|Our Diwali art displayed in the hall outside the classroom where I taught for eight years.|
One of the very first things I learned as a teacher was the importance of marking celebrations. Big boxes awaited me as I moved into my classroom, boxes full of toys and materials for daily use, but also boxes full of holiday gear: banners, bulletin board kits, holiday-specific games and manipulatives, window clings and other decorations. I was grateful to be blessed with my lovely, large room and my stocked cupboards. It didn't occur to me to question the meaning of these materials; I was joining a large team with a wonderful leader who generously gave me advice, materials, and her time. That first year was a wonderful blur, filled with much learning (mostly for me!) I learned many things that stick with me to this day: how to keep September light and fun-filled with lots of group games, songs, and get-to-know-you play, how to share the learning in the class with families at home (in early days newsletters, later through class website), how to invite older classes in for shared learning (reading buddies, experiment helpers).
Now, in way of explanation about why I started to change the way I looked at holidays at school: I come from a family in which many celebrations were shared, because my father was raised Jewish and my mother, Christian. My parents didn't make us choose, instead we had twice the traditions: a Christmas tree and carols sung at Christmas eve parties, Hanukkah-gilt (chocolate coins) at friends in the city (we were the only Jewish family in our small town so Jewish celebrations meant trips to Toronto). We had easter egg hunts and Passover matzo. My parents were jazz musicians (my mother before she had kids, while my father continues to play gigs regularly) and this meant we had a more varied roster of visitors at our house than at our neighbours' homes. Our family friends were from around the world or at the very least had traveled extensively. As a child I had treasures from my aunt's time traveling around Asia working as a nurse, my father's boxes of slides and artifacts from Korea (as an American soldier, he was there at the end of the war in '53 and there he fell in love with the people), and stories from the road from many musicians who came to stay. We lived in the countryside near Cookstown and Gilford, but went to school south of us in Bradford. Now Bradford changed while I was in High School, much to my delight, but before then it was an unremarkable place in terms of the cultural make-up. We had churches, that was it. So my family stood out, and my parents' friends showed me other ways to be: so called "mixed-marriages" across religion and race, alternative life-styles to ours (my favourite was my aunt's friend who lived on his sailboat and sailed the world). Perhaps this is why I always knew that there are many ways to understand holiday traditions, and that what is meaningful for some is at best, exotic, at worst, frightening or exclusionary to others (like those students whose religion forbade celebrating birthdays or other holidays).
|An experiment with mini-pumpkins a few years ago: from old, new life emerges.|
|Scenes from our pumpkin explorations this year.|
Before we decide on a "party" ... http://t.co/7ubR3apEU4 How would you answer these questions? #edchat #kinderchat
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) March 15, 2014
This all came back to me yesterday when I read a fantastic blog post by "a critical friend" Aviva Dunsinger. I love Aviva's voice in our PLN because she has a rather broad perspective as a teacher who's taught Kindergarten, primary and junior students, and who embraces inquiry and technology in her daily practice. As a teacher in a junior grade, for her the holiday celebrations can represent time straying from the more important content of the curriculum. I've included her questions in the quote below; these would be a wonderful place for any grade level teacher to ask themselves, in a "Repeat, Rethink, Remove" format. For the full post, please see here.
While reading the tweets today about holiday celebrations at school, I couldn’t help but think about these questions.I was thrilled that Aviva framed the argument so well, in terms of what impact, what purpose, and what accountability we have to all our diverse students. I immediately jumped back to twitter to tell her how much I appreciated her post. Several others joined in and reaffirmed my belief that the best PD available is a great twitter PLN. The conversation on twitter: Click here for Storify version
How would you answer these questions? What are your thoughts on “holiday parties?” Which ones do you choose to celebrate and which ones do you choose not to? Why? Sometimes I wonder if we simply celebrate because “we always have,” and should we be re-looking at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
- Why and how are we recognizing these holidays?
- Are we building knowledge about these holidays — based on student interests — or are we using these celebrations as reasons to watch a movie and have treats? What are the benefits and drawbacks to our approaches?
- How are we using these celebrations to increase student achievement and meet curriculum expectations?
- How does “stopping” for these holidays impact on our other classroom inquiries? What, if any, long-term impact does “halting” our regular program have?
- What impact do these changes in routine have on our students? How are we preparing our students to be successful during these unstructured times?
- What holidays are we choosing to celebrate? Are we recognizing the holidays celebrated by our diverse student populations?
- Linking to our new Social Studies Curriculum Document, are we ensuring that students hear the first person perspectives of the many people that celebrate these various holidays? How are we giving everyone a “voice?”
Your first consideration is usually to incorporate holidays so because it is March, you focus on St. Patrick’s Day (at its roots a religious celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, who in fact was British not Irish and a day whose origins were a mission to teach Catholicism to Pagans), clovers (which are actually shamrocks and were used to symbolize the holy trinity), green (although the original colour honouring St. Patrick’s day was blue) and leprechauns (an Irish fairy hybrid who was originally dressed in red and from my understanding really has no connection to St. Patrick’s day). Religious symbolism, saints, fairies, oh my! I hope we all agree that St. Patrick’s Day as a curriculum choice for young children might be pedagogically questionable. Please forgive me if I have offended any who have a particularly strong tie to St. Patrick’s Day (My grandfather was Irish), shamrocks (I look for four leaf clovers and the good luck they bring each Spring), leprechauns (I honour them all year round with my garden gnome) and the colour green (it is one of my favourite colours).
This post came as music to my ears. I had forgotten about my initial response (quoted below) but it all came together re-reading my thoughts. I want my classroom to move at the speed of children.
My goodness, look at this! Our one surviving pumpkin seed has a surprise! pic.twitter.com/wU2Ju9vCOT
— Beyond 4walls (@FynesKs) February 10, 2014
@FynesKs remember this, friends? https://t.co/PhYNkMOLM7
— Beyond 4walls (@FynesKs) February 25, 2014
Our pumpkin seed continues to astound me. What do you see when you #lookclosely at today's bloom? What do you wonder? pic.twitter.com/4OxLQ5o8W4
— Beyond 4walls (@FynesKs) February 28, 2014
So I leave these thoughts with you, readers. Do you also have such questions about the culture of your classroom? I'd love to know.