#142 – Creating Supportive Classrooms During the Holiday

Unpacking Education December 21, 2022 32 min

This week, we build off of the insights and holiday traditions shared by teachers and students last week. In this context, we unpack how cross-cultural competence can help us better understand and engage with people from other cultures and communities. At one point, Rena asks the question, “What if every student had had the opportunity to deeply understand other cultures, and if that were true, how would that change the future and how we interact and see one another?”

Throughout this episode, we explore how we can help our students develop these skills as a way to better understand each other and also to feel seen themselves.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

We can create our own celebrations and acknowledge many ways to celebrate life, history, and ancestry. And that’s something that I hope all teachers, educators, and all students know that we are all worthy of celebrating…

Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, Assistant Professor in Educational Studies, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN


While it’s important to realize that each of our students is unique and deserves to be seen, the realization alone is often not enough. We must go a step further and actively create a classroom in which individual students feel valued and recognized. During our conversation this week, we share strategies and approaches that you can implement in your classroom. Last week was an awareness episode, and this week takes it one step further into actionable strategies. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • Reducing Implicit Bias: When students learn about each other and diverse communities, they begin to build a repertoire of knowledge that can help them challenge stereotypes in an informed way.
  • Curriculum Integration: We can look for opportunities to connect student backgrounds, traditions, and experiences with curricular content. Oftentimes, these personal connections can help students better understand the content while also helping to grow their understanding of classmates.
  • Provide Student Voice: Be curious about students and ask them about themselves. This can help them feel valued while also helping you gain a better understanding of your students. This sharing can be informal or introduced into class activities and projects, like speeches, creative projects, and writing assignments.
  • Physical Classroom Space: The decor in our classrooms can help students learn about each other and feel included. For instance, hanging flags in the room can lead to teachable moments about a culture or country. Another approach is to let students decorate the classroom space themselves. This guarantees that it will be representative of those in the room, and it gives them an additional level of ownership in that space.
  • Diversity Inventories: Consider conducting a diversity inventory, where you review the physical space in each classroom for evidence of which students are visually represented. Do all students see themselves in this space? If not, how might this be improved?
  • Safe Sharing Spaces: It’s important to develop protocols and expectations to ensure students share in a respectful way and in a way that leads to a feeling of safety. One method is to use digital programs that allow for both teacher monitoring as well as anonymous commenting on peer work. Another approach is to set the expectation that students will only share successes and praise. This can help develop an ongoing expectation that peer sharing is a positive experience.
  • Venn Diagram: Consider creating a Venn diagram to represent the similarities and differences of the students in your classroom. It can lead to better understanding, discoveries, and a beautiful visual representation of the class as a whole.
  • Picture Books: Reading picture books about various cultures is a great way to expose students to cultural contexts within the curricular goals of reading and literacy. Picture books can work with students of all ages and can be read more quickly than longer chapter books.
  • Community Events: Consider attending community cultural events if they are offered in your area. If they are not available to you in person, you can seek out some to attend or review virtually.
  • Examine the Standards: Look at your academic standards and determine where you have flexibility. In these areas where you have choice, as if there are there opportunities for students to integrate elements of their personal identity into the work.
  • Seek Knowledge: This can be done in many ways. You can speak with other teachers in your building who have been there longer and may have a better understanding of local norms and traditions. You can also do a bit of research to learn about the various cultures of students in your classroom. Most importantly, it’s always beneficial to ask the students themselves for that firsthand knowledge and relational capacity building.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you know about the cultures of your students and colleagues?
  • What are some examples where a lack of cultural knowledge may lead to a misunderstanding?
  • How can you make sure students see themselves in your physical classroom space?
  • How can you give your students voice to share their personal cultural backgrounds and traditions?
  • How can you make your environment a safe space for sharing?
  • What strategies did you hear in this episode that you might want to try in your role as an educator?
  • How can these strategies be integrated during the holiday season?