The story began in January 2002 when a group of educationists gathered in London to explore the possibility of a fresh approach to education, one which could create a climate for learning in our schools and classrooms, restore a joy in learning and release the inherent creativity of our children and young people. We were inspired by the recently published, ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ and united by a common concern that that in so many ways, even after unprecedented levels of funding, conventional approaches to education were not serving the needs of children. As head teachers, teachers, academics and parents, we could see children disengaging from learning as they moved through the education system. We recognized that our children hold the keys to a future that we could only begin to imagine and so we asked ourselves, how we as their teachers could equip them to love learning and live their lives as a creative adventure…
The starting point for the exploration was to look at schools, classrooms and families as living systems and to recognize that we needed to look beyond improving literacy and numeracy skills, to catch a glimpse of the whole child. The exploration ignited a spark. By that summer the nowherefoundation had received funding from the River Rock Foundation in Maine USA, to set up an innovation and research project in partnership with three primary schools, a secondary school and the University of London’s Institute of Education. The project was called, ‘The Schools We Need’. Led by a team of educationists and catalysts with external researchers from the Institute of Education its focus was on finding better ways to support leaders in schools. It ran for 17 months and its impact on the levels of performance of the participants and the depth and breadth of ideas that began to emerge from them exceeded all expectations.
Over the next ten years, with two vital sources of funding: the UK Government’s Department of Education and the nowheregroup, individuals and groups in England have continued to explore the nature of schools and families as interrelated living systems. In addition to the initial leadership focus, we expanded our enquiry into a number of areas of school culture, developing specific aspects of the curriculum, resourcing vulnerable children, supporting behaviour change as well as enhancing parenting skills in the home. At the core of each project was a co-creative methodology that encouraged all involved (teachers, leaders, parents, and researchers) to collect data, make sense of what has happened and be innovative. Participants described how this felt, ‘I can feel the buzz, I can see the whole picture – how this can benefit children and their parents’.
As the work expanded, the foundation began to receive requests to take ecl practice to other regions of the world. In South Africa and Namibia it took root when Jane James led an Enhancing children’s Learning workshop in Soweto, ‘Every single person in this workshop was touched and inspired by the personal shifts they experienced. It touched their souls and opened the possibility for enhanced relationships with both colleagues and the children they teach’. Central to the systemic approach was an inquiry into: ‘How can we restore balance and harmony in the class?’ The results in schools, amongst both student and staff groups were remarkable. The systemic perspectives we were working with in England and now in South Africa seemed to offer simple solutions to problematic issues of behaviour and classroom disharmony. We developed tools and exercises based on a view of people as social beings using Hellinger’s notion of ‘conscience’ groups and ‘ordering forces’ as well as Bowlby’s theory of ‘attachment’. By doing so groups could develop a greater sense of belonging and bonding, which led to a mutual responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. They also developed qualities of respect, concentration and engagement with learning, and importantly strengthened the partnership between home and school life. The workshops in the UK and Africa enabled teachers and social workers to experience these phenomena for themselves before taking them into their own settings and workplaces.
This co-creative approach has led to the development of a wide range of creative frameworks, insight papers and videos, learning aids and tools (see our impact). Each designed to enhance the practice of parents, teachers, leaders and policy makers as they strive to find fresh answers to the questions that challenge them about supporting our children and young people to shape their futures.
The foundation is now beginning to extend its reach across the globe with educationists in England, South Africa, the Netherlands and Namibia co-creating a growing library of insights and resources. Knowing there is no one right answer, we are tapping into the rich diversity of people in their different contexts with their different approaches and insights. In short we are developing ways to share and release enormous creativity. ecl is still in its infancy, we make no claims to have all of the answers – but we have an approach to working with creative and learning processes that opens up the possibility to transform how we develop and care for the next generation. We do claim a greater understanding of what needs to be attended to, three essential elements of educational practice – emotional wellbeing, creativity and learning. So essential are these that we base our name on them – the ecl foundation.
As we begin this process we would like to turn around and acknowledge the holding and encouragement of our founding company the nowheregroup. It is because of them that the charity begins in such a spirit of generosity, with a strong foundation of theory and practice that we can freely provide. Welcome to ecl, we hope you find what you need – and see it as the beginning of a creative adventure.