AN INTERVIEW WITH FOLU AKINDOYIN, DICKIE SMITH, JAKE MOORES, BOLU AKINOSIN AND DAN AND JO WATSON FROM THE EDUCATION COLLECTIVE.
Folu Akindoyin has worked with children’s services for over four years and is now a principal social worker for an adoption agency. Folu works with some of the most vulnerable children within the care system, helping to make the adoption process as seamless as possible for both the child and family involved.
Dickie Smith is an assistant headteacher at Thames Christian School in London where he oversees the pastoral care and safeguarding of the students. He is a passionate advocate for teenagers struggling with their mental and emotional health and is a champion of all adults working in schools, recognising them as inspirational pillars of their communities.
Jake Moores oversees the Schools Project initiative at Hillsong London; holding regular assemblies within UK schools, developing ‘crews’ within the youth network and organising biannual school tours with guest speakers such as Reggie Dabbs.
Bolu Akinosin is part of Hillsong Youth and is just starting at university. He’s part of the Young Guns programme and serves on the Wildlife Connections team, helping to get youth connected into crews in their church community.
Dan Watson heads up YXYA, our Youth and Young Adults department at Hillsong, where he looks after everything from local groups and gatherings to larger events such as Young Leaders’ Lab, Encounter, Y&F Conference and Summer Camps. With a passion to change the narrative of young people’s lives, Dan also works with the Mayor of London and the Met Police to help tackle youth violence in the UK.
Jo Watson leads Hillsong YXYA alongside her husband Dan, whilst also working as Head of Operations for DIvInc – a London-based company partnering with schools to help to inspire, equip and fund under-estimated young people in business start-ups.
Education Collective is a gathering for anyone working in Education with a passion to see young people rise up, step into their potential and positively shape society. In what ways is EC influencing the education sector?
Dickie— When Reggie Dabbs was over he put so much value on the educators in the room, which is something that’s really lacking in the industry at the moment. Teaching has such a key role in society and to have a space where educators are reminded of how valuable they are in these young people’s lives is so important. It also gives them the space to breathe a bit; as a teacher you’re constantly under a lot of pressure, with so much expectation on you to achieve certain things in the classroom and in exam results. The Collective creates an opportunity for teachers to understand each other, share some of the struggles they might be going through and ultimately realise that they’re not alone.
What would you say is the best thing to have been birthed out of the Collective? Can you share any inspiring stories with us?
Dickie— One of the teachers at my school brought her husband along to one of our Collective nights recently. He works in a people’s referral unit with kids who have often been excluded or are in the Young Offenders Institution. After 10 years he was at the point where he couldn’t take it any longer and was ready to quit. His wife dragged him along when Reggie was here and after spending just one evening there with us, he said at the end of the night ‘I’ve got 10 more years in me now’. For him, it was exactly what he needed to reignite that passion for his work.
For many young people today school can feel like anything but a safe place. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges faced by young people in education?
Jo— I think some of the biggest challenges are around identity. As a teenager, you’re trying to figure out who you are and there’s a battle between who you want to be vs. where you think you need to be. In today’s society the accessibility to the internet and social Media can be incredible but can also put the pressure on how to look, speak and act a certain way. I think this pressure has a knock on effect of bullying, and mental health issues that stem from those questions about identity.
Bolu— For me, the biggest challenge is probably staying true to myself. At school you’re put in an environment where everyone is doing whatever they want. You don’t want to stick out and be known as an odd person for doing the right thing or refusing to join in with certain things, but you have to realise that you’re living by what God says you are, rather than what your friends or other people think you are. Sticking to that principle is probably one of the hardest things to do.
Folu— One of the most difficult things that teachers face is that they are teaching kids today about jobs that may not even exist once they’ve grown up and finished their GCSEs. The world’s changing so much and it’s hard to teach children not just academically, but about life skills and creative skills too.
In the UK, concerns over knife crime and violence in schools are ever-growing, with statistics suggesting that half of all offenders in London are teenagers or younger. How can we best educate young people and raise awareness of the dangers of knife crime and violence in schools?
Dan— We talk about knife crime a lot and I actually don’t think that more education about the topic itself is what young people need. They are already experiencing it. What I do believe is that we need more opportunities for young people to focus their attention on. Gang crime is getting so much publicity in and around London, but I think if we were able to make something else the new ‘hype’ it would help to bring the ‘glamour’ of knife crime down. If we were also able to create an environment in schools where everyone takes responsibility for young people and their safety, we could start to see a change in society.
Folu— For more vulnerable children who are struggling with issues in their home life, school can be one of the only safe places they have. It can make such a difference when teachers to go the extra mile and are inquisitive about a child’s home life as well as their academic life. We’re there to teach them but also to care for them and see them as a human being, not just a statistic.
Why do you think that youth crime is arguably a more pressing issue now more than ever before?
Dan— Numbers have risen a bit in recent years but not as drastically as everyone might think. I think we just hear about it a lot more. The instant social media coverage means everything is more accessible, which is also contributing to the rise. Young people see it and think ‘If they’re carrying a knife then I should carry a knife.’ You even have adults actually encouraging their kids to carry a knife to keep them safe. It’s a vicious cycle.
How does the Education Collective utilise faith as a catalyst to create social and cultural change?
