After rewatching Twin Peaks, the first time since becoming a teacher, in preparation for the latest series (which I am yet to get around to) there was something about Agent Cooper that really struck and resonated with me and I started wondering how I could teach like Agent Cooper would.
Those of you who have seen David Lynch’s masterpiece, might wonder how on Earth I am going to make my case, but I think that Coop has some pretty impressive qualities that not only help him solve crimes, but would also make him a hit in the classroom.
So what’s so good about Cooper, why would that make him a good teacher and how I am doing in trying to teach like Agent Cooper (I’m going to give myself a Cooper score for each).
Go grab a damn fine cup of coffee and a big old slice of Cherry Pie and I’ll explain.
Kyle MacLachlan’s character has an unfaltering positivity, even when things are looking bleak, he always has a smile and a big thumbs up. Not even when the case keeps heading off in the wrong direction and he seems further away than ever from solving the crime, he keeps exuding positivity. It is pretty infectious. Not that I was a massive grump before (although that might depend on who you ask) but it is quite nice to be nice and things just seem better when you’re being positive, a break-time duty on top of a five period day, a lunchtime detention and an after school meeting may seem pretty bleak, but being positive tends to make things that little bit better. Now, this is way easier said than done, and as term stretches on it becomes even harder to do, but then I think ‘What would Coop do?’ (WWCD bracelets coming soon), it doesn’t work everytime, but when you remember what an amazing job we have as teachers and the fact that we are making a difference to pupils’ lives (even if it doesn’t always feel like it) makes it a little bit easier to be positive.
My Cooper score: 4/5 (really positive, but it is harder at the end of term)
2. Attention to detail and seeing the bigger picture.
Agent Cooper shows a great attention to detail, but combined with that is his ability to see the bigger picture, as a teacher we need both but we need to get the balance correct, otherwise it is all work no play. As teachers in this data driven world it is really easy to obsess over the details, but sometimes we get too close and we miss the magic that is really happening in the classroom and what we are trying to achieve. It’s also very easy to obsess over that “outstanding” lesson observation making sure that it ticks all the boxes and shows that pupils made progress every few minutes and some peer assessment sheets that give the impression of genuinely good feedback, but are in reality just paying lip-service to it. And all the while you’re starting to miss the bigger picture, giving pupils a genuinely amazing educational experience.
That’s not to say that the little things don’t matter, but it’s about knowing when to stop. This was the hardest in my journey to teach like Coop, not getting bogged down in those tiny details, to remember the bigger picture and to try to get the right balance. If you can’t do that, then you won’t be able to stay positive for long and positivity is rule #1 in teaching like Agent Cooper.
My Cooper score: 3/5 (I get too hung up on the small details and lose sight at times)
3. Appreciate the little things
As a teacher you expend a lot of energy and there are so many things to try to stay on top of in the classroom. Sometimes it feels like that it goes to waste, so many deadlines, parents evenings and reports to write that you can lose sight of all of the wonder that you are creating in the classroom. It may feel like a battle at times, but you are changing lives for the better and you are helping to give pupils an education. You were never in the job for the praise, but day in day out as teachers there are miracles happening, you just might not see them. What makes things worse is the catalogue of teacher tweeters who are always posting up a pupil who came up to them and said that they were amazing, or they were the best teacher they ever had and you’re wondering why the kids are never saying it to you. Chances are the pupils think that you’re brilliant, they just have never thought of saying it to you, or if they have they’re too shy or embarrassed.
Learn to take pleasure from the smallest of things, the pupil who finally remembers their book after ten consecutive lessons of insisting that you must have it, the pupil who has started underlining their title, the pupil that goes from writing nothing, to one sentence to a whole paragraph. You caused those changes, they may seem small, but they are huge steps for the pupils.
Just remember, you’re doing one of the most important jobs and even if no one tells you, you have changed lives for the better.
My Cooper score: 4/5 (Genuinely feel like I’m making a difference and that this is the best job in the world, but sometimes forget it when a lesson doesn’t go to plan)
4. Going back to the drawing board
I’ve lost count of the number of times Cooper goes charging off on a new lead, often informed by a dream he had the previous evening, only to end up back at square one. Teaching can feel like that sometimes, you have a brilliant new idea and you want to try it out. You spend hours reading about it, you’ve even found a couple of blogs online explaining how they did it and it turned out wonderfully and then when it comes to your attempt...it falls flat on its face.
All of us would take a knock in this situation, but it is about understanding what you should do next which is important. If Agent Cooper hadn’t tried again and again, retracing his steps, reflecting on what went wrong then he would have never come close to solving the case (I’ll not explore this too much to avoid spoilers). It’s these setbacks and the resilience we develop in overcoming them that helps us to improve as teachers and to deliver better quality lessons to our pupils.
