Creating a Caring Classroom for the Holidays
I can remember as a child wanting the newest toy each Christmas. Whether it be Snake Mountain from He-Man, or the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, that was what I cared about most.
My thoughts were consumed with these toys, and I took my parents advice when they kept singing the song, “He sees you when your sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.” I was on my best behavior. I wanted those toys!
Somewhere in the shuffle, it became all about me, and not about others. I grew up expecting material things on Christmas and that was the way it was.
Fast forward to my first year of teaching. It was 1997 and I was a first year Title 1 teacher in a small school in rural Wisconsin. The holidays were approaching and I knew I had to get gifts for my students. But what did they want? Did they want the newest toys, their favorite candy, or something else? I spent many nights thinking about how I was going to make them all happy with the perfect give for each of them.
But then I realized, do material possessions make people happy? Sure, in the moment they do, but like any toy, it eventually is tossed aside and forgotten. I wanted to do something different, something my students would remember. But at the last moment, I chickened out and got each student a candy cane and a book.
This tradition continued for most of my teaching career. I even had students draw names from a hat to see which student in class they would be purchasing a gift for as well. That started out as a small toy to buy, but eventually moved to purchasing a book. But I saw it then already, some of my students could not afford even a $4 gift for a student. What was I doing? What message was I sending them about the holidays?
Finally, two years ago, I got rid of the gift exchange all together. It was very difficult for me to not have the students get each other a gift, but you know what, they didn’t seem to care. They were fine with it.
As this holiday season approached, I wanted to do something more meaningful and show them that it is more about giving then receiving. I thought to myself what would mean more to the students then getting a material object? Then it dawned on me, I was looking at the season all wrong. It is not about giving, but about receiving.
My students wanted to reach out, but they needed me to be able to be the leader. We came up with two ideas that I hope many across the country can do as well.
Letters of Appreciation from Students
Teachers, in general, have been kind of beat up over the past few years. With all the testing, and state mandates, educators have been forced to spend more time testing then they would like. It seems like poverty is on the rise as well and students are coming to school with some of their basic needs not being met (food, shelter…). What better way then to pick staff members up during the holiday season then to receive a letter from a former student. As a class, we brainstormed all the people in the building that make, or have made a difference in their lives. From classroom teachers, to specialists, to the secretary, aides, the principal and more, the list became huge. But the students just said that they would write two letters to cover all the people!
You can find this amazing resource for FREE by clicking here. It contains all the steps you will need to do with your class to make it a successful writing campaign. Just watch for tears of joy as staff members receive these letters!
2. Field Trip for a Cause
This year we are also doing an inaugural (with the hope of this being yearly event) field trip to help support various causes in the community. We are going to color place mats for seniors at a health care facility, help pack food boxes for the hungry, tie blankets for those who need them over the cold holiday season, and learn about ways we can all help out in the community. This will be an invaluable experience for our students.
We want to make this next generation learn about compassion and caring for others. We are hoping that by them giving this holiday season, they will receive the greatest gift of all, caring for someone other than themselves.