Culturally Inclusive Celebrations: 3 Fun Alternatives To Holiday Parties

I was in my first year of teaching, and I loved decorating my classroom for the holidays. In December, with Christmas around the corner, I filled the classroom with holiday cheer. I purchased a small red and green fiberoptic tree and a Christmas tablecloth, and covered the table with wrapped gifts for the students. Christmas break approached, and I called up each student to receive his or her present. Lana’s gift sat on her desk, unopened. I asked, “Did you want to open your present?” I began to think, she must want to put it under her tree. My heart melted.

Lana came up to me after everyone had left and handed the gift back to me. I asked, “Why are you giving the gift back? Don’t you want it for your Christmas?” She replied, “Please, Ms. Evans. I am not allowed to have this present.” I was very confused. “Lana, this gift is from my heart and I could afford it, so don’t worry.” Lana shook her head and said, “Ms. Evans, I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and we don’t celebrate holidays.”

My experience was an awakening, challenging me to think about every student and the celebrations in our class. According to Berry (2010), “Because the United States has a traditionally strong Christian heritage, many communities have in the past been comfortable absorbing the holidays and traditions of that heritage” (p. 10). Our job as teachers is to ensure that everyone in our classroom feels respected as a contributor to the class environment (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2017) . Below are three ideas to consider for inclusive classrooms that have permission to celebrate holidays, specifically within the public school sector.

1. Celebrate “Character Days,” “Friendship Week,” or other school-wide festivities. Celebrating Character Week instead of Halloween avoids making students feel uncomfortable if they don’t wish to participate in Halloween celebrations.

A whole week with different themes gives students the opportunity to choose characters from favorite books, movies, or TV shows. One day can be historical characters, one day Dr. Seuss characters, one day favorite board or card game characters. The possibilities are endless. You can celebrate Friendship Week or Kindness Week instead of Valentine’s Day. Students can have secret pals, dress-up days, and a school kindness assembly. These alternatives avoid excluding students and the negative attention children may feel if they are unable to participate.

2. Celebrate seasons. Seasons are a part of science, and they involve miraculous changes that can stimulate engagement and learning throughout the year. Celebrating seasons instead of holidays is a great way to keep a positive and visually appealing classroom environment all year long.

I used a dynamic tree in my classroom that took up a massive amount of bulletin board space. In autumn, colorful leaves, acorns, pumpkins, scarecrows, and glitter were a hit. Winter had snowmen, snowflakes, and pine trees. In spring, I decorated with tissue blossoms, bunnies, flowers, and plants. Students’ projects connected directly to seasons and not the concurrent holidays.

3. Celebrate the diverse cultures of students and their families (Planning Ahead, 2016). Invite students to share what traditions and holidays they celebrate in their families. If you have a culturally diverse classroom, you should have an abundance of rich traditions to learn about. If your classroom is more homogeneous, encourage students to learn about their own ancestry or to explore the customs of a famous person’s ancestors (Lundgren & Lundy-Ponce, n.d.).

Remember that we as teachers have the power to make or break a student’s ability to succeed (“Culture in the classroom,” 2018). As I learned from my experience with Lana, discovering our students’ beliefs and customs creates the opportunity for us to celebrate with them in culturally appropriate ways. A medley of approaches can be taken to celebrate holidays; however, rendering a culturally competent and inclusive environment is imperative.

Children not only contribute to their classrooms, but also to their schools. With minority students now the majority in public schools (Hussar & Bailey, 2014), teachers must promote an understanding of various cultures and ensure that all students are represented.

Dr. Evans-Santiago is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University, Bakersfield. Her research focuses on culturally relevant pedagogy with an emphasis on LGBTQ issues in education, and on minimizing suspensions and expulsions of minority males.

This story is featured in the Winter 2018 issue of the New Teacher Advocate. If you are interested in receiving the print or digital version of this award-winning publication for preservice and new teachers, you can subscribe for less than $20 per year!

