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How Full Is Your Bucket?

Yesterday, I got some great advice on getting out of my blogging slump – to blog about a book I’m reading.

Today I took the boys to the library, and I happened upon the book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, PhD. The title’s by-line reads “Positive Strategies for Work and Life.” I decided to pick it up and see what the book was all about, and how it differed from all of the other “focus on the positive” books I’ve seen over the years.

That’s a pretty common mantra in education. Focus on what kids are doing right, instead of what kids are doing wrong. It makes total sense, so why is it often hard to do? Why do we naturally address the things that are wrong? How Full Is Your Bucket? is focused on a business model, but the parallels with student productivity and educational impact are obvious. Rath and Clifton cite the optimal positive interaction : negative interaction ration to be 5:1. Can most teachers say that their days are filled with less than 18% negative comments? I wish that I could, but it’s certainly something to strive to achieve.

The authors offer five tips for increasing positive interactions and I’m going to pinpoint them here.

1. Prevent Bucket Dipping. Before we can work on filling the emotional buckets of people we meet, we must stop taking from those same buckets. One element of this section that struck me in terms of relationships with students is the idea that some people are coming to us a bucket that’s in debt. Their interactions have been so overwhelmingly negative that it will take much more than that 5:1 ratio to start to give them any reserves with which to start. I immediately thought about the students that have always faced academic failure, kids who have difficulty making friends, and parents who have always had negative experiences with schools. We must start with filling the buckets of our students and their families.

2. Shine a Light on What Is Right. Here’s the part that we always hear about the most. Focus on the positive. Tell kids what they are doing well, what they are doing right. For this part, the authors talked specifically about highlighting what others are doing well, but also learning about each person well enough to know how to do this. Some students like the praise and public accolades. Others recoil at these public displays and would much prefer a quiet pat on the back.

3. Make Best Friends. When thinking of this in terms of students, it immediately brought to mind a student I had a few years ago – I’ll call her Angel. Angel was legally blind and struggled with her core subjects. All the kids in class liked to help her, but I don’t think that I would have considered them to be her true friends. But Angel did have a best friend, Anna. Despite the fact that Anna was in another class, they would seek each other out on the playground every day. Pretty soon, Anna’s teacher and I would work together to give the girls opportunities to be together more (lunch, field trips, field day partners, etc.). It made the greatest difference in both of their outlooks toward school. You need a best friend, not lots of friends. Despite the fact that neither girl had lots of friends, they had each other and that encouraging relationship was plenty for both of them. It undoubtedly led to successes for both Angel and Anna. As a teacher, I have always worried more about kids without a best friend than those without a lot of friends. This section made a lot of sense to me.

4. Give Unexpectedly. Any kinds of gifts are bucket fillers, but the unexpected ones are often the most influential. Taking the time to recognize or reward others, even in the most seemingly insignificant way, can have the greatest influence. My students love to hear their names on the announcements for doing something special. It’s not a “thing” just a moment. What can we give our students and our parents that will fill their buckets? I send CBG (caught being good) postcards to parents/students. I leave sticky notes for students in their cubbies. These are unexpected, and bucket filling, gifts that we can all easily offer.

5. Reverse the Golden Rule. The authors suggest changing the Golden Rule from “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to “do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” I appreciate this shift from focusing on me to focusing on my students. What individual needs do others have and how can we address them?

There are versions of How Full Is Your Bucket? for kids and for schools. I am definitely looking forward to checking them out. The book is straight forward and open. I am considering how I might implement these ideas of drops and buckets into my classroom and for my students. Wouldn’t it be amazing if kids starting focusing on filling one another’s buckets instead of draining them?

Photo Credit: Empty Bucket by Longhorndave

7 Responses

  1. Great post Kelly. Glad to see you are blogging again! We had a guest reader as part of a character ed type program at my school and she read the kid version of the book. The kids actually related to the bucket dipping and filling analogy. I think there is great potential for us to make an impact if we use these stories early on and continue the language throughout the school grades. Thanks for sharing!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Diana Dell, Kelly Hines and Joan Young , Joan Young . Joan Young said: RT @kellyhines: New at Keeping Kids First – How Full Is Your Bucket? https://keepingkidsfirst.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/how-full-is-your-bucket/ […]

  3. I have heard of the book before, thanks for the post recapping its content- would like for the book to be summer reading for our teachers. In our stressful lives, it is so easy to focus only on the negative, and to have that bring you down. I like how you gave specific examples of filling students’ buckets- maybe others can post more ideas too? This morning I wrote notes to my advisees who made the Headmasters’ list- and just handed them out quietly. Not sure of their response yet, but it will at least let them know that I noticed their achievement.

  4. Kelly, I love that you leave sticky notes in your students cubby. One of my teachers left us little notes in our desk and to this day I still have them. Those little things mean a lot to kids!

  5. Kelly,

    I have found that this is the time of the year that can be grind. Glad you have found this great read. Thanks for filling the buckets of the members of your PLN constantly. Hopefully, we can repay the favor.

    Did you know that there is a kids’ version of the book as well? http://strengths.gallup.com/116092/Full-Bucket-Kids.aspx

    What a gift it would be if we could get young students in this pay-it-forward mindset in elementary schools!

  6. My name is Tracy Alms and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at South Alabama. What a great post! I love the five tips for increasing positive interactions. This is great advice to live by, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to read this!

  7. I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at South Alabama. I must say I TRULY enjoyed this blog. I can truly identify with “Empty Bucket Syndrome”–having a teacher who constantly reminded me of what I was doing wrong, and never treating each student the same.

    If you are interested, I will be commenting further about this blog post on my own blog: http://hueykhaelaedm310.blogspot.com/

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