Last month on Twitter, a Tweet about “Crazy Hair Day” sparked interesting conversations around words, hair, and spirit. A long-standing practice in schools has been “Spirit Days”. Centered around themes that are supposed to demonstrate school or community “spirit”, these days have been around for as long as I have been in education. As a child, I remembered these days as being about wanting to fit-in in a space where I didn’t. As an educator, I reflect on those feelings and consider these days not as “spirit” days but rather days when the disparity between who has and who has more is celebrated. Did you wear the right thing or style your hair in the right way? Great, you have “spirit”. I’ll circle back to why I have spirit in quotes here shortly. In this post, my goal is to ask you to reflect on these “Spirit Days” and to act. Now I know that might be asking a lot because there are many individuals who feel as though I’m taking the fun away from school and making something bigger of a small issue. I’ve heard it said. I would like to ask you to read further before ignoring my request.
The original post above asks readers to consider the language of the day. As we open more avenues for conversations around mental health and well-being and to remove the stigma, using the word “crazy” in education shouldn’t happen. I’ve heard the word in halls and have asked students to describe what they mean and there have always been more appropriate terms to use. If students can do that, as educators and administrators, we too can follow suit and actually lead. Words have an impact. Consider what you are saying, what you actually mean, and say that.
Beyond the fact that the wording itself is problematic, hair has a different significance for different people. I initially wrote groups of people, but even within populations, there are differing beliefs or feelings. Now, I know that there are some looking for an education on this right now and that’s where I will ask you to do the work. This post is meant to get you to reflect and then act. Part of the work is to do the research, to come to your own understandings, and then to do better. I mentioned earlier that as a child, spirit days were about fitting in because I felt as though I didn’t. I was one of a few Black children in all of my elementary and secondary school experiences. As I recall, there were never more than a handful of students who looked like me in not just my grade, but in the entire school. Many of my peers were fascinated by my hair. In Grade 1, I remember being teased on end because my hair was cut into a very low afro. I tear up as I write because I remember the blue jacket that I wore and when I didn’t want to remove my hood at school because I knew that everyone would laugh, and they did. Throughout elementary, I adopted the nickname, “Sonic the Hedgehog” because when I curled my hair, it didn’t move, even when I ran. Even in my attempt to fit in, I was yet again made fun of because of my difference. I could go on about stories but this isn’t about me. It’s about the students in your classrooms and schools who might be able to tell similar stories and the common theme might be that they have no one standing up for them or if they do, it’s sometimes after the trauma, to help soften the blow.
Earlier on, I put this in quotes because I’m interested in a serious definition of the word in this context. What does spirit actually mean? When I think of school or community spirit, I think of action for the betterment of said school or community. How does dressing up in a jersey or styling your hair in a certain way accomplish this? Oftentimes we ask students to show their spirit when in reality, their true spirit isn’t rewarded for showing up on a daily basis. What is this spirit we are after and why is that more important than students showing up in their authentic selves on a daily basis? When we think of education, what is spirit in education? How are we honouring that? Is it merely compliance with the day? Taking this further, our role isn’t social convenor but educator, what spirit do we bring to our education spaces? What are we telling students about what we value in terms of spirit?
Now I know that some might be upset that I’ve put it out there to consider getting rid of these days, but please consider the greater trauma being caused by what you deem to be “fun”. I’ve spoken about this in staff meetings and have been overlooked. I dread these days because often enough, I see a younger version of myself walking the yard or the halls, experiencing the same thing. Isn’t it time for us to stop?
23 thoughts on “Crazy Hair Day”
Hello Arianna, thank you for sharing.
There is a typo – in the section on “Spirit” in the first paragraph, second last sentence. The word “being” should be “bring” to read, “…what spirit do we bring to our education spaces?”
Otherwise, you have raised some excellent thought provoking ideas.
Thanks so much for catching that, Kevin. Must have been the tears. Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
Hi Arianna, this is crucial reading for all educators. Thank you for speaking and sharing. (Ps, tear-based typos (and all typos for that matter!) are understandable)
Thank you for opening up and sharing your experience. As someone who has traditionally been in charge of organizing spirit days as part of school teams (think Harry Potter, but with colours instead), I found your thoughts compelling.
