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  • Writer's pictureAction Hero Teacher

The Hidden Lesson in Sir Mo Farah's Story That Will Make You A More Amazing Teacher

Mo Farah kissing a gold medal
Sir Mo - Britain's Greatest Track Athlete

I bet you have heard of Sir Mo Farah, but have you ever heard of Alan Watkinson?

Probably not.

But without him, we probably wouldn't have one of our greatest athletes. & the 'MoBot...'

This week's blogpost kicks off a 3 part series where we look at how to inspire our students & become a positive force in their lives - despite the devastation of COVID19 pandemic.

My aim is to make you the superhero of your classroom. And the best superheroes make people want to follow them. I want you not to manage your students but lead them.

In this post, we will take a dive into Sir Mo's story & what Alan Watkinson did to change his life - so that you can do the same with your students.

Once Upon A Time at Feltham Community College...

In the mid-nineties, Alan Watkinson was a dedicated PE teacher at Feltham Community College, West London, who was trying to persuade the energetic 13-year-old Mo Farah to take up running full time rather than take up his dream of playing professional football.

Alan in an interview stated “He was football mad — but he was never going to make it as a footballer and I had to point it out to him. He’s a big Arsenal supporter and used to play as a right-back but couldn’t make the school team1.”

But Alan saw something special in him and decided to keep an eye on the lad.

Mo was a very gifted runner but he didn’t have it easy. Mo was eight years old when he left Somalia after the country descended a deadly civil war to the hustle and bustle of London, England.

Although his father was a long term resident in the UK, Mohammad struggled to adjust to this strange new environment. Because he was different, he found himself getting into fights and in trouble at the school. Things weren’t looking up for youngster.

Alan met him three years later when he attended Feltham Community College and despite his tough exterior, saw that he had a strong will & was a gifted athlete, so he started to invest heavily in him.

Over the years, Alan became a mentor helping him to hone his running skills, driving him to competitions and even helping him to get travel visas so that he could attend elite training camps abroad.

Alan regularly told Mo what he could be, painting a great future for him and with each race, he started to believe it too.

Alan stated, “I took him aside and told him that if he stuck at running, he could one day compete for Britain. It isn't the sort of thing you say to a kid lightly — it can create unrealistic expectations. But I'm very glad to have been proved right. I'm incredibly proud of him2.”

The Journey To The Top

Mo started climbing the middle distance running rankings, taking trophy after trophy with Alan right by his side and almost twenty years later, Mohammad did became the Olympic Champion and went on to do it many times more.

Sir Mo is double 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion and World Champion over the 5000m and 10,000m distances and Britain’s most successful track athlete ever.

He is a six-time world champion in a run that saw him not beaten in a major final for six years & he is the first British man to ever win the Chicago Marathon.

Alan Watkinson surrounded by school children doing the MoBot
Alan Watkinson - The Teacher of the Year 2012

& do you want to know the sweetest part of their tale? When Sir Mo married his long-term fiancé Tania, he made Alan Watkinson his Best Man - & apparently, he still calls him 'Sir!'

Alan was finally recognised for his efforts in 2012, winning The Pride of Britain's 'Teacher of The Year' award - of course with Sir Mo by his side.

The Hidden Lesson

It is easy to overlook what we do as teachers in the daily whirlwind of tasks to complete but whether you believe it or not we are in the business of changing lives.

You may feel that you are only a teacher but to some of your students they may see you as a:

  • Mentor

  • Guide

  • Coach

  • Role Model

  • Surrogate Parent

What Alan did for Mo was paint a picture of what his life could look like despite his difficulties. He helped to knock down the barriers that blocked his pathway & were there every step of the way.

You can unlock the genius of your students by being a positive role model, mentor & champion for their abilities. Don't you dare ever forget that.

Alan and Sir Mo’s story is a once in a lifetime event. But you potentially could be the most influential figure in your student’s life. History is littered with stories of how great mentors unlocked the genius of their students from:

  • Johann Cruyff to Pep Guardiola

  • Maya Angelou to Oprah Winfrey

  • Socrates to Plato

You may never get a famous student, but I can guarantee this: if you are a great teacher you may change the destiny of your pupil’s life for the better forever. How cool is that?

Next week, we will break down HOW we do that, looking at the research & what works in the classroom. Don't want to miss that blogpost? Sign up to the AHT blog below. It will take you less than 30 seconds & you will get all the goodies straight to your mailbox!


1. Robert Cumber. 2015. Mo Farah used to be a bad loser, says former PE teacher. [ONLINE] Available at:

2. Cahal Milmo. 2010. Mo Farah: How Britain's athletics hero escaped the chaos of Somalia. The Independant [ONLINE] Available at:



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