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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

7 Lessons for Teachers from Dumbledore

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An Illustration of a Wizard

One of my favorite times of the day is when I settle in with my two young daughters for read-aloud time. For several years, we have been working our way through the Harry Potter series. I had read them all before, but it has been a delight to read them again with my girls, using as many voices as possible, and seeing the incredible story through their eyes. 

It has also shared many secrets about teaching and living with me on this second reading, especially when it comes to Dumbledore. The way he interacts with Harry, fellow teachers, muggles, and various magical creatures has lessons for all of us -- especially teachers and parents. Whether you have read the Harry Potter series or not, there is wisdom from this character we can all learn from.

"You do care," said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. "You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Calm Acceptance: No matter what Dumbledore is faced with, he calmly accepts this reality. When Harry is throwing Dumbledore’s belongings around his office -- devastated from the loss of a parent-like figure -- Dumbledore is a witness to Harry’s emotions. He doesn’t escalate the situation by getting angry, yelling back, or sending Harry to a break or time out. He simply allows Harry to have those emotions and reflects them back, showing that he is listening. He is witnessing. He is calm. Isn’t that what most of our students want? To be heard, witnessed, and have a calm adult to help them? There are many lessons for me in this as a parent and a teacher. 

"I don't mean to be rude -" he [Vernon] began, in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable.
"- yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often," Dumbledore finished the sentence gravely. "Best to say nothing at all, my dear man."- Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

Kindness in the Face of Rudeness: The Dursleys (Harry’s relatives) are mean, spiteful and rude to Harry and Dumbledore. They bluster, they insult, and they neglect. Dumbledore isn’t shaken. He says what he thinks should happen, such as “Let us assume that you have invited me in, shall we?” It is disarming, but it shows what the behavior could be. He is calm. He is kind. He doesn’t sink to the level of spite or sarcasm when faced with bald rudeness and discomfort. What is behind the Dursleys' behavior? Fear, self-doubt, uncertainty? The same is likely true for many of our students. 

“Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Self-Deprecating Humor: Dumbledore does not think he is perfect. He breaks uncomfortable silences with a pleasant joke or comment. He diffuses stressful situations instead of making them worse. He knows he is a work in progress just like everyone else. This is an excellent tool for parents and teachers. It helps everyone have more joy and a growth mindset. We all have progress to make -- every single one of us. 

“Everybody finished the song at different times. Dumbledore conducted their last few lines with his wand and when they had finished, he was one of those who clapped loudest. 'Ah music,' he said, wiping his eyes. 'A magic beyond all we do here!” - Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

Being Humble: Dumbledore is one of the strongest wizards in all the land. You wouldn’t know that though. He is approachable, calm, and humble. He doesn’t assume he has all the answers or is the best. He lets his actions speak for him and does not boast of his accomplishments. Being fallible is a gift we can give our students. Look, we are saying, we make mistakes too. 

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be” - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Looking Out for Inequality: Dumbledore fights for the underdog, the underrepresented. Those who are vulnerable. He protects them with his magic and his decisions. As teachers, we must do this everyday as well. We must remember and apply this lesson from Dumbledore day in and day out. We dwell in potential. 

"I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. "I am with you.” - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Showing Up: Even when he has an injury or personal struggle, Dumbledore puts the needs of others before his own. He shows up and is present for his students and staff despite personal challenges. The gift of showing up, being persistent even in challenging times, is inspiring in a time of conflicting information and strife in public education (and parenting). 

"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends." - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Being Brave: It may be hard. You may be sitting in a staff meeting, a school board meeting, on a committee, or at a professional development training.  Being brave looks like speaking up for kids and teachers and what you know is true. You have lots of experience and should have a voice in how your school works and how you can be the best teacher (or parent) possible. Trust your voice, be brave, and share it regularly. Just as Dumbledore would do. 

In fact just today, I told my students about these lessons from Dumbledore. When something went wrong in the classroom (the technology did not work), a student simply said, “Dumbledore!” That was all I needed. I searched for what Dumbledore would do, and decided calm acceptance and patience was the way to go. I need to keep Dumbledore’s lessons in mind each day as I teach, parent, be a colleague, partner and friend. 

Did I miss any lessons from Dumbledore? Please let me know in the comments!


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (20) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger

Moshe, that is amazing! Look at all you've done with students around Harry Potter. I'd love to see this work. Carry on, fellow Potterhead!

Kendra Grant's picture
Kendra Grant
Learner, Teacher, Parent, Entrepreneur, Volunteer, SOOC Designer. UDL informs practice, process & product. It's all about Transformative Learning.

Thanks for this. I was fortunate to have had a son the same age as Harry when the books came out. Waiting for Canada Post to deliver the book (actually two) on the day of its release and both of us racing to the couch to start reading are great memories (he's now 25 :)
So...how about Remaining Positive about life and learners...and Bertie Bott's beans. And if things don't work out the way you'd hoped...well you can always revert back to calm acceptance.

"Ah! Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavored one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them -- but I think I'll be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"
He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth.
"Alas! Ear wax!"

(2)
Rebecca Cissel's picture

My favorite thing about Dumbledore is how he empowers Harry to do what needs to be done. He doesn't do the work for him, he doesn't patronize him, he lets Harry grow at his own pace. He also knows his students. You can see this when Harry, Ron and Hermione receive their inheritance from him. Each receives a tool that will uniquely help each of them based on what Dumbledore knows about each of them. See what I mean... Good Stuff! Thanks for sharing!

(2)
bforaker's picture

Harry Potter is very very big around our house...I've read the series with four different kids and enjoyed it every time. We have a light switch plate with this wisdom from Albus: "Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban --> so Dumbledore is an optimist...able to turn on the light and able to shine the light for his students. As an educator, this is a huge gift we can give our students.

(1)
Evy Roy's picture
Evy Roy
Former Community and Social Media Intern at Edutopia

bforaker - This is one of my favorite quotes from HP! It always comes to mind during the rough patches in life. :) Thanks for sharing it.

Mr. B's picture

I love the one about Dumbledore's kindness in the face of rudeness. I really need to work on what I let come out of my mouth on and off the job. Thanks Dumbledore!!

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger

Hi Mr. B! Yes, I think that is a good one for teachers and a super challenging one too. I was just reading book 6 to my girls tonight and Dumbledore is talking with Voldemort. He doesn't talk through silences and gaps in conversations. He remains pleasantly open to what will happen next-- even when surrounded by the unpleasant. How inspiring! Wouldn't it be great if more people were like this? Thanks for commenting.

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger

Yes! This quote is a great addition to the list. Optimism in the face of challenging times. Sounds like teaching to me! Thanks for sharing this one--- consider it added.

kisshaninja's picture

This is genius! Ms. Katy Farber claps for you. I like what you have written. Im a college student and a big Harry Potter fan, and it's just so clever of you to think the characteristics of Dumbledore that a teacher must have.Though, Dumbledore is a fictional character, but those characteristics can be applied in reality.
This should also be discussed in some seminars for teachers.
My teachers need to read this.
And as a future educator, I must take note of this also.
Thank you.

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