual – practitioner and child/adult etc
- the SPDN could provide an opportunity to bring together practitioners who are creative in their practice, and arts practitioners who want to work with the shared values enshrined in social pedagogic practice, eg the artist pedagogue learning framework.'

Creative ways of reflecting in practice settings: Sylvia Holthoff from ThemPra offered a very hands-on talking circle that began with a creative activity, which saw participants painting on canvas. They began painting in small groups on several canvases and rotated after a few minutes, leaving their art work behind for the next group to continue the painting. The group then went through a structured reflection process and explored how reflection with children can be facilitated through creative means.

Developing a Qualifications Framework for Social Pedagogy in Higher Education: In her talking circle, 16 members of the SPDN joined Claire Cameron to discuss an evolving plan to debate how social pedagogy is represented in higher education qualifications. The aim is to bring some coherence to the courses that are available so that they are broadly equivalent and develop sector recognition. There was broad agreement that a paper written by Claire and colleagues within the Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy’s (CUSP) Training and Development Group was a good starting point and that this should be circulated for further comment. CUSP is planning to hold an event in the autumn at the Institute of Education to launch the document for course leaders and potential practice placement supervisors. More information will be posted as it becomes available, and anybody interested in more details is welcome to contact Claire.

Social pedagogy and the Munroe review: ThemPra's Alex Priver and Robyn Kemp explored with a group of 20 professionals how Eileen Munroe's review of social work has affected practice and how social pedagogy could support the key recommendations in Prof. Munroe's report.

Developing social pedagogy across the care system: The group joining Andy Carter from ThemPra in his talking circle shared ideas on how social pedagogy could inform the wider care system in ways that would positively enhance children's entire journey through the entire care system. It is well known that more needs to be done to improve care experiences, especially with regards to transitions into care, between placements, and out of care.

Social pedagogy within education: The broad application of social pedagogy became further evident in a spontaneous talking circle set up by participants with an interest and background in education settings. They explored how social pedagogy could be used in schools - ranging from virtual schools to mainstream schools and residential schools.

All of the talking circles were buzzing with thought-provoking conversations, ideas and experiences that seemed to be highly engaging. It was great to get feedback from each group at the end of the day, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has contributed and thus helped us make this another memorable and enriching SPDN event. We look forward to seeing you again in Kirkcaldy on 28 and 29 November, 2013.

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