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April 7, 2010 Have Your Students Filled a Bucket Today? By Beth Newingham
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    While I work hard to ensure that I am providing my students with the best academic instruction on a daily basis, I also take time to teach the students in my classroom to be good citizens who care for and respect each other.

    While I work hard to ensure that I am providing my students with the best academic instruction on a daily basis, I also take time to teach the students in my classroom to be good citizens who care for and respect each other. While the teaching of these "life skills" should certainly not fall solely on the shoulders of us teachers, I do believe it is important to help build good character in our students. Teachers can help students value themselves and each other when we encourage them to be helpful, compassionate, unselfish classmates. In my classroom, my teaching partner and I call these positive students "bucket fillers." As the Bucket Fillers Web site explains, "'Bucket fillers' are those who help without being asked, give hugs and compliments, and generally spread their love and good feelings to others." Bucket filling is a common act in our classroom and one that does not go unrecognized!

    READ ON to learn how we teach and encourage bucket filling in our classroom, see PHOTOS of our bucket-filler chart, and download a PRINTABLE that you can use to promote bucket filling in your own classroom.

    Background on the Bucket-Filler Concept


    First of all, let me point out that this concept is not something I came up with!  According to the site, "Carol McCloud first heard the idea that a 'bucket' represented a person's self-concept, or mental and emotional health, at an early childhood conference in the 1990s. It was in the 1960s that Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924–2003), first created the 'Dipper and Bucket' story that has now been passed along for decades.  Dr. Clifton later went on to co-author the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? and be named the Father of Strengths Psychology." You can learn more about the bucket-filling concept and even order the children's book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by visiting the Bucket Fillers Web site.




    Introducing Bucket Filling to Your Students

    BooksAt the beginning of the school year, many teachers take time to create class rules with the help of the students. It is during this time that we read the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? The short book explains to students that we all carry an invisible bucket in which we keep our feelings about ourselves. When our buckets are full, we are happy; when they are empty, we are sad. It is important that students learn that when they fill a friend's bucket, they also fill their own bucket because it feels good to make others happy. At this time, we also introduce the concept of being a bucket dipper. A bucket dipper is a person who hurts other people's feelings, essentially dipping into their invisible bucket. Since bullying is a common problem in schools, the concept of bucket dippers is often referred to as bullying. (Visit the Web site above to learn more if this concept sounds confusing.) 


    After we read the book and discuss the idea of filling buckets, we brainstorm a list of ways we can fill each other's buckets both in our classroom and around our school.  After making the list on chart paper, we type up the students' ideas and create a poster that is hung above our bucket-filling display.  (You can see a photo of the bucket-filling display in the next section.)





    Invite Students to Be Bucket Fillers in Your Classroom

    DisplayI have to thank my teaching partner for bringing this great idea to our classroom!  To promote the act of bucket filling in our class, each student is given his or her own real bucket.  The buckets are kept in a hanging shoe rack that we cut in half and attach to a cupboard in the back of our classroom.  Small, multi-colored pom-poms are stored in the top pockets of the shoe rack.  When a student fills a classmate's invisible bucket, both the bucket filler and the person whose bucket was filled get to add a pom-pom to their buckets.  (Remember, when a student fills a classmate's bucket, he or she is also filling his or her own invisible bucket because it feels good to make others happy.)


    GirlsThis activity is an honor system, so students do not need to report to the teacher every time they fill a bucket.  The two students simply visit the bucket-filling shoe rack and add their pom-poms at an appropriate time during the school day. If we do have some extra time in the day, I will ask students to share their bucket-filling stories with their classmates as a way of building community in our classroom.



    Should the Teacher Remove Pom-Poms When Students Are Being Bucket Dippers?

    This decision is certainly up to the teacher.  However, my teaching partner and I prefer to make this activity a purely positive one.  While students may face other consequences when they act as bucket dippers, we do not remove pom-poms from their buckets.  Our goal is to promote bucket filling and not use this activity as a way to punish students for their behavior.


    What Happens When a Student Fills Up His or Her Bucket?

    When a student fills his or her bucket, the pom-poms are removed and a sticker is added to the bucket to show that it has been filled up one time.  By the end of the year, students often have many stickers on their buckets.  However, there is no reward for filling up a bucket, and no student is the "winner" for filling his or her bucket the most times.  The activity is designed to intrinsically motivate students: it's not a contest or a competition in which students earn an extrinsic reward.




    Holding Students Accountable

    AlexYou may find that you need to hold students accountable for their bucket-filling acts to make the activity most beneficial to you and your students.  If you find that your students are just adding pom-poms throughout the day without a real purpose (not being sincere about their bucket filling), you may want to implement a system in which your students must write down their bucket-filling act so that you can read it before they are able to add a pom-pom to their bucket.

    We did this for a period of time last year, and it worked well. See the photos below to learn how we used bucket-filler cards to hold our students accountable for their good deeds.




    Next to the bucket-filler display in our classroom, we store bucket-filler cards printed on multi-colored paper.  When students feel like they have filled someone's bucket, they put their name on the card and describe their bucket-filling act. Download the Bucket-Filling Form in MS Word or as a PDF.


    Card holder

    The students can place their bucket-filler cards in the container above throughout the school day.  My teaching partner or I quickly read the cards after the students leave for the day and return them to the students the next morning.  When the students see their bucket-filler card returned to them on their desk the following morning, they can then add a pom-pom to their bucket.  This is nice because it requires students to reflect on their actions, and we can compliment them on their specific acts of kindness.


    Culminating Bucket-Filler Activity for the End of the School Year

    Personal message At the end of the year, the pom-poms are removed from all of the students' buckets.  The students then write compliments or positive messages to each of their classmates.  The messages are written on small strips of paper that can fit into the buckets.  Students add their personal messages to their classmates' buckets, and the students get to take their bucket full of positive messages home to read.  It is a wonderful way to end the school year, as students love to hear the great things their classmates have to say about them!  My teaching partner and I also type up personal messages for each student on address labels and stick them to the outside of the bucket.



    Try It Out!

    While this may seem "babyish" to some upper elementary teachers, I think you will be surprised how the activity truly helps students build stronger bonds with their classmates at any grade level.  An atmosphere of respect and care for each other is quickly established and maintained throughout the school year.  However, I strongly suggest reading the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? before implementing this activity in your classroom.  Everything will make much more sense once you completely understand the concept.


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