Thanks to all participants, workshop organizers and keynote speakers!

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Last month, the 20th International Gentle Teaching Conference took place in Ghent (Belgium) from 17 till 19 September 2019 !
Thanks to all participants, workshop organizers and keynote speakers, it has been a success, with 250 participants from 13 countries being represented !

Last month (17-19 September 2019), the International Gentle Teaching Conference has been held in Ghent at the Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogical Sciences (Ghent University, Belgium). Since 1999, this international conference has been organized annually to discuss and explore the possibilities and applications of Gentle Teaching. This year, care service ‘Den Dries’ organized the conference, in close cooperation with Ghent University (Department of Special Needs Education) and Ghent University College. ‘Den Dries’ is working already for more than 25 years from the Gentle Teaching approach, which makes them a pioneer in Belgium.

The central theme of this year’s conference was ‘the relationship in support and care’, since questions as ‘what does this person need to feel safe in life?’ and ‘how can I get this person to feeling safe and being loved?’ (as cited by Tim Jones) are fundamental in the Gentle teaching approach. Forty-five interactive workshops have been organized during these 3 days, wherein researchers and  practitioners from all over the world, shared their knowledge and expertise on working with clients in vulnerable situations, and how they – in all circumstances – continuously strive for connection in the relationship. By means of the Guidebook-app, participants could follow the conference agenda via their smartphones.

Alongside these inspirational workshops, academic lectures were provided by highly regarded keynote speakers. On day 1, Tim Jones (Gentle Teaching International) and the Gentle Teaching Committee opened the conference with a welcome speech. Prof. Claudia Claes (Ghent University College) continued with a lecture on the importance of thinking about human functioning in terms of Quality of Life and the need for Quality of Life to be regarded as an integrative framework, bearing in mind the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Prof. dr. Paul Verhaeghe closed the first day of the conference with a keynote on the contemporary need of Gentle Teaching, induced from a historical and moral perspective in which he critically re-examined the foundations of contemporary treatment techniques (from early psychoanalysis to cognitive behavior therapy) and the difficulty of balancing between permissiveness and authority in caregiving environments and human relationships. He critically underlined the awareness that our moral practice will always be embedded in moral choices and obligations, whilst guarding against the fact that becoming ‘truly scientific’ implies endorsement and denial of the moral implications of its practice – with the DSM as a contemporary example –, ending up with the idea of ‘the illusion of scientific psychiatry’ and hence the need for recognizing our own ethical and practical questions.

On day 2, Michael Vincent (GTI) entirely immersed us into the genuine basic foundations of Gentle Teaching, as conceived by the Gentle Teaching founder John McGee (°1943-†2012). By referring to the four central pillars in Gentle Teaching (‘safe’, ‘loved’, ‘loving’ and ‘engaged’), he clarified how we inspire the person we support and how we inspire each other, and why the central purpose of our presence in each other’s lives is to create, nurture and sustain the experience of connectedness, companionship and community. Michael Vincent underlined the importance of seeing the difference between how we communicate ‘with’ a person (meaning of connectedness (e.g. handshake, warm look in your eyes, …)) and how we communicate ‘to’ a person – for example – acknowledging the goodness of the heart of a person, that he or she is genuinely loved, valued, accepted, respected, etc. Several meaningful quotations have been elucidated during this lecture, mirroring the contemporary applicability of the approach. He ended up with one to lifelong remember during our journeys: ‘I give you this so that you will keep me in your heart forever’. In the afternoon, the lecture of Michael Vincent was alternated by a broadening perspective on Gentle Teaching, provided by Prof. dr. Rudi Roose (Ghent University). At the one hand, he referred to the macro and political level to be taken into account, vividly questioning and reconnecting power, systems and relationships, and on the other hand the challenge for caregivers to stay engaged in highly complex situations. This lecture stimulated the debate on the challenges, but also on the potential of Gentle Teaching and its further international embedding, a topic largely discussed during the events that were organized in the evening. After this second day, all participants were invited at the reception at the City Hall of Ghent. Afterwards, the social dinner took place at the Belfort City Restaurant where some delicious Belgian traditional dishes were served.

Taking Paulo Freire’s ideas as a starting point, Prof. dr. Geert Van Hove introduced the final conference lecture on day 3 with a thorough perspective on the dangerousness of a neo-liberal interpretation of the concept of ‘empowerment’. The lecture warned us for this kind of interpretation of ‘empowerment’, with a risk of leading to ‘control and managementarism’, ‘measurement thinking’, ‘procedures’, and ‘absolute autonomy’. This interpretation can have damaging effects on the relationship and the people we work with, indicating the responsibility for all of us, as companions, to work together as an essential ingredient to change the context and our world we live in. Geert Van Hove stipulated the need to always reread and rethink Gentle Teaching as an empowering strategy. After this inspiring lecture, the conference had been closed by Tim Jones (GTI) and others. At the end, all participants could go home with a picnic bag, filled with amongst others some Belgian chocolate, and enjoy a ‘Gents stropke’, a traditional Belgian beer.

We would like to thank everyone who participated in the conference and are looking forward already to the GTI-conference in 2020, which will take place in Michigan (USA)!

Presentations can be downloaded via this page.

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