As the third quarter of the 2017–2018 school year ramps up at The New Century School, Head of School Alicia Danyali is introducing a brand-new initiative in character development as part of her invisible curriculum that is one of the distinguishing features of TNCS. Although new, the latest initiative integrates well with other programs she has put in place over the years, especially last year’s four pillars of the TNCS learner profile, in which, schoolwide, students began exploring actively implementing Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service into their daily school lives. Even as those concepts continue to define TNCS students and inform their academic pursuits, Mrs. Danyali seeks ways to make them more and more concrete as well as apply them in new and meaningful ways.
Grab Yourself a Bucket
So-called “bucket-filling” is conducting yourself in a positive manner with the ultimate outcome that you not only make others around you feel good, but you also feel good about yourself. Mrs. Danyali explains, “the premise is, what are you doing to influence a positive environment that ‘fills you up’? It doesn’t necessarily have to be something tangible like opening the door for somebody or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’—which should come naturally, of course—but we want to create a community that cares about each other.”
Maybe you’ve noticed some different behaviors at home and wondered what suddenly jumpstarted your child’s development . . . well, there’s a good chance it started in class at school. Mrs, Danyali has brought bucket-filling to each and every classroom at TNCS, sowing bucket-filling seeds among the 2-year-olds all the way up to the middle-schoolers.
“I feel like we’ve done a thorough discussion about character development,” she said, “and it’s time for putting words into practice. Bucket-filling looks different in different age groups, as it should, because I don’t have the same expectations of a toddler as I do of a 6th- or 7th-grader.” As such, she has distributed books and shared the concept in every class in varying length and depth. Younger classes were in a group setting and older classes in circles (see TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices! for her work with circles) that allowed individual student feedback. Overall, such student feedback has been very positive, and teachers are also getting into the spirit by regularly using the language of bucket-filling in their classrooms.
She gives examples during her discussions that they can relate to, to help them understand how they can shift their behaviors and reactions in a positive direction, such as, “Have you ever been at the lunch table and noticed some trash under it that isn’t yours, but instead of saying, ‘that’s not mine,” just going ahead and cleaning it up anyway? Wouldn’t that help make a nicer, cleaner community for everyone? Or, are you ever at the store with your parents and give someone a smile just to be nice?”
Bucket-Filling By the Numbers
For the 3rd- through 7th-graders, putting bucket-filling into practice involves reflecting and responding in journals. They were given notebooks with suggestions for each of 30 days on how to be a bucket-filler, or they could go off script and record their approach. “It doesn’t mean to be a bucket-filler to everyone you meet,” explains Mrs. Danyali. “But it uses the same line of questioning every day and then asks the student to be reflective. In our follow-up, I’m curious to see how much they share or choose not to share, but they know that there is no specific expectation to be met through the journaling exercise.” In other words, they’ll get out of it what they put into it!
In other divisions, bucket-filling will take different, age-appropriate forms. At the 2- and 3-year old level, for example, the discussion centers more on, “what would you do?” in a given situation. In one of the K–1st-grade classes, students put a pom-pom in a makeshift bucket each time they did or said something bucket-worthy. In this way, the teacher made the concept less abstract, and students were able to visualize how good deeds literally filled their class bucket. It also demonstrated the value of working together, and even the children who didn’t initially grasp the concept (getting a bit stuck on their beach shovels and pails) came away thinking, “Wow, what a nice class we have!” Others came to the “aha moment” by hearing fellow students share during circle time, such as one child’s story of her twice yearly closet clean-out to donate clothes she has outgrown to needier children.
For the whole school, art teacher Jenny Miller will be creating a giant bucket for the multipurpose room wall so teachers can publicly recognize students who are exhibiting positive behaviors. Nevertheless, Mrs. Danyali is quick to note that acknowledgment is not what underpins bucket-filling: “What I really want them to take away from this is that you don’t always need recognition for doing something kind. Having more of a humble attitude and just knowing, ‘this is who I am and this is built into me’ and modeling positive behavior is the essence of bucket-filling, to my mind.” In fact, a newer concept to emerge from the bucket-filling juggernaut is “putting your lid on your bucket,” which basically means making sure that you are holding on to your positive energy and being sustained by it rather than going through the motions of bucket-filling just to impress somebody else.
Filled with Implications
There are many facets to bucket-filling, and its implications are far-reaching. For example, another component to bucket-filling is taking responsibility for not-so-nice actions, which can also contribute to an affirmative environment and, in that sense, is reflective of restorative practice. Another aspect concerns the Dr. Jekyll of bucket-filling. For instance, if you’re not being an active bucket-filler, let’s hope you aren’t becoming the dreaded “bucket-dipper,” which is consciously subverting classroom rules or refusing to take accountability for a transgression and thereby depleting someone else’s bucket. You can also deplete your own bucket by such a negative attitude. Fortunately, trying to find ways and strategies to turn it around leads back to bucket-filling.
“I’m trying to make us more aware that it doesn’t take a lot to change how we feel,” said Mrs. Danyali. “For example, I said, ‘let me see your best smile,’ and followed up with, “how does that make you feel?’ If we work on self, then it can be better for everyone else.”
What do we want for our kids? We want them to be happy and healthy, and bucket-filling can contribute to those states. If that positive message is given to them and modeled for them consistently by the teachers they love and respect, then there’s a strong chance they’ll adopt the corresponding behaviors. “Sometimes adults need the message as much as students,” said Mrs. Danyali. I ask myself, ‘is what you’re doing today bettering you and benefiting everyone else around you?’ ”
She noted that, so far, bucket-filing seemed to resonate most with students who are already strongly connected to service, but she thinks it’s going to catch on more and more as TNCS students cultivate their character strengths and grow and develop.
“I’m hoping these conversations are ongoing, and I’ll continue going into classrooms and facilitating,” said Mrs. Danyali. I feel that if a good portion of the kids walk away understanding the concept and implementing it in their community and in the classroom, then it’s made the difference.”
“Becoming a bucket-filling classroom” is a thing, but Mrs. Danyali is hesitant to invite too much fanfare. She prefers to keep it “organic and authentic” to TNCS, which means that it must be differentiated among levels and it will be implemented differently in each classroom. All of the materials are available in Spanish so there may be opportunity for some bilingual bucket-filling. Other schools even make bucket-filling into a competition, but that is something Mrs. Danyali will not bring to TNCS, as competing is diametrically opposed to what she feels is the point of this whole endeavor—which is more or less to become aware of our how our conduct affects our fellows and ourselves.
“This year will be sort of an experiment,” she says. “I’m hoping it creates conversations, and we’ll see where it goes. I can see building on it year after year, like with our core values.”
If you’d like to reinforce bucket-filling at home and elsewhere, resources abound. The website (www.bucketfillers101.com/) provides useful information as well as links to social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and more, showing everything from having a positive influence in how we talk, how we bucket-fill at home, and how it can be done in the community at large.