Resources
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayIdeas
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayEvent
http://bit.ly/CharacterDayLessonPlan
http://bit.ly/CulturallyResponsiveInstruction

References
– Berry, D. R. (2010). A not so merry Christmas: Dilemma for elementary school leaders. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(1), 10–13. Https://doi.org/10.1080/ 00228958.2010.10516553
– Culture in the classroom. (2018). [Teaching Tolerance website]. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance. org/culture-classroom
– Hussar, W. J., & Bailey, T. M. (2014). Projections of education statistics to 2022 (NCES 2014-051). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
– Lundgren, C., & Lundy-Ponce, G. (n.d.). Culturally responsive instruction for holiday and religious celebrations. Retrieved from http://www.Colorincolorado.org/article/culturally-responsiveinstruction- holiday-and-religious-celebrations
– National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2017). Anti-bias education: Holidays. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/content/ anti-bias-guide-holidays/december-holidays
– Planning ahead: December holidays in an inclusive classroom. (2016). Curriculum Review, 56(3), 11.

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Convo 2018 Click Game Winners Announced!

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Unsung Hero: Jolene Daw

Jolene was, to me, in many ways, the most influential teacher I had throughout my educational journey to becoming a teacher.

She taught a general beginning college class, but she did such an awesome job that she has had a hand in everything I do now.

While most professors I’ve had really did not pay much attention to details, she was very attentive to every aspect of at least what I did. From what I could tell, my classmates all thought so as well.

But what has really stuck with me is how she always made time to talk with me long after I was no longer her student. She was my mentor through my entire time at Grand Canyon University (GCU).

We have been in touch since my graduation and it is ALWAYS great to speak with her. She was the only one of my instructors that I wanted to meet up with as a part of my celebration to graduation. She even had lunch with me and my wife at Cooperstown in Pheonix.

Throughout my degree path, she encouraged me to always do my best and would even critique some of my research papers—giving me ideas and thoughts that I could use to better my presented report prior to submission, when I was not in her class anymore. This was something she would do for me up to my final benchmarks as a senior.

Did I mention that my degree was obtained via an online program?

We never met face-to-face until having lunch, and I had no idea what she looked like, but I knew how much her support meant to me! She was at the time, the youngest professor in the online instructional program for GCU, but displayed a remarkable amount of knowledge and experience.

One thing she also did for me was give me the courage to not just continue in getting my bachelor’s degree but to push forward in working on a master’s, which I plan to start in fall or spring, at the latest. She, on several occasions, told me that if I did that she would back me on an application to teach in the program and become a colleague. I will be attempting to do just that after obtaining my masters degree.

I am sure that I would have completed my degree had I not had her in my corner. I am also sure that, without her support, I would not have finished with a 3.87 GPA, I would not have been Magna Cum Laude, and my drive to move forward in my education would not be as strong as it is now.

Jolene is my hero, my guide in many ways, and I am proud to say that I call her my friend.

I am looking forward to hopefully be calling her my colleague in the future as well.

What are 5 characteristics or qualities that make Jolene an outstanding educator?

  1. She is remarkably attentive to students’ needs.
  2. She has a unique perspective.
  3. She is not afraid to listen to thoughts and opinions of her students—even if they do not parallel her own.
  4. She is very encouraging when it comes to pushing students to strive to be the best they can.
  5. She is extremely smart—not just in her knowledge, but in her ability to transmit this knowledge to students.

Jolene Daw, Faculty in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University, is being recognized by Terrell Martin (Grand Canyon University).

Click the above image for more information about Unsung Hero Week 2017.

To support KDP’s work to retain effective teachers like Jolene, make a tax-deductible donation today.

Unsung Hero: Anita Caref

On the heels of a crisis of direction in my career, I met Anita.

I had burnt out at my dream job and I moved to Chicago in a series of professional upheavals.

I was not sure if I was actually much good at teaching despite my passion for education. I had been at the City Colleges of Chicago for almost two years and was feeling frustrated with my work and my new city.

When Anita joined the adult education department at CCC, I quickly realized I had found a kindred spirit in education—a colleague and friend who would be that person that would anchor me to the work I wanted to do and to the kind of people I enjoy being around.

In this, as her personality and kindness are naturally inclined to do, she has never faltered. I have been grateful for knowing and connecting with Anita since we first shared disbelief about CCC adult education “curriculum”.

Besides supporting the teaching I wanted to do, she helped me hone my skills to do it.

Reading and observing other programs and classrooms through her connections, I learned so many of the things have brought me to that oft-elusive level in teaching of feeling truly competent in my work and my skills as an educator.

