Culturally Responsive Teaching: Valentine’s Day in the Classroom

In this ongoing series, we explore what culturally responsive teaching looks like at different grade levels and offer concrete examples and resources. In January, we explored goal setting with students to start off the new yearToday, educator Lindsay Barrett offers a culturally responsive approach to Valentine’s Day in the classroom.

Culturally Responsive Teaching VDAY

More in this series:

David's DrawingsThere may not be another holiday that evokes a gamut of opinions from teachers like Valentine’s Day does. There are those who save a pink and red outfit especially for the occasion and relish the excuse for crafting and heart-themed décor. Then there are those who begrudgingly steel themselves for turbulent emotions, distraction, and a day devoid of real teaching and learning. Do teachers have to succumb to the greeting card version of February 14th? Regardless of whether and how your school celebrates Valentine’s Day, there are meaningful themes tied to the holiday, and ways to weave them into your culturally responsive classroom.

Begin, as culturally responsive teachers always do, with students’ own experiences. Ask students “When I say, ‘Valentine’s Day,’ what do you think of first?” You’ll likely get shouts about candy and groans about kissing, but hopefully, perhaps with some prompting, also some more substantial responses like kindness, love, and friendship. These responses can open broader discussions related to social emotional learning, which is important in any classroom, and closely tied to culturally responsive teaching practices. Choose one or more of the themes below to explore as a class. Or, for older students, have small groups each choose a theme to read and talk about. Report back in a whole-class meeting or jigsaw fashion. Note that discussions like these will be more meaningful if you’ve created a safe and supportive space in your classroom, a key component of culturally responsive instruction.

Friendship

Many classrooms discuss friendship at the start of the year, but its relevance only deepens as the year progresses. Share David’s Drawings and ask, “What friendly things did the characters do? How did those friendly acts make David feel?” (Find additional related discussion questions in this Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten.) Compile a list of ideas for friendly school behaviors –Valentine’s Day related or not– and challenge students to try them out.

Share Rainbow Joe and Me to open discussion about unconventional friendships. Have students brainstorm a list of people they know who may appreciate a friendly, and perhaps unexpected, acknowledgement around Valentine’s Day.

Under the Lemon MoonKindness

Kindness is another universal theme worthy of cyclical discussion. Challenge your students to think outside the chocolate box about examples of kindness and the impact kind acts can have. The poems in Lend a Hand offer plenty of inspiration, from cheering for an underdog to helping a younger or older person in need. Use your brainstorm as a springboard for a classroom or school wide Kindness Challenge as an alternative Valentine’s Day celebration.

Empathy

Empathy is a complex topic that takes on different meanings as students mature. Share stories relevant to your students that encourage empathy. Soledad Sigh-Sighs/Soledad suspiros gives students insight into what it feels like to be lonely. Discuss topics like financial worries, family struggles, or bullying with titles like The Can Man, Under the Lemon Moon, or King for a Day. Invite students to imagine or even share personal experiences related to how these challenges may play out around Valentine’s Day.

Practice empathetic perspective-taking by having students create comic strips that include a range of experiences, thoughts and feelings for typical Valentine’s Day events such as receiving –or not receiving– a card or gift. Challenge students to think about more empathetic approaches to celebrating Valentine’s Day in your school. Do they have suggestions for classroom norms and expectations about gift giving that will honor everyone’s experiences? Do they have thoughts on how to structure a card exchange to make it accessible and enjoyable for all? Are there creative ways to celebrate that would brighten the days of those who are less fortunate? Chances are, the best ideas will come straight from your students.

The bottom line is, culturally responsive classrooms don’t shy away from meaningful conversations, on Valentine’s Day or any other. Rather than throw in the (heart-printed, glittery) towel, consider reframing Valentine’s Day with a focus on themes that are important all year long. As a bonus: all this work definitely earns you some chocolate after school.

About the Author: Lindsay Barrett is a former elementary teacher and literacy nonprofit director. She currently works as a literacy consultant and stays busy raising three young boys. Find out more about her work at lindsay-barrett.com.

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