Laura Cooper

Putting ‘heart’ into the ‘heart’ of the education system

December 22, 2022

‘The education system should be an enabler of happiness’

My name is Laura Cooper, I have a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and a workshop facilitator for Tales to Inspire. My life’s mission is to put ‘heart’ into the ‘heart’ of the education system.

My journey started in Bury, where I grew up. I was lucky enough to have a big loving family. I remember having lots of cousins, aunties and uncles just around the corner, we were close, and had lots of fun together. My mum and dad did the best by us and we never wanted for anything.

My parents are also into mountaineering, so as a child I took the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands as my second home. We were always off in the mountains, it was a real privilege to have such a lovely childhood.

As a child I was quite shy, I loved reading and creating my own imaginary world through this. My mum was a teacher, so on occasion I was able to go into her school and read stories to the children. I found so much joy in working with the children that I thought I might like to be a teacher when I grew up.

I went to The University of Leeds and studied History. When I graduated I still wanted to follow in my mum’s footsteps and go into teaching, but I spoke to one of my aunts and she discouraged me. She didn’t want me to go into teaching, at least not straight away, she wanted me to get some life experience first. My aunt told me that teaching was so much hard work for which you are not valued, something which I would come to learn later in life .  

So I held off, and worked selling plastics, pharmaceuticals and drainpipes in Derbyshire. I then applied to do a Masters in Humanitarian Aid at a university in London. But living in London wasn’t for me, I quit the Masters, came back to Manchester, and started volunteering at the Red Cross in the fundraising department.

I loved it! One day we would be shaking buckets in Sainsburys, the next running the London Marathon fundraising event or jumping out of planes.

I moved back down to London again and ran their national fundraising week, it was great I was getting to do what I loved whilst getting paid for it. I also got the opportunity to work for the Red Cross in New Zealand which was the best time of my life.

I had come back from New Zealand and wasn’t sure where to go from there. I then met an incredible volunteer at the Red Cross, she never seemed to be phased by the stresses of life. I asked her why she was always so collected and she replied, “I am a Nichiren Buddhist”. She invited me to a discussion meeting and I never looked back. It helped me better understand who I was and my mission in life. I didn’t realise at the time, but upon reflection it was a real turning point for me, after a few weeks of chanting I was back on the right path.

I see my life in two parts; pre-chanting, and post-chanting. Before chanting I had amazing opportunities but this was always met with equal amounts of self-doubt and feeling as though I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have the awareness to understand what was going on.  Life felt so hard and I would constantly think that other people were better than I was. For me self-esteem has been a major issue all my life but the more I speak to others about It the more I learn that I am not alone. When I started to chant, I learnt that everything does happen for a reason, there is mission even in the hardest of times.

I still wanted to be a teacher, so I applied to teach first and got on to their grad scheme, we had six weeks learning and then I was placed straight into a school in Blackpool. It was really challenging, one of my colleagues likened it to learning to fly a plane whilst flying the plane, and she was right.

In some ways it was the making of me, it gave me huge direction. but to be honest I cried a lot; in the cupboard at lunch time, in the toilet at break, I even cried in the classroom with my back to the children.

I ended up getting a full time contract at the school but ultimately teaching under the current structure was against my nature. I felt as though the children needed so much more support than what I could give them, and what I was told to give them.

My teaching career ended when I collapsed at work, I was in complete burn out.

At the time I had applied to do a Masters in Educational Leadership at Soka university in America. It was perfect timing, I recovered and went to America for university with a wealth of knowledge of what it was actually like to be a teacher.

Doing the Masters I learnt that social and emotional learning need to come first and foremost to facilitate better academic learning. Social and emotional learning teaches children to better understand themselves as human beings. Understanding and attributing emotions to a label and a bodily feeling helps us overcome challenges without creating more challenges for ourselves.

I lived near Los Angeles, there were blue skies, beaches, amazing friends and amazing resources. Then the COVID-19 epidemic hit, the university closed and I was sent back to the UK to complete the second year of my masters at home. I actually graduated whilst on holiday at centre parcs!

I saw that what we really needed in the UK education system was a push for social and emotional learning, I wanted to put what I had learnt into practice, I wanted to take action. I got in touch with Krish, we put our heads together and formulated a plan to recognize this real need for change in the education system.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to work with Tales to Inspire in schools in the North-West, delivering wellbeing workshops to children who have responded so beautifully. Every time I deliver a session I feel as though I’ve learnt so much from the children.  

Now, I feel like the luckiest person in the world, I have all these ideas and through my work I get to live them out; I can experiment, share my lived experience, and enhance my work.  I’m always learning and what’s more, the learning is led from my heart which is a world away from the classic teaching structure. I am excited and looking forward to learning more in the future. 

This blog was written by Millie Davies based on the interview with Tales to Inspire. 


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