It is through Anita and her advocacy for progressive pedagogical approaches and a more wholistic education for the students at CCC, that I found hope in working at City Colleges and a belief that I could still do the work that I had spent the better part of my adolescence and adulthood deeply committed to doing.

For these gifts of professional confidence and personal warmth, friendship and colleagueship, I am forever grateful.

What are 5 characteristics or qualities that make Anita an outstanding educator?

  1. Intelligence
  2. Support
  3. Warmth
  4. Kindness
  5. Determination

Anita Caref, Adult Education Language Arts Reading Specialist at City Colleges of Chicago, is being recognized by Daniel Stein.

Click the above image for more information about Unsung Hero Week 2017.

To support KDP’s work to retain effective teachers like Anita, make a tax-deductible donation today.

Unsung Hero: Dr. Maryann Wilkey

I was 44 years old when I enrolled at Barton college to pursue an Elementary Education degree.

I was afraid and nervous, and I didn’t know if I had what it took—first to be a teacher and second to be a Barton Bulldog.

My first major education class was Assessments and Dr. Wilkey was the professor.

Many of the other students had taken classes with her before and knew the expectations. That first night my heart sank. She asked questions and it appeared to me that I was the only one she was calling on.

I went in the bathroom during break and cried. However, after a while, I realized I was being silly and came to my senses.

The remaining seven classes, I tried to learn everything I could from Dr. Wilkey because she saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. She pushed me and others to do better than good. Good was not good enough, but I did not have that mindset until I met Dr Wilkey.

I enjoyed her classes and couldn’t wait to see what we were going to do next. She had a way of motivating her students to strive for the next level.

Even still today, she is concerned about her students

I think to myself often, “What Would Jesus Do?” and then, “What Would Dr. Wilkey Do?”

She is truly an awesome teacher, citizen and friend.

What are 5 characteristics or qualities that make Dr. Wilkey an outstanding educator?

  1. Motivator
  2. Intelligent
  3. Passionate
  4. Visionary
  5. Driven

Dr. Maryann Wilkey, Professor at Barton College, is being recognized by Marsha Foreman (Barton College).

Click the above image for more information about Unsung Hero Week 2017.

To support KDP’s work to retain effective teachers like Maryann, make a tax-deductible donation today.

Unsung Hero: Mary Hightshue

Mary has taught French at our high school for decades, and she has always done it in a high relationship, life changing kind of way.

This manifests daily via her interactions with students and through her leadership of a summer study-abroad program that Mary has coordinated for many years.

Mary is retiring in a few weeks, and though some folks retire every year, I have not found myself as emotional over the loss of other consummate teaching pros’ departures.

She IS the best of what Zionsville Community High School stands for.

She will be sorely missed and revered for her service to youth always.

What are characteristics or qualities that make Mary an outstanding educator?

  1. Wisdom skillfully imparted about the power of world language study to a student’s whole life.
  2. Interpersonal linkage with students at every level, novice through accomplished.

Mary Hightshue, Teacher at Zionsville Community High School, is being recognized by Scott Robison (Superintendent, Zionsville Community Schools).

Click the above image for more information about Unsung Hero Week 2017.

To support KDP’s work to retain effective teachers like Mary, make a tax-deductible donation today.

Unsung Hero: Helen O’Neill

Helen inspired me to become an urban special educator for students in behavior disabilities classrooms.

I have since moved into graduate research and am preparing to receive a doctorate from NYU in urban education, focusing on injustices in classification and service provision to students in behavior disabilities programs.

Helen served the city of Newark for more than 30 years teaching some of its most under-served students and loving every day of it.

She is an educational champion, an everyday social justice hero, an amazing positive role model, an indomitable spirit, and a valued mentor.

What are 5 characteristics or qualities that make Helen an outstanding educator?

  1. Dedication to all students.
  2. Passion for serving students with emotional and behavioral challenges.
  3. Fierce advocate for student rights.
  4. Empathetic nature.
  5. Humility about her impact on students’ lives.

Helen O’Neill, Retired & Substitute Teacher, is being recognized by Evan Johnston (New York University).

Click the above image for more information about Unsung Hero Week 2017.

To support KDP’s work to retain effective teachers like Helen, make a tax-deductible donation today.