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Identity Day to foster connection and belonging


Identity Day student art. Photos provided by Jennifer Strachan and Harjit Chauhan.

By Jennifer Strachan, Gianna Holmes, and Harjit Chauhan, teachers, Maple Ridge

 

This fall at Fairview Elementary School, we decided to set a positive tone for the new school year by launching a school-wide celebration of culture, history, and identity through Identity Day. The idea proved to be a resounding success, warmly embraced by students and parents alike. The event served as a unique platform for students to share their interests and cultural backgrounds, fostering connections among peers, teachers, and parents.

 

Classroom teachers approached the event with creativity, showcasing projects ranging from artwork and poems to poster boards, memory suitcases, and interactive displays, each reflecting the unique identity of the students. All students actively participated, and some teachers integrated Identity Day as a unit. The overwhelmingly positive response led to new connections and meaningful conversations.

 

Sharing identity in Jennifer’s Grades 5/6 class

As a classroom teacher with 23 years of experience, I witnessed my students genuinely engaged, interested, and impressed by their classmates’ presentations. I chose to teach a unit on identity and being yourself leading up to our school-wide Identity Day celebrations. We watched videos, biographies, and slideshows about what identity means, read stories about families’ and people’s identities, and listened to personal stories, including my own. A few of the resources I used to support my unit on identity were Discovering My Identity lesson from Learning for Justice, Social Identity Wheel by the University of Michigan, and Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s identity lesson.

 

My class presented poster and trifold boards showcasing their identities. We planned our posters/trifolds around a graphic organizer and rubric that we created as a class. Some students also had artifacts to share with their projects, including cookbooks, stuffed animals, artwork, and photo albums.

 

On the presentation day we had a rotation system divided by our two school hallways: one group would visit the other and see/hear the presentations, then they would switch. Parents visited at the end of the day. The rotation system allowed students from different grades to explore various projects, creating a sense of unity and community within the school. Identity Day stands out as a highly recommended activity for anyone seeking to strengthen and build their school community.

 

Students present their Identity Day posters.

Learning about identity in Gianna’s library commons

“Identity” was the theme in the library commons for September and early October. Students were introduced to a series of books that promoted positive personal and cultural identity. The Kindergarten students drew pictures highlighting a special interest or fact about themselves—these pictures were posted outside the library for all to enjoy.


There are many excellent picture books on the market to augment an Identity Day project.

 Some titles I like to use to teach this unit are below:

 

Lunch from Home by Joshua Stein

Where Are You From? by Yamile Méndez

I Can Be All Three by Salima Alikhan

My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee

Big by Vashti Harrison

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

Be Who You Are by Todd Parr

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

The Best Part of Me: Children Talk about Their Bodies in Pictures and Words  by Wendy Ewald

Remarkably You by Pat Zietlow Miller

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

 

Celebrating identity in Harjit’s ELL class

English language learner (ELL) students vary in ages, backgrounds, and English development. To springboard the discussion about the word “identity” for my learners and what it means, I began with the question of how we got our names. Names can be closely connected to who we are, where we come from, and our history. Over the years, I have found that many international education students from South Korea choose an English name to “fit into” mainstream culture. I have also noticed ELL students will often shorten their names so they are easier for others to pronounce. One of my earliest childhood memories was having my own name mispronounced and I recalled thinking how it would be easier to change it. To support the discussion about names, I read aloud My Name is Saajin Singh, by author Kuljinder Kaur Brar. After the read-aloud, many ELL students made connections with the main character of the story and how it takes courage to correct another person. Students excitedly shared stories about their names, and for those students who did not know what their names meant, they asked their families for more information. This led to further meaningful discussions about how language, the countries we come from or are born in, and our culture are connected to identity.

 

Next, I showed my ELL students a picture of an iceberg. According to anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the idea of an iceberg can be used to explain our cultural awareness. He described how the top part of an iceberg, or the visible part, is the surface culture that the people around us can see about us, and that the bottom of the iceberg, or hidden part, is the invisible or deeper culture that others do not see. I modified the idea of the iceberg so my ELL students could share out the parts of their identity that were visible at school and compare them to the parts that are not as visible because they are at home or around different parts of the community. My ELL students described their appearance, clothes, foods, hobbies, and the activities they enjoy at school as the visible part of the iceberg. They described family customs, belief systems, traditional foods, cultural holidays, and community connections outside of school as the invisible part of their identity. Together, we discovered that our identities have both visible and invisible parts, like an iceberg, and all these parts combined make us who we truly are.


Overall, Identity Day was an exciting learning opportunity for my ELL students as they had a platform to share about themselves at school, and they felt proud to share the parts that were not visible to everyone. The students deepened connections with their peers, students from around the school, and teachers. Each share was unique and expressed individual creativity, and it was a great way for students, staff, and families to get to know each other better and embrace the diverse nature of our identities.


A student's identity poster or "Information Station."

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