Harry Potter Stack of Books, thefantastique.com, date unknown

I was hesitant back in 2000 when I let a friend convince me to go the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (at a Walmart in rural Arkansas) because…I hadn’t actually read any of the books before that.

I know.

I was kind of a snob who definitely thought books about 11 year olds could not possibly have anything to offer 15-year-old me (ugh, I just winced writing that). I was wrong, of course.

Harry Potter helped me learn to be brave, to stand up for myself, to look for the magic in the world, and to strive for what I wanted – after all, if a kid who lived in a closet under the stairs could defeat the Dark Lord, why couldn’t I achieve my goals?

Harry Potter also taught me a lot about what I thought school should be. While I’ve never worked anywhere with moving staircases or painting that come alive (still waiting on that Hogwarts letter…), I think J.K. Rowling’s books can teach us so much about how we teach and learn.

Today is Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) birthday, so ere are 5 Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me about Teaching and Learning:

  1. Everyone needs help sometimes – and that’s okay. Harry is not the best wizard out there (my fictional BFF and curly-haired soul sister, Hermione, might take that title!) but, for the most part, he knew to ask for help. And when he didn’t? Things went sideways fast. We tell our students to ask for help all the time, but often we don’t for fear of being seen as weak or ignorant, but Harry and his exploits show us that asking for help is actually more brave than going alone.
  2. Being smart doesn’t mean much if you aren’t kind. Hermione could have been a flat, know-it-all character, but her unwavering loyalty, kindness, and willingness to help made her a great friend. Not everyone can grasp academic subjects as quickly as Hermione, but everyone can be kind – to ourselves and to others.
  3. Failure is powerful – if you use it to grow. Failure is a powerful teacher, but dwelling on our past failures without making different, intentional choices and growing as learners isn’t useful for anyone. Dumbledore – a teacher who encouraged failure, play, and rule-breaking – said that,  “It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Fail, learn, move on.
  4. Different intelligences are beautiful. Harry was great at Quidditch, Ron was great at mischief, Hermione was great at spells, Luna was great at storytelling, Neville was great at botany, and on and on and on – but no two were exactly alike. Diverse characters make great books, and diverse aptitudes and interests and abilities make great people. Comparison is the thief of joy, for you and your students.
  5. Self-advocacy is key. How many times did our favorite magical trio have to stand up for themselves against oppression? How many times did Harry have to put his foot down about abuse at home, or against bullies, or Snape? (Too soon, I know.) Who would notice if Ron didn’t get his share in his large family, or be overshadowed by his famous and smart friends? How much grit did it take for Hermione to stand up for herself when it wasn’t popular, but she knew she was right? We’re in a service profession – teaching, non-profit work, education in general – but we also have to advocate for ourselves so we can continue to give. Students will model self-advocacy as well, which helps them grow into more empathetic, kind, and service-oriented adults.

Happy Birthday to Harry Potter, who has taught us all so much!

by Lausanne Learning Director, Amber Colvin