Social Pedagogy Development Network

What happened at the in-person mini-SPDN events on 8 June, 2023

“It’s not the things that we know, it’s the things that we notice.
And the things that we notice are fleeting”

(Rick Rubin)

Last week, we co-hosted mini-events of the Social Pedagogy Development Network, bringing together around 200 people across 15 locations in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Greece, and Slovakia. A huge THANK-YOU to everyone who participated!

At the events we explored what makes the people we work with intrinsically rich and resourceful and how we can bring the notion of the rich child/young person/adult to life in our practice. Following on from these conversations, we’re getting together online on 19 June to share insights into our discussions and take these one step further: How can we create systems based on a more positive view of human nature? What can we practically do to make this happen within the systems we’re a part of?

Our shared starting point

One of the most foundational tenets of social pedagogy is that every single person is intrinsically rich and resourceful. As human beings we are so much more than the sum of our needs. We can all draw on a huge variety of insights, skills and other qualities. We’re inherently filled with potential and possibilities. And given the right environment, we can further unfold our potential, discover hidden talents and develop new strengths.

This belief in human richness is much more than simple idealism or naivety. It’s a conscious decision to put our attention on helping people thrive – because where our attention goes, the energy flows.

As the first theoretical contribution, we shared this inspiring video with Rutger Bregman talking about humankind and why we have good reason for a more positive view of human nature.

Robyn Kemp from the Social Pedagogy Professional Association followed this up by contextualising how a social pedagogical perspective can help us to bring these ideas to life in practice:

If you’d like to watch the whole hybrid part as it happened, then check out this Zoom recording.

Menti contributions:

We asked all participants across the 15 locations to share key parts of their discussions via Menti. This created 3 beautiful word clouds on 1) one quality that makes us rich, 2) the qualities that make the people we support rich (e.g. school children, young people in care, adults with disabilities, refugees), and 3) how the people we support are viewed by wider society. You can click on the images below to open them.

Art contributions:

Here are a few of the creative contributions from mini-SPDN groups. We’d asked them to fill the outline of a human being with all the qualities that make people rich. Around that, we’d asked them to write down the ways that society views them. In some cases, explorations focussed on a particular group of people, e.g. children in care, people with disabilities, disadvantaged families, refugees, ethnic minorities within the local community, etc. The creative explorations sparked lots of fascinating conversations about how we can help people see the diamond inside themselves and others, how we can apply this very same lens to how we see colleagues and other professionals, and how we can enable wider society to recognise the inner richness of the people we support. Click on the image below to open the photo album.

Want to join us next time?

Please feel welcome to join the Social Pedagogy Development Network’s email list, so that we can keep you up-to-date with future learning events on social pedagogy – all free and for as short or as long as you want.

The Social Pedagogy Development Network is back!

Have you been missing the excitement and networking opportunities of our Social Pedagogy Development Network events in the pre-pandemic past? Then we’ve got exciting news!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working on a plan to return to in-person events very soon. We’re delighted to share this with you below and hope you like it!

Keeping the SPDN free and affordable

As you might be aware, all of the SPDN events in the past have only been possible, because we’ve had brilliant host organisations who have kindly provided the space for us to get together. And as organisers, we’ve been happy to co-ordinate the SPDN, because we know that change happens when people come together to share insight, inspiration and ideas.

Like everyone, we’re acutely aware that we’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. This means we’re determined to keep participation free of charge and were looking for a solution that doesn’t incur huge travel costs for those of you who want to take part. We were also very mindful that it makes it all the harder for any organisation to just find the funds to host an in-person event for 100+ people. So here’s what we thought would work:

Small is beautiful: simultaneous mini-events in different locations

Instead of one large central event, we’re hoping to hold several small events, all happening at the same time and in various locations, all inter-connected via video link and social media. This, we hope, will mean that you’ll be able to join an in-person event near you – or put one on yourself, with our virtual support!

What will happen at the mini-events?

One of the most foundational tenets of social pedagogy is that every single person is intrinsically rich and resourceful. Everbody, no matter their age, has the potential to thrive if we can create enabling conditions. However, many of us work within organisational and societal contexts that restrict these enabling conditions. So how can we bring the notion of the rich child/young person/adult to life in our practice? Exploring responses to this question will be the main focus of an engaging, fun and creative session!

When will it happen?