Jake— For a lot of teachers, we don’t always have the answers to the issues young people are facing. However we know that God has placed us there and has put these young people in front of us, so we’ve got to have faith that we’re here for a reason and that we can have an impact on the young people. I think bringing believers together that work in this field to strengthen one another will have a huge impact on how they go out into the schools and that over time this will positively shape the generations to come.
The Schools Project was established following the London Riots in 2011. We’d love to hear more about the team and what everyone gets up to as part of the project.
Jake— The London riots reflected the hopelessness amongst young people in London that we’re still seeing now and so the main message of our Schools Project is Hope and Love. We don’t always get to speak about the Bible, church, faith or Christianity on our Schools Tours but it’s these two topics, Hope and Love, which connect with every young person regardless of their background. We always have such incredible stories that come out of each session. Alongside putting on these talks we also try to build relationships with the young people. We don’t want to do one session and leave, we want to invest in them long term. The assembly is an introduction to hope, but we know that they can find true hope in Jesus.
The whole objective of the Schools Project is to deliver a message of Hope, something inspiring. What are some of the key truths and values that we should be instilling in young people today?
Dickie— As a group of believers who are educators, I think one of the main things we need to start instilling in young people and youth is not to be so concerned with losing or gaining a position of honour but rather how to honour those around you. We also need to show young people that their character is more important than their grades. Schools are under a huge amount of pressure to get up the league table, but if we can place value on developing young people’s character first, the natural result is that they will achieve more in the classroom, and whatever level that looks like for that particular child is okay.
What would you say some of the biggest challenges of working in Youth and Education?
Dan— In schools, youth ministry and social work you are under a huge amount of pressure to perform and we want to help alleviate those pressures. One of the great things about Education Collective is that it’s a community that’s not based on where are we on the league table or our results. Each of us got into the industry in the first place because we care about young people and so it’s all about that and how we can have a greater impact in our workplaces.
As a Teacher, a Youth Leader or a Social Worker, you have an unparalleled opportunity to inspire and influence the next generation. Can you recall any memorable lessons or values that you learned when you were in school?
Folu— I remember struggling with my History essays during my GCSEs even though I loved the subject. I was so surprised when I actually did well in my exam but I remember my teacher said “I know you did. Always be passionate and always believe in yourself.” Her belief in me was so inspiring, it’s a conversation I remember even 20 years later.
Bolu— I had a Biology teacher who found out that I was a Christian and made it her mission to support me. On results day she gave me a card of saying ‘If Plan A doesn’t work there is always plan B. Plan C and D. And it doesn’t matter how you get there, you get there in the end.” I put it up on the wall of my bedroom. Just having one teacher that believed in me helped me believe in myself.
If you guys could give one piece of advice to teachers everywhere, what would it be?
Jake— Don’t quit. So often you can feel like you are not getting through and that you don’t have any impact on their lives, but it’s not always what you say. Just the fact that you’re there for them and not giving up on them can have a greater impact than you realise in the years to come.
Dickie— One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was training as a teacher was to ‘be present’. As a teacher it’s easy to just teach your lesson and the sit in the staff room for the rest of the day, but getting out there and talking to the kids is actually really rewarding. The kids really appreciate it and you’ll find they’re actually quite fun to work with, especially the really naughty ones, there’s something about them!
Dan— For me it’d be remembering that you actually can change a young person’s life by pointing them to a better future than the one they can see for themselves. One kind word in the corridor to a kid that’s really been through it, could literally change their narrative. Not just for that day but permanently.
Dan, yourself and Jo are committed to changing the narrative of youth in society and have recently been in conversation with the BBC, MET Police and the Mayor of London. We’d love to hear more about this?
Dan— It’s all stemmed from the health of our youth ministry. Last year I got an email from the Mayor’s office inviting me to join an advisory board for youth issues in London. I’ve been doing that for the last year and we’ve had the incredible opportunity to speak into some of the new policies and schemes that are launching, such as the new Violent Reduction Unit helping to tackle knife crime. The Metropolitan Police also came and saw our Schools Project assemblies and as a result we’re now officially endorsed, giving us access to almost every school in the country. From there we’ve even been able to do BBC interviews talking about youth issues and the part our church is playing in helping young people. It’s been wild! These doors and opportunities keep opening up to us.
Jo— With faith organisations in schools the door often is very tightly shut. So it is a miracle. Only God could open doors like that.
In what ways do you hope to see the Collective evolve in the future?
Dan— The Education Collection is quite new so I’m excited about more people coming and get involved in building this community. It’s not just for teachers but for anybody who works with young people.
Dickie— I’m excited to see teachers become inspired about what they do. I think for some teachers, they’ve forgotten that they didn’t get into this industry because they are passionate about standing in a room with a Powerpoint behind them, they’re passionate about the young people in front of them.
Jake— It’s true. I’m not necessarily passionate about school, but I’m passionate about young people and that’s where they are. So that’s where we go. It’s not about changing the Education system. It’s about changing the narrative for young people in Education.
And finally, is there any encouragement that you’d give to anyone who’s thinking about joining the Collective?
Jo— The Collective has the potential to reignite that passion within people for what they do. Don’t hold back, you don’t need a membership. Just turn up.