He passed a round-faced boy who was saying, ‘Gran, I’ve lost my toad again.’
‘Oh, Neville,’ he heard the old woman sigh.Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Where else to begin except with dear Neville? Neville’s story is rich and incredible to behold as the truth of his past is revealed and the depth of his honor, courage, and loyalty are witnessed time and time again. We will surely come back to Neville many times, as there is so much to learn from him, but for today let’s look at the student who arrives alone at Hogwarts, loses his toad repeatedly, and struggles with all things school.
We all have had a Neville in our classroom. Papers, books, pencils all seem to disappear after being placed in his hands. Nothing seems to come easy. Making friends can be tough. He can never seem to keep up with classwork. Physical tasks from flying on a broomstick to bouncing a basketball seem to result in insult, injury, or both.
Like Neville, there will be students who don’t fit the school mold. Neville’s own self doubt and insecurities are his biggest problems, so teachers with high expectations and little patience for mistakes, like McGonagall, will become quickly exasperated by his struggles in class. Setting high standards of performance are typically considered an important quality in teachers, but when those high expectations are intimidating and overwhelming, we create the opposite results in students like Neville. Time and time again, we see that at the hands of gently encouraging teachers who accept failure as a positive step toward progress, like Sprout, Lupin, and even Harry in D.A. practice, Neville is a powerful and gifted wizard. He is very capable, and will demonstrate that, in his own time.
In Neville we also witness the powerful outcome of appealing to a student’s strengths and interests. Neville’s aptitude for Herbology will be recognized by Professor Moody (sure he’s actually a deranged Death Eater in disguise but, somehow, a pretty darn good teacher… more on that later…) and Professor McGonagall. After finishing his education, he will return to the school to teach Herbology, which is incredible, considering the struggles he overcame as a student. Students do well when they love a topic and are invited to explore freely.
We Muggle teachers can learn from Neville the value of finding and nurturing a student’s strengths. Even as he struggles in one subject area, recognizing his strength in another area can build confidence overall. Taking the time to listen to him describe the qualities of his new mimbulus mimbletonia, or show you his sketches, or teach you about the four-wheeler he’s fixing with his uncle will build a relationship that supports growth in all subject areas. Give yourself permission to step back from the standards, expectations, and lofty goals and see a clumsy, forgetful, round-faced boy for who he really is, and he may just be the one who destroys the final Horcrux and saves us all.