Being Culturally Sensitive During the Holiday Season
By Kirsten Hammond
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Christmas is around the corner, magic is filling the air, and all things Christmas have been everywhere since the end of Halloween. Here in Texas, Christmas trees and decorations have stocked in Target since October!
Other holidays take center stage during this winter season too. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also celebrated by people across America and around the world during this time.
So, it’s our job as teachers to be culturally responsive so that all our students can enjoy this time of year and feel a sense of belonging.
How do we do that?
What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
First of all, culturally responsive teaching is recognizing the diversity of your students. It’s tapping into their cultural knowledge for content learning.
It’s celebrating them by making sure they know that you value their cultural identities too. It’s a way to support equitable learning.
Why is it Important to be Culturally Responsive?
In the same way that differentiation is important, so is culturally responsive teaching. We have to do it in order to create a sense of belonging in our classrooms.
Our students spend so much of their waking hours within the walls of our schools. They learn best when they feel like they belong. This is an excellent article that talks about creating “people safety”, and is especially relevant for us as teachers.
How can I be Culturally Responsive During the Winter Season?
1. Show interest in the background of all of your students!
Pretty straight forward, I know. But once we show interest, what then?
As teachers, we do need to be aware of our own biases and assumptions. Not everyone celebrates Christmas the same way, and not everyone even celebrates Christmas.
This is where cultural responsiveness comes in. Make sure your curriculum, such as your books, projects, and holiday activities, is diverse and relevant to who your students are.
We are surrounded by Christmas in December, from malls to restaurants to our streets filled with decorations. Our classrooms of course can celebrate Christmas too, AND we can celebrate other holidays at the same time!
One of the schools I worked at had a large population of students who were Jewish. Instead of doing Christmas Around the World activities, we made sure to incorporate all winter holidays – Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.
One year our 3rd grade team, with the help of parent volunteers, put together an afternoon in the cafeteria where students went through rotations related to Hanukkah. Students read Hanukkah books, played dreidel, and even made latkes!
I have also used this webquest as part of my curriculum during the winter season, and it was always a hit with my kids.
2. Explore themes common in all cultures.
One other strategy I’ve found helps is to explore themes common in all cultures. Every celebration brings together family and friends, has specific cultural meals, and has its own rituals. It’s a nice way to find common ground.
3. Ask for support!
Above all, the best advice I can give is this: don’t be afraid to ask for support from your students, parents, or other teachers.
There are so many cultures and traditions in the world, even just in the month of December, that no one can be expected to be experts on all of them. So anticipate a culturally rich month of December, and ask for help!
For example, I had a student whose family did not celebrate any birthdays and holidays. The mother talked to us in advance and gave us helpful advice and tips to navigate the school year, such as providing alternative activities or working in another classroom during the Valentine’s Day and Winter parties.
Our families and larger community are the experts. If we listen to them and tap into their knowledge, the winter season can be a warm and heartfelt time for all to create lasting memories!
Kirsten is a former 3rd and 5th grade teacher who loves helping upper elementary teachers by creating resources and sharing ideas that are engaging, research-based, and TEKS-aligned. She is a work-from-home mama of 3 rambunctious little ones and loves running, true crime, and lots of coffee.