Tis the season – wondering about the Christmas and Holiday time in schools

I am 42 years old. And this Christmas was my first (maybe since I was 4?) that I did not spend as a direct member of a school community – either as a student or a faculty member. Of course, I was a parent for my two boys – in their holiday season at school – but that doesn’t seem quite the same.

For the past five years, at least, I have perceived more and more comments like, “We’re just trying to survive the crazy Christmas season” coming from school people. Maybe because of my recent career move – I still work in education, but not at one particular school – I was more aware of the commentary this year. As I spoke to numerous school-based educators this season, many of them remarked, “Bo, you remember what it’s like this time of year in school. We’re just trying to get through the days to break.”

By no means did everyone make such a comment. Of course not. But the ratio was about four to one, if I had to guess. About four out of five school-based people commented on the hectic nature of the Christmas season in schools.

Just to be clear – I do not mean to be at all critical here. It’s really just an observation. But it has made me think a lot (more) about school change.

If so many amazing school-based educators see the Christmas season in schools as hectic – as something to be “survived” until we get to vacation – then why don’t we do more to resolve and rectify the “craziness?” Why don’t we adjust the schedule, change the tenor, and remedy the stressors?

Someone wise once told me, “Bo, God did not create the school schedule. We created it. So…we can change it. It’s in our power to do so, and I don’t think God would mind. In fact, God might rather appreciate the modifications, especially if they were meant in a spirit of Christmas-full-ness.”

To be fair, a number of school-based people also remarked to me about the wonders and specialness of the Christmas season in schools and asked if I was missing it. Those people were just outnumbered by those talking about the speed and stress of their season.

This time next year, I wonder if any brave school folks will have resolved in the new year to address what they deemed the “craziness of the season,” or if anyone will have adjusted the daily and weekly routines of December in order to instill more balance and joyfulness at a time of year that is meant to be such at its core. Will a few school-based change agents help their communities move from “survival” to “peaceful?”

It could be a great exercise in change and progress. It could be a way to transform observational commentary into purposeful improvement. It’s only just a thought.

4 thoughts on “Tis the season – wondering about the Christmas and Holiday time in schools

  1. To me, the craziness acknowledged is really an increase in level of responsibility. As a JH and HS classroom teacher, December brings exams – a stressful time for children and adults. We all want the learners in our care to excel and feel successful. My community of learners tends to change their focus from learning to testing. In addition, we are also in high celebration mode. We prepare for services, performances, and family gatherings all the while studying, preparing, scoring, and finalizing the academic semester.

    While at Westminster, we transitioned from exams after Christmas to exams before Christmas. I applauded this change for our children. Once exams were completed in December, there was nothing formal to study for thereby giving our learners the freedom to self-direct their learning. There were no assignments for children and parents to manage or worry over.

    I’m wondering after reading your post, if another transition might be in order. As you know, I’ve had a very different school experience this year being at an elementary school for the first time. No exams; but lots of holiday activities.

    What if we changed the schedule of exams – if we must have exams at all – so that they occur in late October and early March? Would we feel more peaceful and joyful? Would we have more time in December and May to focus on relationships and community? Would we have more time to focus on learning?

    And, as a side note, in December my school honored and celebrated Diwali, Christmas, and Hanukkah.

    • Jill, thanks so much for your comment. For the upper grade levels – those taking exams – I think the confluence of the seasonal celebrations and the end-of-term tests, papers, “projects” and exams is too much – especially if we are striving for more balance in our lives. Yet, I have heard the comments about the “craziness” from all grade levels from youngest to oldest, so I wonder what’s going on at the younger grades that makes many talk about the craziness of the schedule.

      My post (from my point of view at least) was really exploring the idea of people talking about a craziness from year to year but not really doing anything to address or remedy the stressful situation. We created the situations, so we should be able to resolve them. Or we could just stop talking about the craziness and surviving until break.

      I love your idea of moving exams – if we must take them at all – to October and March. They can be cumulative enough at those times and other methods of assessment could be employed for a more balanced assessment portfolio.

      I really appreciate you reading and commenting! Thanks.

  2. Hi Bo – When I saw your tweet, I was expecting a discussion of Christmas in schools as a diversity dilemma, yet you raise issues related only to the hectic nature of time in the weeks leading to vacation. You seem to miss the boat entirely. It seems to me that the real question (and perhaps the source of significant stress for many) is how do we as school leaders charged with creating and maintaining truly diverse communities acknowledge religious and cultural traditions that only some of our members celebrate. Think of the stress that Christmas places on Jewish and Muslim (and other) families who see these rituals as signs that they do not really belong. By the way, “holidays” is just a euphemism for Christmas.

    • George, I really appreciate your comment. Thanks for taking the time to read the post, reflect on what it stirred in you, and provide your thoughts for me to read. I understand your points about Christian/Christmas celebrations in schools and the issues that such can raise for a community of diverse religions and spiritual differences. I certainly have seen and experienced schools that handle this well, as well as those that don’t. Of course, the issues differ, too, based on whether the schools are public, parochial, or independent. But, as you point out, I was not trying to catch this boat with this post.

      A post about diversity dilemmas surrounding religion may be the boat you were seeking, but it was not the boat that I was seeking in my reflection. I was specifically reflecting on a number of comments that I have heard throughout the years indicating that life seems too hectic in December for many school-based educators. Perhaps I did a poor job articulating my reflections, but with this post I was wondering why we “complain” about the seasonal stress without actually addressing the root causes of the hectic-scheduled stress. Why do we say the same things year after year about being in “survival mode” instead of adjusting our practices to model the balance and joy that seem to be such genuine goals for education and educators?

      On another level, I meant to treat the post as a metaphor – a case study of sorts – related to an example of how we talk about a school-based frustration rather than doing something more actively to address and improve the situation – and more deliberately.

      While I find it a bit ironic that you state you were looking for something about diversity awareness at the same time that you point out that my own thoughts missed your anticipated boat, I do appreciate your push back. Your comment caused me to consider even more aspects to the challenges schools face as they experience the holiday season of December.

      George, have you written anything related to the issue you were expecting from my post? If so, I would enjoy reading it. I agree with you that school leaders are charged with creating environments respectful of all of the members of the school community. I’m sure that I could learn from how you respond to that charge in your school leadership position.

      All the best to you.

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