Teaching Opinion

10 Teachable Moments From ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

By Starr Sackstein — April 10, 2017 7 min read
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Learning something new is a bit like magic. We have a question or curiosity, and words help to explain the experience behind the phenomenon in a way that we can make a part of ourselves.
Although JK Rowling didn’t intend to bestow a personal gift to me when she wrote the Harry Potter series, I’m eternally grateful for the magical learning she has infused in my life. Additionally, a deep love has been imbued in me that I have sought to share with my son and the many students that I see each day.

Whether completely geeking out on the brilliance of the characters and their almost natural interplay with each other, or internalizing the deep emotions that fill each person and situation in the novels, I recognize the depth and connection literature plays in our lives when we let it.

That’s why it’s so important to build on the learning we read and recognize in our lives and classrooms.

Here are 10 moments from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that any teacher could spend a full period on in lieu of the planned lesson:

  • We don’t choose familial situations, but we can choose to make the most of what we are given. Harry clearly doesn’t fit with the Dursleys’ but they are his family and they only ones he has known. Although they aren’t inexplicably unkind to him, he still is an inherently positive person who trusts the awe of what happens around in a way most people don’t notice. Despite the overwhelmingly terrible way he’s been treated, Harry doesn’t lash out, but rather finds a way to find himself regardless of the bad situation. Every family has its quirks, for better or for worse, but what we take and make of those quirks in our own lives is completely up to us. So we must choose to nurture the curiosities we see and feel instead of allowing current situations to paralyze us. As educators, we have the power to help students have a second home when they need a space to stretch their legs and grow as people.
  • Friendship often comes with a simple kindness. Harry had no idea where he’d find his place in this new wizarding world, but his closest friendship is literally stumbled upon. First when the Weasleys show him kindness on platform 9 3/4 and then when Ron has nowhere else to sit. It’s kind of fate. They become fast friends with Ron helping Harry learn some basics about the wizarding world and Harry sharing his large stash of candy. Who knew on that first ride to Hogwarts that this was the start of an epic threesome that was just forming. Developing close relationships is what makes life worth living and these relationships are what builds us up and supports us throughout our lives. Although we will not likely be friends with our students in this capacity, we can help them navigate rough patches with friends and provide strong mentor roles in their learning.
  • Helping those in need always has its rewards. This is true of many moments in the first novel. For one, when Draco takes Neville’s rememberal and Harry chases after it despite being warned about flying without supervision. Harry sticks up for Neville and in doing so learns that he is a gifted flyer which is ultimately what gets him on the Gryffindor Quiddich team. Secondly, when Harry and Ron hear that Hermione is in the bathroom where the troll has snuck in, they go to help her because they feel responsible for why she was in there in the first place. Harry has a tremendous sense of need to help her and ultimately, this kind act solidifies the group as a threesome. This is also so in teaching, helping students is its own reward. Watching that ‘aha’ moment is what makes it all worthwhile.
  • We often misjudge what we don’t fully understand. Harry often thinks that Snape is out to get him, but we learn at the end of the first novel that Snape was actually protecting Harry. Although he sometimes appears to be working against Harry, we learn more than once that Snape is more complicated than he seems. His love for Harry is not of the simple variety and he works to keep his most generous acts of protection and care a secret. It’s often easy to judge people based on what we see, but we are often wrong. We need to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially our students.
  • Breaking the rules is sometimes necessary. In order to do what is right, we often have to bend the rules to accomplish these feats. Harry and his friends often choose to do what they know is wrong but for the benefit of everyone else. If they didn’t, then they would have never have defeated Quirrell and Voldemort. In schools, students and teachers often have to make a choice to do what is for the greater good even if a rule or two is broken along the way. Always easier to apologize than ask for permission and defy a no. Someone taught me this very early on.
  • Having rules to break is also necessary. Rules establish boundaries and boundaries are necessary for students to thrive. Neville understands this and stands up to Harry, Ron and Hermione when they could possibly get Gryffindor in trouble for sneaking out. Additionally, Hogwarts has a whole system of points that helps students win and lose points based on their ability to maintain the rules. These rules are in place to keep the students safe. The issue is that rules need to be intentional and often they are made without a clear and transparent purpose, so they lose their meaning. Rules should always be adjusted and only the most significant ones kept in order to keep students and staff safe.
  • Love is a great protector. When we give love purely like Lily Potter does to Harry, that love provides protections that we don’t even know the full reach of until much later on. Harry had no idea he was loved so much. Students often don’t realize the depth of their connections with teachers until much later when they need the wisdom later in life. We need to always provide this love in the form of support and care in our classrooms.
  • Every child has the power to take on great evils. There are many things our kids have to overcome and like Harry who literally has to fight odds to take on Voldemort, he believes that he can do it. The situation was stacked against him, as it often is with our kids, but he persevered. We must build confidence in our students so that they can take on the challenges of their lives and win. Every child has the ability to do this in his/her own way.
  • The choices we make define us. At different times, almost every character in the Harry Potter novels has a moment where he or she makes a choice that defines him or her. Starting at the beginning, Hagrid uses magic despite the fact that he isn’t supposed to so that he can help Harry. Harry chooses to do what’s right for his friends and the school despite how much personal danger that puts him in. Hermione takes one for the team after the troll to show her loyalty to Ron and Harry. Ron sacrifices himself on the Wizard’s chess board so that Harry can go on. Snape quietly protects Harry because of his love for Harry’s mom. We have choices to make every day and each one demonstrates who we are and where our character lingers. Demonstrating to students the power of our choices will model the best way for them to make better decisions in their lives each day.
  • Learning happens everywhere, we just have to take the time to notice. The characters of the Harry Potter novels are always learning new things whether they going to the library and digging through books they shouldn’t be looking in or they notice something on the back of a card that came with chocolate, they are deeply cued into the fact that there so many things to learn. They never give up. Hermione prides herself on being logical and therefore able to notice things that others don’t. Harry intuitively understands that clues align in the information people share with him at different times and Ron visually remembers things in ways that help develop those connections as well. Together, they are able to conquer most things.

Each day in school, we work hard to provide students with learning experiences that aren’t cloaked in mystery, but offer a good deal of magic. Learning is, in fact, magical, and when students are excited about learning, they can do most anything. We must take the time to notice what are students are sharing with us and help them make the best of their education.

How do you use teachable moments from life or literature to help your students connect with their learning? Please share

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