Education Provider Voice 10

Julia Black – Founder of an Online Creative Learning Space

Julia Black is an Education Changemaker who helps parents empower their children to be highly motivated, independent, passion-led learners so they can succeed in life.

Her daughter, age just 7 years old began to feel dispirited at school, describing her learning as fenced in, and she started experiencing anxiety and not wanting to go to school, as a result. Julia realised she had a serious problem to solve. She says, like any mum who sees her child’s lights go out, she knew something had to change. So she put her successful filmmaking career aside and embarked upon a 12 year adventure exploring the most cutting-edge educational practices, neuroscientific developments and mental wellbeing research.

As a result, she founded and opened up a creative learning centre working with 100s of children over a 3 years period. She created the transformational education framework, Lights On® and now is entirely online, with her Lights On® Academy, for families around the world to learn how to get their children engaging with passion-led, purpose-driven learning.

What is the Lights On® approach to education?

We take a real-world approach to education where we bring the child’s natural born talents to the forefront of their learning. We have an ‘inside out’ ethos to learning and believe there are 3 keys to successful mastery:

  1. Passion 
  2. Mindset
  3. Time

If we focus in on the strengths and passions of a child then we can get them learning through self-leadership so they acquire necessary knowledge and skills at the exact point they need it. As their learning is passion-led it becomes more purposeful and they start creating unique tangible outcomes. So it is not what they know, but what they can do with this that becomes the focus. 

As learners get onto their own unique success pathway, they begin to develop their truest capabilities and build up a portfolio of skills, relevant knowledge and tangible outcomes. Our approach works in alignment with how our brains are wired, and is very much focused on building up empowering beliefs where anything becomes possible for any individual learner.  

How does the Lights On® Academy online learning space work?

The Lights On® Academy is an online worldwide academy for families who want to align their cultural values with their children’s education. It works alongside school or home education. We have 2 main spaces: 

  1. The portal: this is where parents/carers/grandparents and educators go to find all the resources they need to create a cultural shift in their home or learning centre using our Lights On® framework. We have 3 main elements of the framework: Locate the Switch, Get Wired for Learning, Switch your Lights On®.  All Lights On® learning is done through Creative Learning Adventures that the parents can co-create with their children.
  2. The Community: This is a private Facebook page where members of our academy go to share their wins, ask questions about the framework and receive coaching from our incredible team of Sparkies (Lights On® parents who have made that cultural shift in their homes to learning in this way). I also hold monthly live Q&A’s to share my in depth knowledge about how to get children learning at an exponential level. We also have regular challenges and collaborative projects. It is a very interactive, inspiring space! 

The academy is an initial annual membership with the option of a monthly subscription at the end of the 12 months. 

We also offer a DIY toolkit where parents and educators learn how to create a happy, calm, learning environment that empowers your family towards life-long, passion-led learning. This is offered in a self-study online training portal with 4 modules of micro-learning content taken from our framework.

We welcome educators into our academy and we are currently working with a head teacher and two teachers to integrate standard curriculum topics with passion-led, Lights On® learning through our Lights On® Maths and English membership. 

We are also looking for governors or parents involved in their schools’ PTAs to bring the Lights On® approach to their schools!

What were the motivations in setting up the Lights On® education framework?

I began my journey into education when my daughter, age 4, started school. I realised school wasn’t ever going to be enough on its own, so I began to flex the system to work for her and my son. This included flexi-schooling (in school for 4 days and learning at home for 1 day per week) to home schooling for a while, to my daughter dropping 5 subjects in year 9 to focus in on what she wanted to do.

When she was age 9, we reached a crisis point in her mental health and I took her out of school. I had been heavily involved in learning everything I could before then about education, as a governor, Chair of the PTA (winning the NCPTA Gold Star Reward for ‘Changing the life of the school’) and as a Project Manager for a Creative Partnerships project with 5 Somerset schools.

When I took my daughter out of school, I opened up a Creative Learning Centre in the old school building in my village. I began to deliver my vision for education to children who were home educated, flexi-schooled, or in full time school. We set up the space for different interests such as crafts, engineering, tech etc and allowed children to get creative, doing things they loved through projects. We set them creative briefs and they all worked together to achieve an end vision doing things they enjoyed (using their ‘switches’). Very early on schools approached us to send us children who they struggled to engage or extend. So we had the high achievers or those who were not achieving the academic grades. 

