Holidays: Responsive and Reflective Instruction in December and Beyond
We are informed by our own culture and experiences. As teachers, we always have great intentions. We hope to be inclusive, celebratory, and festive, especially in December as we are deep into our own holiday planning and celebrations.
Some teachers may feel like this discussion is pooping on the party. This perspective is over-analytical. Let the holidays be fun.
We implore you to read on and be reflective on how instruction planned for ANY holiday (holidays outside December included) could be improved with consideration and empathy.
Hear it from the experts! Check out this important article from the Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/avoiding-the-holiday-balance-traps
1. Consider Your Goals
What do you hope to bring to your classroom when addressing the holidays? Make a list of these goals and really consider what will bring high quality experiences or instruction. Consider who may stand out because of our plans. Consider who may be left out. Will anything we say or study cause someone to sink down in their seat?
Be alert to relaxed activities that may be used to usher in the holiday break. If lessons aren't carefully planned, we run the risk of accidentally communicating something that we didn't intend. For instance, grabbing a Hanukkah read-aloud may feel inclusive, but without the proper planning or goal setting, students may walk away with misconceptions or stereotypes from a single, isolated exposure to the holiday.
2. Plan Thoughtfully - Search for Multiple Perspectives
One potential pitfall that teachers run into when they tackle a holiday in their classroom is feeling panicked or uninformed, then, using a resource that may have been found from a quick Google search. Just like any other nonfiction topic, finding texts and videos that offer different perspectives allow for a more nuanced understanding of the content. Try to move beyond over-simplified versions of different holidays. Look critically at "bundles" that provide small blurbs about numerous holidays. Critique the source of your materials. Check out the publication date of things that may be copied from years ago. Culture is exciting, evolving, and complex. If we plan to expose children to information outside of their own experience (or our own experience for that matter), it should be designed in a way that tries to live within the culture instead of being a tourist.
3. Every Holiday is Someone's "Normal" Holiday
The article from the SPLC did an especially good job of talking about playing up "exotic" holidays. This is the danger with teaching holidays isolated from their culture. The bigger goal of this kind of work is not to analyze cultural practice as an exhibit or performance. Work to connect the new understanding with how holidays and traditions feel within our culture/religion/belief system. Move beyond a venn diagram. Make deep, meaningful connections that honor the truth of the new holiday. What we are really working toward are students who feel connected to a global community, not watch "others" do "different".
4. This Isn't Just for "Diverse" Classrooms
We are the gate keepers. The things that we choose to prioritize will become the same things that are given significance to our students. We provide the access point. Classrooms where children seem to outwardly all celebrate the same holiday are critical spaces to carefully educate. We want a country that does not just accept differences, but understands and values differences. One of our main goals as educators should be to expand and complicate the world in communities that feel overwhelmingly similar.
5. Circle Meeting Considerations
I had to make new rules for my "High Five" check ins during December. "High Five" quickly became "listen to all the things I'm going to get/do/see." I could feel the pressure mounting as the talking piece traveled around the circle - each share feeling more like a story-topper than a real check in.
I had to add a rule to our circle meetings for December. Share what you feel, not what you get. Think about how writing prompts and conversations may serve a certain experience over others. Don't expect students to be the educators of their special religion or circumstance. How might housing, income, family, and other factors impact what students think about during these prompts?
6. Pick Bigger, Sweeping Themes for the Holiday Season
Light. Community. Celebration. Tradition. Advocacy.
By widening the holidays to themes rather than titles, connections are easier for students to make. Holidays then become examples inside a larger picture than the subject of the study. On the "resources" page for this lesson, this thematic approach is how we suggest you frame holiday exposure. This is pretty complex reading instruction as well! Bonus!
7. Do No Harm
It didn't occur to me until my own family changed drastically that "family" may be a difficult theme for the holidays. We can't be responsible for knowing all the ways our classroom environment may impact our students and we can't protect them from it all. I am the first to advocate for allowing for the hurt and mess that comes along with life - being a strong and steady perspective that helps when things get rocked. It is not my job to do the rocking. I cannot hurt then try to heal.
I do not think that eliminating all holiday talk is the answer. I do believe that if all the time-consuming steps have not been taken in time to deliver instruction that meets a lofty expectation, it is better to teach something else.