Teachers at a school in Dartmouth, N.S., are opting out of traditional Christmas gifts this year in exchange for practical items that will help improve their classrooms. 

Ellenvale Junior High School has asked families that plan to buy gifts for teachers to instead choose from classroom wish lists that include items such as window blinds, basketballs, laptops and library books. 

"With a traditional gift, like a card or a coffee mug or chocolates, teachers appreciate those things … but it sort of ends right there," said Grade 9 English teacher Kathleen Crocker, who's also the school's acting vice-principal. 

In addition to 30 clipboards and library books, she's asked for "flexible seating" like standing desks and stools, items that reflect just how much learning has changed since she started teaching a decade ago. 

"I think that we have to start responding more, and some of those ways that we respond can be very simple — providing different seating for students, providing different ways for them to do their work," said Crocker. 

Helps reduce holiday waste

Crocker said schools don't often have the budget to invest in these items, but families can help. Those who want to give can either choose an item from a classroom or school list, or donate money.  

The wish list idea originated with the volunteer-run School Advisory Committee this fall. 

Kathleen Crocker

Kathleen Crocker says teachers have been overwhelmed by the number of classroom gifts they've received so far. (Submitted by Kathleen Crocker)

"Some of these things are as simple as a box of coloured pencils. You know, some of the items are food for breakfast programs and they're very, very simple, basic ideas," said Donna Gallant, chair of the committee. 

As a parent, she knows what it's like to fret over what to buy teachers each year, or whether the gift is even wanted. 

"We live in a society where everyone has so much stuff," she said. "It's a lot of stuff maybe that we don't necessarily need or want, and the needs in the classrooms are many."

Glooscap elementary gifts

Glooscap Elementary School asks families to donate apple juice, cereal, grocery store gift cards and other items to support the breakfast program. (Submitted by Corena Burbidge)

Corena Burbidge, principal at Glooscap Elementary School, sees those needs every day.

The school in Canning operates a breakfast program for 60-70 kids. For the past six years, families have contributed food or funds to the program instead of buying traditional gifts for teachers. 

"When we live and work in an environment when we see a need that we want to support, it was easy for all of us to say, 'It's the thought that counts.' And we don't need something else to take personally home," said Burbidge.

With the Christmas break right around the corner, Crocker said the response has been overwhelming. Gifts such as badminton rackets, goggles and glue guns are already pouring in to Ellenvale.

And teachers and students don't have to wait until Christmas to open them. 

"They're almost like taking the tags off them and using them, so it's immediate and it's really great to see those things coming into the classroom," said Crocker.