We’ve not yet decided on a date but plan to do this in June, across 4 or more locations on the same morning (10am-12.30pm). We’re also planning to hold an online-only follow-up session a week or so later to share insights and learning across the events. We’ll set the date together with whoever would be happy to host a mini-event, which is where we need your help!

Help us make it happen!

To realise this idea we’re hoping to find a small number of convenors who will each host an in-person event for 10 to 20 people. Could you be one of them?

All mini-events will follow the same format, which we will co-design together with the convenors, so you’ll know exactly what to do and can bring in any ideas of your own if you want. To connect all different events with each other, we’ll provide an introductory input via Zoom, gather the outputs from each local event and share these at an online-only session shortly after the in-person event.

All registrations will be made centrally, so that these are accessible to anyone in the SPDN and beyond, and will remain free of charge. Local catering arrangements will be at the discretion of each host and could range from everyone bringing their own lunch, or something to share or paying a small catering contribution.

Let us know if you’d like to convene a mini-event

If you’d be happy to be actively involved and have access to a meeting room or any other space that can comfortably accommodate between 10 and 20 people, then please let us know by 24 March at the latest! You can find out more here or just click here to drop us an email.

Courageous Conversations – upcoming online courses in 2023

Join our new course to improve constructive communication that leads to greater connection

The Elephant in the Room

We’ve all been there. Yet another elephant is on the loose and has taken centre stage in the room. Yet again, everybody is trying hard to pretend that it isn’t there. After all, elephants are big and heavy, so pushing it back out of the room isn’t really an option. But what if we could find the courage to address the elephant in the room constructively? Better yet, what if we could have meaningful conversations about difficult issues in ways that improve the relationships between us?

These are the questions at the heart of our new experiential online learning programme, tailored to the particular professional context of social care. We know how challenging it can be to have to deliver difficult messages to the people you support. We also know how beneficial it can be to create the conditions for meaningful dialogue with the people you support, so that you can have a courageous conversation.

Social work requires practitioners to work in challenging situations and sometimes hostile environments. Lord Laming (2003) called for ‘respectful uncertainty’ whereby social workers are able to capture the delicate balance of trust and doubt. Likewise, Cooper (2018) suggests these are often the instances where professionals can lose their heads with anxiety and become very reactive. And Dolezal & Gibson (2022) argue that social workers need to be attuned to the corrosive impact of shame and shame-avoidance, which plays a particularly important role when we have to talk about challenging things. Being self-reflective in how they communicate within these tension fields is therefore a critical skill. Through this learning programme we want to enable you to develop your skillset and experience the benefits of having courageous conversations within your organisation and with the people you support.

Learning Takes Courage

Learning requires a leap of faith into the unknown, the courage to try things out, and the support of people who share the learning journey. We have therefore designed this learning programme to draw on the power of peer learning, combined with insights from communication theory, conflict resolution methods, space for self-reflection and action planning.

Over the course of 6 3hr sessions, we will build a peer learning community in which participants increasingly take on greater responsibility for supporting each other in the ongoing process of applying your learning to your respective practice context. Why is this a powerful way to achieve practice improvement? Because converting learning experiences into meaningful behaviour change relies on three factors:

  • CAPABILITY: Acquiring new skills and insights into relevant communication theory and conflict resolution methods
  • MOTIVATION: Being eager and feeling confident to create positive change, finding your inner courage to address conflicts pro-actively and constructively
  • OPPORTUNITY: Finding ways to apply learning in practice, creating the space for self-reflection within the peer learning community, and identifying further opportunities for leading courageous conversations

We expect participants to commit to taking action in between each session, so that you can practice having more courageous conversations both in your professional and personal life.

Session Content

We explore courageous conversations as the interplay between you and another person, framed by the environment in which this interplay takes place. Importantly, we believe that courageous conversations should be an empowering encounter for everyone involved.

Sessions 1 & 2: Find your courage, face your fears

In the first two sessions, we start off your learning journey with you. By introducing you to a range of communication theories, including non-violent communication, we help you better understand the dynamics at play in communication, how you usually communicate and the implications this might have for leading courageous conversations.

Sessions 3 & 4: Connect with empathy

In the third and fourth session, we shift the focus towards better understanding the other person’s role and how you can help someone else be open to what you wish to convey, provide relational certainty, and empathically listen to truly understand their point of view.

Sessions 5 & 6: Create the conditions for learning together

In the last two sessions, we explore how you can create an environment that enables people to have courageous conversations, for instance through imaginative ways to provide feedback, by framing courageous conversations as learning together and integrating critical reflection processes into existing structures such as supervision, team meetings, review meetings, and appraisals.

