This is a guest post, written by Graham Cooper

Interview with Graham Cooper – SHINE

What inspired me at school?

Graham Cooper, Head of Product Strategy at Capita SIMS and former deputy head, reflects on his teaching days, when he witnessed the inspirational turnaround of a young student.

I’ve decided not to tell a story from my school days but from my teaching days. It’s a story that’s stuck with me after all my years of teaching and I’m sure many other teachers out there will have had similar experiences.

Back when I was a deputy head at a girl’s school in Manchester, a student joined the school who had been permanently excluded from another school.  She was new into school having come from a very troubled background.

As deputy head, I used to carry out the inductions for the new students – sitting them down, putting them into a class and buddying them up with somebody. I have to admit that on first impression I didn’t think she would last long at the school. Within a couple of months I was unfortunately proved right – I excluded the student for bad behaviour and rudeness to teachers. But we didn’t want to give up hope. With everything that was going on in her life we wanted to provide her with stability and support. We decided to put in some support strategies around her – she had a classroom assistant and we gave her counselling around anger management. Another student in year 8 also took the student under her wing and they became good friends.

Gradually, over the course of the year and into year 9, her behaviour began to improve. She became an integral part to the school’s peer mentoring and bullying support scheme. Her school work also improved, she started learning to play the piano and took part in the school talent show alongside another student.

By the end of Year 11 she was voted student of the year by her fellow students and left with a string of good GCSE grades – she became a model student. It was a miraculous turn around and due to the hard work of a number of staff that supported her and of her own belief that helped her make more of herself than anyone ever expected.

There’s a point about this – while teaching is hard and stressful, in no other job in the world do you get anything close to the level of job satisfaction that you can get out of teaching when something like that happens. We all remember the moment in Channel 4 TV series Educating Yorkshire, where student Musharaf overcame his stammer and started talking almost fluently in front of his English teacher. It was a truly inspiring moment not just for the millions of viewers but for that teacher, knowing he had truly made a difference to that child’s life.

Most teachers rarely get the chance to reflect on what they do. When good teachers move from one school to another and students say ‘I’m really sad that you’re going’, those teachers can really tell that they’ve made a difference to those children’s lives. But it’s probably something that most teachers don’t often stop to think about.

There are times in a teacher’s career (and I don’t think they’re that rare), where something happens that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else. I certainly believe the Let Teachers SHINE projects will help to deliver even more of those moments.


The Let Teachers SHINE competition provides an opportunity for inspirational teachers to use their ideas to improve outcomes for children. You can submit your idea today for the chance to win up to a £15k grant