But how do we know what are the best things to be looking at anyway. For me, and I would argue it should be for all teachers, is the use of research. You need to find a basis for what you are planning on doing and whilst the latest Twitter guru may have fancy looking ideas, we should always look to see what the research suggests. From that you can start planning your own action research project as that will help you to decide what will work best for you in the classroom in which you are working. Better still, why not set up an action research group, you can work together with a small group of other teachers and you can discuss your findings as you work towards a combined aim. There will be dead ends and mishaps along the way, but that is all part of the process. You can go back to the drawing board, reflect upon what went wrong and approach the issue again. There is a whole load of research out there to get you started and it is amazing CPD.
My Cooper score: 4/5 (I like to think this is a strength, I’m always looking at ways to improve, there just isn’t always the time)
5. Calling on experts/others when you need them
As brilliant as Cooper is, he cannot do everything. Sometimes he has to turn to experts like Agent Albert Rosenfield as he respects and uses the key medical knowledge that he has. At other times he turns to the support of those who become his friends, like Sheriff Truman, Hawk and Deputy Brennan.
Cooper’s reliance upon Rosenfield should be like our reliance upon education researchers, yes our own views are important, but we need some basis and backing for them. I wholeheartedly believe that the key thing that we should be doing as teachers is engaging in research. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, we should be harnessing it and applying it to what we are doing. The difficulty is finding time and being able to navigate our way through the research to establish what we should do next.
But sometimes, the expert can be a bit closer to home. Every school is full of a wealth of experience that can come from those who can offer support and guidance. The views and experiences of others are important and they can help you get through those difficult situations.
Ultimately Cooper couldn’t solve crimes relying on just one, it was by using those around him and the help from experts that he was able to be the finest FBI agent I’ve ever seen on television. If we want to be the best teachers we can be, then we need to make use of experts and those with lived experience as well.
My Cooper score: 2/5 (I make good use of research, but don’t draw upon the skills and expertise of those I work with enough)
6. Know when to have fun
In my first year of teaching I didn’t appreciate this and I probably didn’t fully understand what it meant until into my second year. It definitely does not mean to have fun at the expense of everything else, nor does it mean that there should be chaos.
School shouldn’t be some draconian process where facts are drilled into pupils, but pupils need to buy into the teacher and what the teacher is trying to achieve. That certainly shouldn’t be a pally relationship with you as a pushover, but fun can be a vehicle for the learning. There’s no clear cut way that fun, learning and engagement should look. The learning process is messy, but every now and again there’s no reason why you can’t let your hair down and you just deliver those crazy lesson ideas where you know pupils are going to love it, you are going to love teaching it, the pupils will remember it for months (maybe years) and you’ll have all learned lots in the process.
My Cooper score: 3/5 (I definitely know what this means now, but sometimes I hold back on doing lessons that are a little ‘out there’ for fear of it going wrong)
7. Profound statements
I like to think that I am a wealth of deep philosophical insight, but I can never live up to Cooper with his frequent references to deep intellectual Buddhist philosophy. He spouts some pretty life affirming, sage-like sayings several times an episode.
In contrast, I attempted to give Year 8 an impassioned explanation of why we should do kind things for others. Their take-away was that Mr McKavanagh likes to pick up other people’s rubbish. In this case I had to refer back to #4 and to rethink what I could do to get that message across. The next time I saw them, I took another angle and now they get where I’m coming from.
I’m still a way off Agent Cooper though. Maybe I should try scripting what I’ll say before and practice a chin stroke whilst I say it.
My Cooper score: 1/5 (this is mainly because I didn’t want to give myself 0 and I’m trying to follow rule #1)
8. Recording on a dictaphone
One of my favourite things about Twin Peaks is Agent Cooper recording his thoughts on a dictaphone to the mysterious Diane. Now, it might be pretty odd if I started doing that in class, but I think that this represents something bigger.
For me an essential part of the teaching process is reflecting on what I have done in a lesson. How could I improve it, what things could I change, what was good about it, etc. This was such regular practice during my PGCE, but I got out of the habit and wouldn’t reflect on everything I was doing, maybe just the odd piece of lesson here and there. Only whilst doing the Masters in Learning and Teaching over the past two years did I get into the habit again of reflecting on what I was doing. You could call it field notes, you could call it a diary. Whatever you want to call it, this became a record of my thoughts and feelings on what I was teaching. It doesn’t look as cool as Cooper with his dictaphone and I’m not addressing it to a mysterious secretary, but it has certainly developed me as a teacher and it helped immeasurably as a researcher.
My Cooper score: 4/5 (I’ve got some pretty detailed reflections, but I’m missing the stylish dictaphone)
9. Coffee and Cherry Pie
No Twin Peaks reference would be complete without Cherry Pie and Coffee.
Neither of these actually have any impact on the quality of teaching and I cannot try and make you suffer through the possible tortured analogies I could try and construct to make them appear as if they are metaphors. But I do get through a lot of coffee, though there is never enough cherry pie in my life.
My Cooper score: 5/5 (I really like coffee, probably not as much as Cooper does, but pretty close)