Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why principals should watch Harry Potter

Ask most Elementary or Jr. High students if they would like to attend Hogwarts, and you will likely get an excited "yes". Of course, their primary reason would be to learn magic - learn invisibility so that they could spy on their friends and shoplift - but it is also because it is a good school.

I have been watching some of the early Harry Potter movies on television lately since the new film is in theaters. I have noticed that the school does not just mirror traditional British schools, but it also can be a model for change for our schools. Here are some ways how American schools should be more like Hogwarts Academy.

1. Hands-on, project-based learning. Though the teachers still lecture, it is always to prepare the students for practicing spells themselves. The classroom scenes always show the teacher explaining the task, modeling it, and providing guided practice. In this way there is a high risk/high reward environment with enough support to ensure success.
2. Learning that is applicable to real life. The skills that the students learn usually, and sometimes too conveniently, pay off later in the adventure. It is not perfect since the students still groan about essays and exams, but students are motivated by the fact that their lessons will pay off in the real world.
3. A sense of belonging. By dividing the students into the four houses, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, the school gives every student a place where they are on the inside. Adolescents have a need find their identity, and that is usually done by fitting in with a group. It also means that many are left on the outside. Even the way that the teachers reward and punish the house for the actions of individuals solidifies the tight knit group.
4. Uniforms
5. Rigorous but caring faculty. it is something that students do not realize until long after school; they love challenging teachers. Not just difficult teachers. Ones that push students to do their best by asking a little bit more than the student thinks he or she can do. Almost all of the teachers at Hogwarts have high expectations, eliciting love and loyalty from the students. One of the few exceptions, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart played by Kenneth Branagh, is easy yet incompetent, and the students hate him.

So maybe schools should not look down at Rowlings's books and view them as a model for their schools instead.

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