Teachers who get into a giving mood can help their students learn the true meaning of the holdays
For Administrators

Holidays Help Teachers Instill Value of Service, Gratitude in Students

By Brian Gatens November 13, 2014

My first years as a teacher took place in St. Raymond’s High School for Boys, a private, religious high school in the East Bronx of New York City. I’ll never forget the school’s ability to support a diverse population and act as a springboard to helping teens achieve college success.

High academic standards and strong student support made St. Raymond’s an excellent place to start my career, but something else about the school — a culture of service toward others, kindness at all times and the fostering of a family atmosphere — bears mentioning as the holiday season arrives.

St. Raymond’s principles came alive in activities such as delivering meals to homebound AIDS patients, purchasing hundreds of Christmas gifts for needy students and running community service trips to Appalachian Mountain communities. For me, doing these good deeds ingrained the importance of developing the compassionate and service-oriented side of a school.

All good teachers know school is more than just academics, tests and report cards. This time of the year enables us to put extra emphasis on the public service and character-building components of our profession. Taking part in charitable works during November and December fits right in with the themes of the season and I can assure you that there are children who will take away incredible pride and strong lessons from being guided to help others through your classroom leadership.

What are some ideas that you can bring to life in your classroom?

Giving thanks

The national celebration of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day opens up a wonderful opportunity for you to expand upon the idea of being grateful. I’ve been taught that gratitude is an action word, and that your class can take solid actions to express their gratitude.

Examples include traditional activities such as running food drives and canned food collections. It can also be expanded to writing letters of thanks to school secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and crossing guards. Fostering an attitude of being appreciative to others for their work will help develop connections to others, as well as help to brighten the day of the recipients.

Thinking of family

As a teacher, you’re in the unique position to provide a family-like structure to a student who may lack that support at home. I know of many students who brought those emotional needs into school and who benefited greatly from the support they found in the classroom.

To develop these bonds between your students, think about putting them to work collaboratively on a service project and having them complete a “blind” Compliment List in which each student has to list the positive traits of their classmates. I like it when teachers make it a point to refer to their class as a family and then work to develop that idea throughout the year.

Giving gifts and planning toy drives

Giving a gift is designed to please the giver as much as the recipient. This idea can be carried out on a classwide basis by finding a local toy drive to support during the holidays. Some organizations go so far as to supply you with the letters written by children regarding what they want.

Organizing your class to donate their time and resources to benefit the less-fortunate is a perfect class activity for this time of the year. If logistics allow, request permission from your administration to have the children personally deliver the gifts as part of a class trip.

Offering a fresh start

Every classroom has students who aren’t reaching their potential. While some of these students may express an uncaring attitude toward their lack of progress, I can’t help thinking that deep down inside, no one wants to underperform.

With the start of the new calendar year, you can offer lessons in setting goals, changing negative behaviors and making a fresh start. Offering an academic New Year’s Resolution may be the exact thing some students need.

Related: Teachers Need to Take Care of Themselves Over the Holidays

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