Dr. Marisa May, Assistant Professor
Seasons represent the ebb and flow of life. From a very young age, many people are trained to associate certain times of the year with special celebrations and events. Some await the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve. Jewish individuals celebrate Yom Kippur, which is a vital piece of their culture, as it is the holiest day of the year. Many in the African American community observe Kwanzaa, to celebrate family, community and culture.
In addition to bringing family and friends together and preserving cultural traditions, holidays and observances can be important touchstones used to foster understanding and appreciation of other cultures in the classroom. As an educator, I feel that it is important that these special days are honored, which in turn honors the diversity of students that choose to learn in my classroom year to year.
So, here are some of my tips to integrate holiday celebrations into any classroom environment:
Discussion boards can be a useful tool for encouraging the celebration of diversity!
First and foremost, discussion boards are a way for all students to connect and experience different perspectives that they might not encounter otherwise. The greatest benefit to a discussion board is that I, as the instructor, can guide the topic of the conversation. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of students and the different holidays and observances they celebrate. Oftentimes, I can simply ask questions about the celebrations they participate in and how they are planning to celebrate holidays throughout the year. Encouraging conversations around these topics can be the first step to creating a more inclusive and celebratory classroom environment.
Holiday-themed word problems can make students feel included.
Holidays are a time for remembrance, but they can also be a time for fun traditions. One of the most fun things for me personally, as an educator, is to craft word problems that are centered around different holidays. For example, Yom Kippur is usually around late September or early October. Around this time, I will mention this holiday in problems I create for students to solve and I elaborate on the details of Yom Kippur if I can. This allows my students who observe Yom Kippur to feel celebrated while simultaneously educating other students about this holiday. This is a fun way for all of us to learn something new in an unexpected way.
Class announcements can be a means of recognizing significant dates on the calendar!
As an educator, I believe that lifelong learning can take on many different forms. It is true that we never stop learning, but from this perspective, it is also true that there is no limit on learning content. I believe that my students have the ability to teach me new things, just as much as I have the ability to teach them new material. This allows my students and I to be aware of different cultures and celebrations of which we were previously unaware. One of the greatest benefits of announcements is that they are time sensitive. Weekly updates that go directly to the student can be a great way to communicate not only what is coming up next in the course, but also what is approaching with regards to various holiday and observance celebrations.
In my experience as an educator, I have found great value in ensuring that all students feel welcome and included in my classroom. A safe learning environment encourages learning that is productive and unhindered. Making an effort to honor the various holidays from different cultures and religions is a simple way to create an optimal learning environment for my students. I hope that with these tips, you will also be able to foster a memorable and inclusive learning environment for your students as well.