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It’s that time of year again. You know, the time when teachers (and sometimes politicians) debate the most appropriate ways to celebrate the holidays in the classroom. With the great diversity in public schools, it’s easy to see why the debate continues year after year.According to the most recent stats from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a cross section of 100 students from the average United States public classroom looks something like this: 58 non-Hispanic White, 20 Hispanic, 16 non-Hispanic Black, four Asian/Pacific Islander and one American Indian/Alaska Native. And, of those students, 21 speak a language other than English at home. Chances are some of your students are not celebrating Christmas at all, but in its place Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Lunar New Year or a host of other holidays.

Thankfully, in recent years educational initiatives surrounding culturally responsive classroom practices have been popping up across the United States, providing educators with resources for celebrating not only traditional American holidays, but holidays around the globe. We’ve pulled together a few ideas for celebrating “the holidays” in your classroom. For complete guidelines and one-to-one instruction, find the program for culturally responsive instruction in your state.

Plan as a team
You do not need to take on the holidays alone. Plan a school-wide staff meeting dedicated to all things holidays. If you already have a culturally responsive education initiative or program at your school, be sure to invite your in-school expert. If not, locate the center for culturally responsive education in your area and ask for a representative to attend the meeting and provide guidance.

Welcome educators by handing out monthly planners that can be used during the meeting to mark holidays that will be celebrated school-wide and to take notes. Some topics to consider during the meeting include:

  • Past holiday practices—What has worked well and what has not?
  • How does cultural composition of the staff influence/effect celebrations?
  • What themes can be identified that are common to all cultures?
  • What needs to be done to ensure celebrations are educational rather than devotional?
  • What are the guidelines, recommendations or best practices that have already been identified for your state?

Keep the conversation open after the meeting by placing a whiteboard tabletop display in a common area that acts as an open forum for staff to leave questions and write responses.

Decide what’s right for your classroom
After the team meeting, it’s time to decide what’s right for your classroom. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Talk to your students before planning a celebration inclusive of their cultures. Find out if the students are comfortable sharing their cultures with the classroom or if it will make them feel singled out.
  • If students are okay with sharing, ask parents or grandparents to be part of the celebration. Not only will this make the experience more authentic, but it reflects the true sense of tradition and will help the students feel supported.
  • Find out what cultural centers and established cultural communities exist in your area. Remember, they can be a great resource to learn about important culture-specific holidays or to schedule a speaker or demonstration for your classroom.
  • Find out what holidays are important to your students. As a take-home assignment, handout inexpensive wall calendars and ask students and parents to work together to write in all the holidays that are important in their family. Then, hang the calendars around the room and dedicate time each week to talk about the upcoming holidays that will be celebrated by students in your classroom.

If you do book speakers for your classroom, let them know their message was well received with a nice token of thanks. Have students use what they learned to design a custom Color-Me Shopping Tote or to create thank-you bookmarks to stash away inside the Gift of Inspiration series book “Thank You,” custom-imprinted with your school’s logo.

Remember, a cultural approach to the holidays is not just for students from diverse backgrounds. Having a well-rounded cultural education helps all students gain new knowledge and grow an appreciation for cultures other than their own.

“Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education. Web. 30 Oct. 2011.

“The Condition of Education – Participation in Education – Elementary/Secondary Education – Children Who Spoke a Language Other Than English at Home – Indicator 6 (2011).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education. Web. 29 Oct. 2011.

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