Each 3-hr session is designed to connect capability, motivation and opportunity by giving you time to explore an area of your practice that you’re determined to change, plan a micro-intervention – a small thing you’ll do to communicate more constructively – and commit to your peers that you’ll come back the following session having tried this out.

Who We Are

The course is designed and delivered by Ali Gardner, a registered social worker and director of Head, Hearts, Hands in Practice, and Gabriel Eichsteller, a social pedagogue and co-director with ThemPra Social Pedagogy CIC. Our backgrounds are in social work practice, policy, education, training, publishing and international projects in the field of social pedagogy, so we’ve worked with a broad range of people in environments where authentic dialogue and trusting relationships are critical. Ali has harnessed these experiences to create the new Research in Practice for Adults briefing paper on Courageous Conversations. This learning programme builds on this and our other work around relationship-centred practice to help you transfer these insights into your practice.

Course Dates

We’re currently fully booked and working on identifying new course dates. Please check back here soon or leave your contact details below.


The cost per participant is £300 (ex VAT). We offer a 5% discount per place to organisations purchasing 5+ places and a 10% discount per place for 10+ places. Payment can be made either by bank transfer or invoice and must be received at least 14 days prior to the start date.

Register Your Place

To enquire about upcoming courses, please leave your details in the below form:

Professional Standards

Upon completing the learning programme, we will provide you with a certificate over 21 hours of CPD. You can use your applied learning from this course as part of your CPD requirements, including towards the following professional standards:

Post-qualifying standards: Knowledge and Skills Statements:

Person-centred practice | Effective assessment and outcome based support planning | Direct work with individuals and families | Supervision, critical analysis and reflection | Professional ethics and leadership | Values and ethics | Influencing and governing practice excellence within the organisation and community | Developing confident and capable social workers | Assuring good social work practice and development | Relationship-based practice supervision | Effective use of power and authority as a practice supervisor

Care Quality Commission – Key lines of enquiry:

Effective | Caring | Responsive | Well-led

Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Work in England:

Professionalism | Values and ethics | Diversity and equality | Rights, justice and economic well-being | Critical reflection and analysis | Intervention and skills | Professional leadership

Royal College of Occupational Therapists – Professional Standards:

Understanding relationship | Service users | Screen needs | Develop intervention | Evaluate impact | Collaborative | Communication | Support development

Further Questions?

Please get in touch with us via email if you would like to know more about this course or any of our other learning activities.

Rest in Peace Helen Jones

Helen Jones, first Chair of SPPA, in conversation with Janet Grauberg at the SPDN event at West Kent College, 07/04/17

We are deeply saddened to announce the recent untimely passing of Helen Jones OBE, the first Chair of the Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA). Helen was relentless in her search for better education, care and support of our country’s children in and on the edges of care and was a major force behind the development of U.K. social pedagogy. Without Helen social pedagogy here in the UK & Ireland could well have been a ‘passing fad’.

As a senior civil servant with the Department for Health (and its later iterations), she urged the government to fund TCRU research into social pedagogy in the 1990s. From agitating behind the scenes, securing funding and speaking out in public Helen grew a community of academics, social care leaders, educators and practitioners, planting social pedagogy seeds across our five nations and beyond, seeds that have grown into more thoughtful, critically-informed and compassionate services. She used her anger at injustices meted upon people who have a right to better support, protection and care to extraordinary effect, challenging policymakers, writing better policies and collaborating with a wide ranging set of leaders in many fields. In addition, Helen secured funding for a considerable number of other projects at TCRU and in child welfare, and latterly she was instrumental in setting standards for foster care across eastern European countries. These are but a few of her very many achievements – her influence on us as individuals and collectively cannot be understated.

Perhaps Helen’s most precious legacy in terms of social pedagogy is SPPA. She, along with Prof Pat Petrie, Prof Claire Cameron and others, established the charity which was no mean feat! Helen was also a great supporter of the Social Pedagogy Development Network from our first event in 2008, keen to listen to how UK & Irish social pedagogy was developing and engaging in great conversations, asking searching questions, and making unique contributions to the field. Helen encouraged anyone with even a vague interest in social pedagogy to explore further, her enthusiasm was infectious and her encouragement always joyful.

