Holidays and Schools – Culture Beyond Heritage

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It’s December and schools around the world are choosing to celebrate a number of holidays. Does your school observe or celebrate holidays or do you require student, parents and staff to “check them at the front door?” It’s important for us to think beyond these special days when building relationships with our students, families and staff in building a healthy school culture.  Below is a guest post by Knapp Elementary ESL teacher Nancy Kaufman (@kaufmna)

Culture Beyond Heritage
In order to maximize learning, a student must not only feel unthreatened but must also feel accepted.  An accepting learning environment recognizes and acknowledges the culture of each student through a variety of activities and opportunities.  The culture of a student includes an array of multi-faceted characteristics that helps define the uniqueness of that individual. Of course the student’s heritage incorporates several cultural aspects including race, language, religion, customs, and holiday celebrations, but also included in the culture of that student are economic and social aspects affecting confidence, determination, and attitude.  For a student whose economic culture results in his coming to school hungry and cold, exploring opportunities for education pales in comparison to satisfying basic needs.   If a student fears being bullied or ostracized, those concerns are part of the culture that will disrupt and derail learning. Anxiety about a sick family member or an unemployed parent could surely affect the academic focus of that student. Conversely, positive aspects of a student’s culture can create energy and enthusiasm for learning.  Excitement and energy about family celebrations, religious holidays, and customs can be channeled into opportunities for gaining confidence and respect.  If a student is given an opportunity to share culture and be proud of heritage, self-respect and self-esteem can enhance learning. 

Culture is surely a complex and often misunderstood term.  Before discussing or referring to an individual’s culture, the definition must be clarified.  Simply and briefly, a student’s culture includes every characteristic that defines individuality.  Should culture be celebrated in public schools?  Perhaps “celebrated” is not as appropriate as “recognized” or “appreciated” when dealing with culture.  Ultimately, to recognize culture may instill pride and confidence in a student and encourage that student to explore possibilities, opportunities, potential, and ambitious goals.

Nancy Kaufman is a @KnappElementary ESL teacher, an energetic educator and life-long learner. She is also a valued contributor in the weekly #ptchat conversation. Nancy has a M.Ed. in Multicultural Curriculum Design and a B.S. Elementary/Special Education. 
For more related to this topic, listen in on a dialogue from this week’s 10 minute BAM Radio Network podcast in which Holly Elissa Bruno, Joyce Kinney, Marilyn Moats Kennedy and Joe Mazza discuss “Holiday Expectations on School Leaders.”

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