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Diversity in STEM

How Can Educators Support Inclusive Holiday Celebrations?

Through more than 30 years of creating confidence-building STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming, our team here at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® has learned that the best learning environments are diverse, equitable and inclusive.

One way educators can foster greater inclusion is to observe holidays with their students. From creating festive decorations to sharing cultural and family traditions, celebrating holidays with your students has the power to spark feelings of joy and togetherness.

For school districts that serve diverse student populations, especially those with English language learners, highlighting your students’ holidays and cultures can go a long way in helping them feel valued and included.

Of course, when it comes to religious holidays in particular, guidance from the U.S. Department of Education should be followed: “Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.”

Though well-intentioned, focusing on particular holidays in an educational environment can have unintended consequences including leading students to feel uncomfortable, left out or embarrassed. To help educators navigate the best ways to acknowledge holidays in the classroom, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) suggests the following tips for inclusive celebrations.


Be Accurate and Sensitive

Whenever possible, the ADL recommends avoiding asking students to be experts on their respective religions or holidays. Children might be embarrassed or uncomfortable to share their religious or cultural practices, they could lack experience and they might not always have accurate information to share with their classmates. Instead, the ADL encourages educators to provide accurate information on these topics using reliable resources or by inviting a member from the community to visit the class.


Avoid Stereotyping

Unfortunately, there are some holiday traditions and customs that can involve stereotypes. Instead of ignoring these, when possible, the ADL recommends educators identify these and work together with students to brainstorm ways to counteract them. It’s also important to avoid treating certain holidays as “special” or “exotic,” to prevent a one-sided perspective of any culture.


Look for Themes

Identifying common themes between different holidays across cultures can help students begin to learn the similarities between how people across the world celebrate. The ADL suggests exploring how lights are implemented in a variety of different holidays, from Christmas to Kwanzaa. Additionally, the theme of “liberation” is one that many different holidays share, including the Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.


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