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Tips for a Culturally Responsive Holiday Celebration in Your Classroom

The last month of the year is often such a busy time for students and teachers alike. It can be difficult to keep your students on task and productive with the excitement of the looming holidays and when a much-needed winter break draws closer every day! While it can be tempting to rely on the Christmas spirit to get you through—taking a singular approach to celebrating the holidays in your classroom—these celebrations don’t speak to the diverse needs of your individual students.

Taking a culturally responsive approach helps you meet the needs of all your students while keeping them engaged before the holiday break. Here are three practical tips to maintain an environment of culturally responsive teaching in your classroom during the holidays.

Use the holidays to build relationships with and between students.

The winter holiday season is a great time to learn about your class and what matters most to them. Get to know your students and create activities that inspire them to deepen their sense of self by exploring how they celebrate at home, if they do at all. Don’t expect students to be the experts in their cultural traditions or assume they celebrate a holiday based on their ethnicity. To that end, encourage parents and families to come to the classroom as guests to share their holiday traditions during this season. These activities can be useful as you deepen your rapport with students as well as their understanding of the nuances of how each family may celebrate winter holidays differently.

As you strengthen your relationships with your students, be mindful of how their economic and cultural backgrounds impact the ways in which they experience the holidays. Try to be as inclusive as possible when designing classroom activities during this time of year to make students feel valued and welcomed as they share their traditions, too.

Create a safe space for students.

As you celebrate the winter holidays in your classroom, consider ways you can create a space of comfort and safety for all of your students. It’s especially important to create learning environments that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, and experiences of all members of your classroom. Remind everyone to be respectful of each other at all times. Avoid the temptation to require everyone to participate in extra activities during this season, as some families may not be able to manage additional responsibilities or have extra funds to spend. Redirect conversations about presents students want to receive; instead, emphasize gratitude for what we already have.

You may also want to consider the neurodivergent student needs in your classroom and how you might reduce the extra holiday stimuli that can easily overwhelm adults and students alike. Consider paring down the lights, sounds, and smells of the holidays, or focusing on low-key traditions and practices that set a cozy mood instead.

Explore other cultural traditions to deepen curiosity and develop cognitive rigor.

The holiday season is yet another time to encourage your class to be curious and open-minded about the ways other people celebrate holidays. Start by sharing the ways you celebrate. What similarities are there to how holidays are celebrated in your home country, and what differences can students identify? Use this as a starting point for conversations with students to explore cultures and the world around them. This may be a good time to incorporate a virtual exchange activity with a special guest or classroom from your home country. Encourage students to analyze their findings and illustrate what they’ve learned.

Celebrate with a week of holiday traditions around the world: Each day, explore a new country and how it celebrates through resources like these, including videos and songs. Specific holidays can be celebrated in a myriad of ways depending on the cultural traditions that exist in a country, and exploring the world in this way is fun and engaging for your students!

Participate Learning is committed to making a positive impact on the world through equitable education opportunities that inspire future global leaders. Our Ambassador Teachers work tirelessly to provide the best learning experiences for their students, all while sharing their culture. For more information on our Ambassador Teachers, click here.

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