At my school, teachers stand outside of their classroom doors each morning to greet each student as they enter. It is something I enjoy doing and my kids look forward to greeting me, too… but during my first year of teaching, I stood at that door every day and greeted every student with a smile. To some, I would just say, "Good morning!" in my best cheery voice and to others I would ask, "How's your morning going?" But most of my students would walk right by me, never acknowledging me or greeting me in return.
This went on for a few weeks; each morning starting out with me feeling down because my students wouldn't greet me! And then I realized it... they didn't know that the polite thing to do is to return a greeting! I spent time teaching them how to be polite to me in the mornings. I even lined them all up in the hallway and had them practice entering the classroom and responding to my morning greeting. Ever since then, practicing greeting the teacher is a regular "first day" routine in my classroom.
That was a true light bulb moment for me: realizing that children just do not innately know how to be, not only polite, but respectful, kind, and thoughtful to others. I was so excited when I came across the book "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud and knew that so-called "bucket fillers" were the perfect way to introduce expectations of respect and kindness at the beginning of the year. Not to mention a great way to sustain those positive feelings throughout the year.
If you are not familiar with "bucket filling," the idea is that we all carry an invisible bucket with us, and others can fill our bucket when they do or say kind things- or dip from our bucket when actions are less than kind. We also have the power to fill and dip from the buckets of others- and ourselves too!
Kids sometimes struggle to recognize when someone has done something kind for them, so bucket filling not only entails teaching students how to be kind to others, but also how to know and respond when someone has done something kind for them!
In my classroom each student has a "bucket" into which others can put a little bucket filler card. They can do this during recess or at the end of the day. Every Friday, we check out buckets and students give a hug, high-five, or thank you to anyone who has taken the time to fill their bucket during the course of the week. This is a very positive time full of smiles and good feelings in my classroom.
Though I usually try and make sure everyone has something in their bucket, sometimes students do end up with an empty bucket. This is a good time for me to pull them off to the side and ask them to remember if they tried to fill anyone's bucket with kind words or actions during the week. Together, we think of ways they could make an effort to be kind the following week.
My students love doing "bucket fillers." It makes them feel good to know that they have done something nice for someone else and, doing nice things for others is a quick and easy way for my students to fill their own buckets in the process!
Christina Bainbridge is a seven-year teacher who currently teaches a first and second grade split class at Central Elementary in White Pigeon, Michigan. She earned her Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) from Marygrove College in 2009 and has incorporated her master-level teaching practices into an award-winning website: Mrs. Bainbridge’s Class. Her site is a treasure-trove of tips and advice for educators and parents alike. Also check out Bainbridge’s blog at www.bainbridgeclass.blogspot.com.