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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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10 School-Based Secret Santa Gift Suggestions

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

Come winter, we are all due for a season of giving. What with testing, grades due, and just the general rushing towards the fast-moving train that is the holiday season, we could all use it. It's a time of year that is about singing in unison, strings of lights illuminating the darkness, and thinking of others. And, while not entirely in the spirit of the "season of giving" thing, it's also about competing to give the most tear- or guffaw-inducing present. Ah, the holidays.

At schools, the holiday season can be somewhat strange. You spend the first semester building community, only to have kids countdown with excitement to be leaving your room for vacation. Your staff works to build morale, and then someone suggests the not-so-brilliant idea to have a white elephant gift exchange, a game that brings out the worst in the kindest of people. Or, worse, your staff sets up a "Secret Santa" only to discover that the only two people who actually signed up are the principal and the part-time nurse.

Why We All Need to Participate

Secret Santa is a school tradition on many sites, but as of late, I have noticed a significant decline in participation. Fewer decorated mailrooms. Fewer doors decorated like gift boxes.

Now, full discloser here: I have never participated in secret Santa in any school. I generally have three stock excuses: budget, mid-year energy lows, or overall lack of creativity. Nevertheless, every year I enjoy seeing the evidence of the game around me, and every year I feel slight regret at having not entered my name on a folded paper in the box in the faculty lounge.

But, like Scrooge, it's not too late for us to change. Participate in your school's secret Santa exchange, so that this year, and every following year, the tradition only grows bigger and bigger. Then, like the Grinch's heart, the spirit of the holidays itself might also grow "three sizes," perhaps even spilling out beyond the season itself.

So to combat one of my own excuses, I have devised a list of 10 possible gift ideas for a school-based Secret Santa campaign. I hope that this list gets you thinking that it might be fun. I also hope that it causes the season to flow from the staff lounge, to the lunch tables, to the classrooms, and even to your own home. For giving has a way of doing that. It ripples warmth through all who come across it, not necessarily from those who get, but from those who give. So challenge yourself to interact with your staff in a different way this year. Become a secret Santa.

Holiday Cheer to Your Colleagues

#1. Decorate a mailbox

Nothing says good morning like some cheap silver garland surrounding a newsletter. Throw in some twinkly lights and it's like the South Pole right there in your own front office.

#2. Hire the school choir to go sing a carol for your person

Do it during the class period in which you know the person needs it the most.

#3. Ask another staff member to take over your person's duty for a day

Make sure they don't let on that the request came from you.

#4. Have a student act as elf and deliver a cup of good coffee to your person

Make sure you choose a kid who won't bust you as the Santa! Kids love to be in on the joke, so maybe even rotate the job if you do it all week long. Give different kids the opportunity to make a teacher smile.

#5. Bestow a gift certificate for a foot massage

I'm not kidding. Get a certificate from a place that specializes in feet. We are on our feet all day, and they take a beating. They can use the TLC.

#6. Present a gift certificate for a dinner delivery service

After all, some teachers are at school so long, that preparing their own family dinner during the holidays seems as mythical as a snowman brought to life by a top hat.

#7. Pack a surprise picnic lunch for a fellow teacher

Nothing fancy. It just takes a little pre-planning and an elf to get the teacher out of their room so you can set it up fast.

#8. A week of rain days? Give your person a get-out-0f-rainy-day-free pass for February

It's the shortest month, but when stuck inside all day, it can feel like the longest. Have their students pack into your room for a lunch period so that your secret Santa can have a student-free moment.

#9. Give 'em classroom library luxury items

I'm a huge proponent of the every-content-area-teacher-should-have-a-classroom-library. Let them show some pride, and get your teacher an inexpensive book embosser or book plates; it's a little bling for the books.

#10. Or, better yet, just write a note of appreciation: one teacher to another

Acknowledge your colleague's accomplishments, what you respect about them, their attitude, even in the face of struggles. Let them know you see how they are influencing others around them. While we could all use a pay raise, the fact is that a little note from someone who knows what they are going through goes a long way to enriching the heart.

So perhaps you're still not totally sold on this secret Santa thing. Just remember, that the holiday season doesn't have to be about giving a gift. It can be about giving a fellow teacher a break. It can be about letting a teacher of the hook for turning in the attendance late or giving someone the benefit of the doubt for an uncharacteristic outburst. It can be about forgiveness as well.

Teachers don't need gifts to feel better about their day-to-day experiences. They need kindness (and professional pay, but that's for another post). They need the holiday season, not just for two months a year, but for the whole year. So sign up for secret Santa -- or better yet, start it up at your school. It's goofy. But it's about giving.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night
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