I’d therefore like to move away from our spirit days (we often have “wear your team colour day” or “creative hat day”) to avoid the alienation and discrimination that you mention. I would like to find a new way to reward students for their true spirit instead of these gimicky things.
We do currently have a system where students can earn “Gotcha!” tickets for demonstrating positive character ed traits – empathy, leadership, helping others – the points from which go to their team on the score board. But I’m wondering what your opinion is of that system, as I’m trying to see if there is harmful bias in it that I’m not aware of due to my privilege.
The reason we made teams was to bring classes together that wouldn’t otherwise be, and to promote incentive for students to always try their best. We wanted to reward them – without toys and treats all the time – for what they bring every day. However, any system (if it’s even advisable to have one) needs to be inclusive, so your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much once again!
Thank you for taking the time to read the post and for rethinking these days. I love the idea of students being recognized for demonstrating positive character. I wonder how we might be able to help students develop these skills intrinsically. Who is on the receiving end of the tickets? Does the receipt of such tickets depend on the bias or notice of an adult and why might that matter to students? I wonder what needs to be in place so that there is an equal chance for every student to receive a ticket. Just some of my initial thoughts. Thank you so much for being open to asking and for having a discussion. Thanks again!
Thanks for sharing this. Words matter. Growing up with red hair and a serious streak of freckles, I got good nicknames ‘red rocket’ … neutral names … ‘the racoon’ and hurtful names … ‘s##tface’. In the ’70s, my older brothers would take care of the situation of kids who wanted to be hurtful towards me. They held exclusive rights over teasing me. Yes, the name-calling ended but the feeling, that’s another matter.
More training in Social-Emotional Learning would be excellent. I’m reading Permission to Feel by Marc Bracket and it is resonating strongly with me.
Be well, Arianna.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for openly sharing your story with readers. I can only imagine the hurt that these experiences have and potentially continue to cause. The feelings definitely have impact long after the action. Thank you for sharing the resource, I will definitely look into it. I wish you wellness and healing, Ed. Thanks again for sharing!
Your thoughts really resonated with me! Just this year I had a conversation with a fellow teacher about the challenge of keeping “crazy hair day” positive for my daughter. How would I create a hairstyle that was fun and “fit in” as you say, but still honoured her hair texture as a black person? I certainly was not going to allow an Afro or a plethora of cute hair clips to be called “crazy” when in fact they’re displays of our hair’s beauty. I do know some schools have removed crazy hair days because of this. I hope we all do the work and find alternative ways to bring our students’ spirits to spirit days in the future. Thank you for sharing your powerful words with us!
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and for your comment. I find it so hard to see little children who want to participate and yet there are obstacles that as parents or people who care for them, want to shield them from. Sadly, I don’t know that there is a way to honour her beautiful hair and at the same time have it be named, “Crazy”, for a school event. Your example greatly speaks to the problem with these days. It saddens me that children still have to navigate these experiences. I too hope that we all do the work. Our students deserve to be seen for who they are. When free to be and honoured for who they truly are, I can only imagine the “spirit” that will then be displayed. Thanks again!
You’re too kind with how your frame your thoughtful questions for reader contemplation and reflection. Allow me to just be a proverbial wrecking ball and state why these days are to be done away with, without haste.
1)”Spirit” Days are absolutely an experiment in conformity, assimilation, or acceptance/embrace by fitting in. That’s not something we should be striving for in our schools.
2) The topics of most themes for said Spirit Days is almost always an action that pushes students (more so than normal) towards some overt act of Whiteness, Eurocentrism, or Borderline Cult/Mob-like action. Asinine themes such as “Pirate” Day, Hockey Day, or “Canadian” pride days for example.
3) These days are the low-brow cousins to the exoticized “Multicultural” /”International” days where kids are made to be spectacles of cultural adornments, basically coming to school dressed up in clothes they would only wear to weddings and religious events; costuming their culture in a way that’s most palatable to many of our schools – only to be seen and for a single day.