Helen’s death is a great loss to both social work and social pedagogy in the UK and so we will ensure her legacy thrives, especially in these challenging times.
Her funeral will take place Friday 27 January (12 noon) at  Clandonwood – Natural Burial Ground. There will be a live webcast at
Anyone who wishes to make a donation in Helen’s memory can do so via the following Just Giving pages for Médecins Sans Frontières and the Trussell Trust: 
Rest in peace Helen

Robyn Kemp (SPPA Chair), Claire Cameron (SPPA Patron) & Gabriel Eichsteller (SPDN co-ordinator)

International Journal of Social Pedagogy

Call for Papers – special issue on Social Pedagogy and Transgression

Edited by Lotte Harbo (VIA University College Aarhus, Denmark)
and Robyn Kemp (Social Pedagogy Professional Association, UK)

For publication winter 2023/spring 2024

Expressions of interest accepted until: 28 February 2023

Deadline for draft papers: 31 July 2023

The International Journal of Social Pedagogy is inviting authors to link the thoughts of bell hooks and others who transgress or disrupt received ways of thinking, to social pedagogy, social education, and social work in its broadest sense.

The International Journal of Social Pedagogy (IJSP) is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal publishing articles on social pedagogy in the broadest sense This forthcoming special issue is shaped by bell hooks’ understanding of transgression and education through her 1994 book ‘Teaching to Transgress’. bell hooks was an American author, educationalist and social activist who understood transgressive education as the practice of freedom, characterised by an integral experience without dissociation between body, mind and spirit. In this sense, education unites the will to learn with freedom of movement. Here, theory is seen as a possibility to initiate a process of transformation in consciousness, where students and teachers mutually name and expose the oppressive structures that shape their everyday lives. While she speaks to formal educators, her work reaches beyond education and into empowerment practice.

In this special issue our aim is to link bell hooks’ thoughts on transgression to social pedagogy. Social pedagogy can be understood as a science, education and practice that aims to support the empowerment and participation possibilities for children/young people/adults in current and future communities, with an ongoing dialogue and reflection on how the individual and their communities wish their future to be. This has an implicit call for transgressing existing understandings and perceptions of society ‘as it is’, which in turn calls for transgression in social pedagogical practice and thinking.

bell hooks was inspired by Paolo Freire and Thich Nhat Hanh. Freire is known for his work on developing awareness through linking words to the world. He sees life-long learning with a focus on praxis as action and reflection that should not be dissociated from the other. bell hooks links this to Thich Nhat Hanh’s thoughts on interbeing in the sense that we are truly ourselves when we understand all the relationships that link us with others, the material world and all living beings. bell hooks’ work was undertaken in loving kindness, emphasising that all critique should be enlightened by love.

Perhaps the most dominant way we understand the word transgression is as ‘the action of transgressing or passing beyond the bounds of legality or right; a violation of law, duty, or command; disobedience, trespass, sin’ (OED). By this definition we are encouraged or conditioned to not transgress, as breaking rules and laws is bad, but rather it is about a social contract. However, transgressions can also be about how societies develop boundaries, norms and rules that are more meaningful and relevant for the modern age, and so are vital for democracy.

Responses to this call for papers might consider:

  • How can we relate social pedagogy, and its focus on relationships in the everyday, to transgression?
  • How do social pedagogues see theory and practice as offering a critique of oppressing structures?
  • How can educators and practitioners rethink and adjust their professionalism to practice care and solidarity?
  • What is participation, is it by nature transgressive?
  • How can ‘mattering’ work against marginality and discrimination, for example by transgressing negative experiences and creating trust?
  • How can educators transgress the usual systems and structures of education to engage the whole learner?

We suggest a few areas of possible focus above, but the call is open to all manuscripts that address social pedagogy and transgression including research papers, reflective practice papers, book reviews etc.

Submission to this special series:
Early expressions of interest should be sent to the series editors Lotte Harbo and Robyn Kemp by February 28, 2023 in the form of an abstract of 300-500 words, up to six references, and a 50-word biographical statement.  
Successful authors will be invited by March 15, 2023 to submit a full draft for editorial review by July 31, 2023 through the journals online submission system. Please consult the notes for authors on the journal’s webpage at  
For enquiries about your ideas please email the guest editors of this special issue, Lotte Harbo ( and Robyn Kemp (, who will be happy to provide further guidance. IJSP is keen to encourage new and existing writers and as such we can offer support in a variety of ways, e.g. for new writers, or for writers who are less confident about writing in English.