We worked with over 15 schools and were invited to open up a centre on site at a secondary school. That year I understood the scale of the learning crisis on a much deeper level. I closed down my physical centres and went entirely online to help more parents use Lights On® to make the transformations within their homes. 

Why are you interested in progressive education?

I believe every child has the right to learn in their own unique way. I have seen first hand that is not the case in many educational settings or homes around the world. But more importantly when I had my own centre, I also saw that it wasn’t just about the external environment but actually what was more important was the internal learning environment. Meaning it is critical that children and young people understand what learning means to them and fully take ownership. Who is it they wish to be as learners, and how do they show up to achieve their vision? So the process becomes the tool to growth. This is where mindset comes really strongly into the mix.  

Change that, and then any child can show up as their true authentic self in any setting. Without that, no matter what changes we make to the ‘system’ or the provision of education, it may never help a child flourish. We see this by so many parents changing school after school, and eventually home educating, and they still struggle to get their child engaging. Once a child has lost that connection to learning then our whole focus needs to be on reconnecting them. From there anything once again becomes possible. 

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current school system?

I think we are looking at education in the wrong way and see mental health and learning as separate issues. They are not. If a child’s lights are off,  then they simply cannot learn. 

Some signs your child’s lights are off are:

  • They are bored and unmotivated to learn. 
  • They may say things like “I’m stupid” or “my brain doesn’t work”. 
  • Their behaviour has changed, they may be angry and lash out or they may be withdrawn.
  • They are no longer interested in their old passions.
  • They get upset when the slightest thing goes wrong.
  • They don’t want to try anything hard.

Our focus should be on the individual’s mental health, placing that right at the forefront of the educational strategy so that children can take ownership over their learning. The biggest challenge to this is that far too many children, young people, and teachers are showing up in our schools totally disconnected to what learning actually means. A teacher who has a class of 30, where perhaps 50% or more of them are switched off, faces an almost impossible task. If we place the emphasis on making sure every child is able to take ownership of their learning then I believe schools would be able to evolve into completely different learning environments. 

What are state schools doing well?

There are some incredible state schools that are truly pioneering and innovative in their approach, so it is important to recognise that even with all the limitations placed on them, innovation can push through. 

In my own experience as a parent, my daughter’s state school let her totally flex her school day in Year 9. She dropped 5 subjects to be able to focus in on what she wanted to do – write. The trust and respect they offered her allowed her to show them what can happen when students are given independence, and it has helped them innovate for more students as a result. They have since set up an i-college, which my son now benefits from, where students who have shown they can study independently get more freedom to learn English and Maths. 

My daughter came out at age 9 and then chose to go back in to school age 11, in Year 7. Then in Year 9 when her lights started going out again, she stayed in school but flexed it to work for her. 

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

I would make sure that we make legislative and policy changes to ensure every child has a right to learn in their own unique way. 

I would bring mental health right up to the top of the agenda. A simple question like ‘How many of our students have their lights on or off?’ would totally change the lens through which they would look. This would focus accountability where it should be, on how many children in a school are leading their learning adventure and not just going through the paces. 

I would take exams away and replace them with more authentic assessment, such as portfolios of skills, knowledge and creative tangible outcomes. I would also most likely take away the curriculum and empower children to design their own educational landscape.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

When you can empower a child to learn through their passions, interests or natural born talents, then everything shifts for that learner. Equally as important, it also changes how a coach, teacher, facilitator, or parent can show up for them too. So I believe the number one priority where our focus should be is to start with making sure a child has full ownership over their learning. Then we can help them to find their ‘switch’, the way they choose to express themselves when creating tangible outcomes, so they can really immerse themselves in autographing their work with excellence. Every child is capable of achieving amazing things, and it is time our education system reflected that and empowered every child to learn to their highest potential.

Follow Julia Black and the Lights On® Academy

Instagram: @thelightsonmum and @lightsonfamilies

Facebook: @thelightsonmum and @lightsonfamilies