AUSTIN, Texas — It's the Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated. It's something you heard at home, perhaps at school.
One Austin teacher is teaching it in a unique way: through Harry Potter books, and with a unique emphasis on an unlikely character.
"I read Harry Potter to my class and one of the main things that I teach them with Harry Potter is to explore the villain or bad guy. So we go deep into Voldemort's backstory and understand that he had a really hard time growing up as a baby, so I became passionate about spreading that message," said Kristina Yoder, a third-grade elementary teacher at Mills Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District.
Yoder said Voldemort's experience is applicable to those in society and even her classroom.
"With Voldemort, he actually has a really sad backstory that doesn't get a lot of focus and I thought it was important to shine a light on that," she said. "Overall, I think it's applicable when we're looking at people in society – people in our classroom – who may not be making the best choices who we may perceive as 'bad' or 'not good,' to really explore where those people are coming from."
Yoder has been reading Harry Potter to her students for the past four years as a way to teach her students about mindfulness. She even created a "peace cabinet" for her students when they begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed.
"When there's a friend in class showing an unexpected behavior that is disruptive then we do a lot of focus on training, 'how do I want to respond to that?' So mindfulness gives you this space between reaction, so you can think about 'how do I need to respond to this person throwing a chair over here? I'm going to ignore them and keep working and take a deep breath to keep myself stable,'" Yoder said.
She said the books have also been a way to talk about anti-bullying.
"Fewer and fewer people are getting bullied because these bullies are getting heard and approached. In my opinion, the way that's helpful. We still have all these books and this literature that kids are reading where these kids are reading that we need to get the bad guy or the villain and it's important for me now, we can't rewrite all the books that for kids when they read that to question that and apply that strategy to the characters as well as the friends in their class," Yoder said.
Ten-year-old Faye Daughtery is a former student of Yoder's and is a big fan of the Wizarding World herself as well as the lessons she learned in class.
"A lot of people think he's just like the bad guy when they read just the first book, but when they read deeper, you realize (Voldemort) had a worse past than Harry. He never had any parents, he was in an orphanage, no one paid attention to him," Faye said.
"I do feel like it's super important for children to see other children that are providing unexpected behavior and realizing there's more behind it, that they're feeling misunderstood or insecure," said Jenny Daughter, Faye's mother. "Everybody – not just children – if we would just step back and give some grace and patience to that we'd all be better off. Whether it's the person next to you, or you're Voldemort!"
Yoder also shared that she has a third-grade son at home who has autism, so mindfulness has been something she can teach at home and school.
"It's really important to see all friends and get to know friends before we make judgments about them, and really make sure we're taking care of ourselves so we can be our best selves for others," Yoder said.
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