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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What if We Taught at Hogwarts?

By Peter DeWitt — November 13, 2011 5 min read
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Every student should be able to get lost in their imagination from time to time. As we grow older there are so many times that we are too busy to retreat within ourselves to imagine bigger ideas. We need to encourage students to do that when they are younger so they can strive for something new in their lives.

Students should be exposed to experiences that provoke thought and inspires them to want to find a path to follow in life. Sometimes they do that by surrounding themselves with good friends and play games on whatever the new hot item is these days. Other times it’s through experiences that teachers or parents expose them to through conversations and other engaging activities. And some students find it on their own through books.

To some students, a book takes them away from a painful life for a few hours and brings them to a life that is much more interesting and adventurous than the one they are living. Through books, they may realize that their life does not have to stay the same and that through hard work they can change the course of where their life is heading. Great books inspire change.

Books teach us a lot about the world around us and can help prepare us for the evil that lurks around every corner. A heroic character, especially one that seems ordinary, can teach us that during any circumstance we can find something extraordinary within ourselves. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but words can be very powerful.

The Harry Potter series is the epitome of that kind of book. When the reader cracks open the first page, they get transformed into another world, where anything is possible. Children and adults watched Harry Potter grow up. Through his challenges, readers learned how to approach life. As they read the book, they went on-line and found ways to connect with other readers from around the world who were looking to figure out life by following the plot created by J.K. Rowling.

Harry Potter
It seems farfetched that a book could do that to so many people, but you need only to look on-line to see the far reach of the magic of Harry Potter. Every time I happen upon a Harry Potter movie I find myself unable to turn the station. J.K. Rowling is a genius for so many reasons, not just because she was able to write books that brought children of all ages out at midnight in order to buy them. She inspired millions to pick up a book, and she brought families closer together because they wanted to read together, visit the theme park together and see all of the movies together.

I remember when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, I was teaching third grade and we got permission from the assistant superintendent of curriculum to use the book. Along with my students, we transformed our classroom into a mini-Hogwarts and one day the students came dressed up as their favorite characters. They even re-wrote chapters and added different endings to the book. As a teacher, it was an amazing experience to watch students get absorbed by a book.

Growing up, I was never much of a reader. I struggled with academics and only remember reading a handful of books. Although my mom always let me buy books through book clubs in class, I would typically get very excited when the book came in and the teacher handed it out, but I never brought myself to the point where I felt the need to actually read it. I would venture to guess that many of our students feel that way.

Perhaps that is part of the reason that I cannot help but watch Harry Potter when it comes on television. J.K. Rowling gave millions of children the opportunity to read books that were twice as long as any book they had ever seen and they seized that opportunity and were thirsty for more. That feeling of creativity and imagination is inspiring.

I wonder how we could take those ideas and actually bring them to our schools. Dumbledore and the rest of the Hogwarts staff had to worry about the Ministry of Magic. They are surely more difficult to work with than the federal education department? If they can teach the way they want, can’t we teach what works best for our students?

What Harry Potter Teaches Us
I understand that some of this seems bizarre. I know that we do not teach in castles and Harry Potter is fantasy but I also believe we can learn some valuable lessons from Harry, Hogwarts and J.K. Rowling. If millions of students voraciously read 700 page books within a few hours of buying them, surely there must be a lesson in there for us.

I began to think about all of the lessons we could learn from the series. If students who struggle with reading can overcome that struggle to read the whole series, we should take the time to figure out how we can bridge the gap between the fantasy of Harry Potter and the reality of our present situation.

Lessons Learned:
Take risks - Harry never felt extraordinary but he took risks because he thought he was the only one who could get rid of evil. Normal students, even those who have humble beginnings, can do extraordinary things in life

Take ownership over your learning. Sure, taking a class in spells may not seem like it will be beneficial, but down the road when Harry needed it most, what he learned in school saved his life.

Peer Relations - Surround yourself with good peers because you never know what evil lurks around the corner. When the going gets tough, your friends may be the ones who get you through those tough times.

Education should be an adventure - sometimes teaching and learning is hard, but most times it should be an adventure. Many teachers have an amazing opportunity, because they get to expose students to something for the very first time. As a first grade teacher, I was given the opportunity to teach students how to read. Nothing I have done since then seems to compete with that.

Learn from your mistakes - Learn from your mistakes and do something great with what you have learned. Harry made mistakes at school with friends and teachers, but he was able to learn valuable lessons that helped him move forward.

In the EndThis whole blog may seem strange that a school principal would write about Harry Potter but it was a risk I thought was worth taking. If we want to engage our students, we have to be willing to get to their level and listen to their voices. We may not be educating the next great wizard but we are working with, what should be our greatest hope for the future.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.