4)Spirit Day(s) , when it comes to energy exchange, are low input / low pay-off investments into school “culture” that have a tangible presence on a school calendar. They essentially are a check box of a day for a school body to say, “see, we did something to build school community/culture”. They’re “basic”, plain and simple.
Needless to say Arianna, I whole heartedly agree with you. Do away with them. And let’s also ask and find out from our students what they define as “fun”. Honestly, I think they would have some better ideas as to how you can unite a whole school where the mission is to have fun, be seen, plus feel welcomed, apart, and accepted.
Thank you for reading the post and for your thoughtful insights. You made me run for my device to read and respond when I got the notification. All 4 points are powerful and there was something about #3 that stirred within me. I’ve seen the day described happen and am now thinking more critically about how we negate these important events in the lives of students simply for the benefit of saying we celebrated the day. It has always bothered me because I wonder if recipients realize the significance of these cultural adornments beyond them looking “beautiful” because they are different from the every day. I love your idea of a whole school mission. That sounds like a place that I would love to be. Thanks again for sharing and for getting me thinking. I always appreciate having critical friends to help me think things through!
Thanks for providing lots to reflect on.
Thank you for taking the time to read the post, Rob! I appreciate it.
Love this perspective. I literally never gave these days a second thought. We must do better.
Thank you for taking the time to read and to give thought to these days from a different perspective. I so appreciate this, Amanda. We definitely do need to do better.
Thank you for your post! I have always discouraged “Crazy Hair Days” for the reasons you mentioned, as well as for students who cover their hair. Spirit days are stressful for many and isolate and divide rather than unite and show appreciation for each other. I personally do not own a sports jersey, which can be expensive, status focused and narrow in scope when worn for “Sports Jersey Day”. Twin Day is also one that is very problematic. I feel better now about not being a fan of these kinds of spirit days and will think upon ways as a group, students and staff, we might use the authentic meaning of “spirit” to guide our planning.
Thank you for reading and for openly sharing, Dena! There’s a lot that is problematic about these days. I’m glad that you feel better about not being a fan. I know how isolating it feels sometimes when we feel as though we’re the only ones questioning. Thanks again!
Thank you for you post Arianna. This is only one of the issues to continue to occur in our public schools that should really be critically reflected upon in order to consider not only the intention but the actual outcome. I constantly struggled with food days, as a parent I was highly disappointed in the unhealthy options that were offered to my child EVERY single week of the school year. Far more worrisome was the exclusion I witnessed as a classroom educator, every time there was food delivered there were children (usually the same ones) that did not get the pizza, sub, or frozen yogurt because their families could not afford it. It made me wonder about the real purpose and value of having food days.
Thank you for sharing do openly! Food days…I think your comment sums it up. When I think back to my days as a student, I actually feel shame in how I pressured my family for such things so as to attempt to feel like I belonged. As an adult, I understand the sacrifices made and know that there are so many families in the same position. This will take me on a whole conversation about fundraising and how it looks so different in school communities across Ontario. Always gets me thinking about the “education” that is really being provided. Thank you so much, Andrea. Please continue to take care of yourself and to stay safe.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better”. Maya Angelou.
Every day, I come across something else that causes me pause. This was a real eye opener for me today. Thank you for sharing. We need to rethink these days, for sure, but we also need to constantly be reflective on the things we do in schools and in society. We have to recognize that there will be people “upset” by these changes too….”you’re taking away the only fun we have”. So, we need to have conversations about what we do to be inclusive for all students in what we do, about how we change. I particularly liked the comment from someone “Honestly, I think they would have some better ideas as to how you can unite a whole school where the mission is to have fun, be seen, plus feel welcomed, a part, and accepted.” Imagine a group of students coming up with the ideas, led by an open and reflective person if they are younger, who can guide them into thinking about the words that they use and the activities that they choose. Imagine how open they will be in future when there is a recognition that “maybe we missed something with this activity too”. Critically reflective, open, caring, kind…imagine the world as we move forward. Thank you again!
Thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing. I too am hopeful that the values and critical thinking of the status quo as described will happen with our students. Thanks again!