Fill Everyone’s Bucket to Create Belonging

by: Kathleen Hannon

“We belong together.
We’ll be friends forever.
Will we fight, no never.
We belong together.”

These are the lyrics in the chorus of our school anthem by David Roth. Our students sing this song at every monthly character assembly with their arms wrapped around each other, swaying in unison.

For a stranger to walk into our assembly, his eyes would surely well at this vision of innocence and happiness. Of course, this vision is not true for all moments of the school day, nor is friendship always present. And if that stranger looked closely, he’d see some students who did not have another arm around them, or who were uncomfortable being touched. But for 45 minutes in this assembly, the children are connected and they belong to a school community.

How do teachers create this feeling of belonging for students…being accepted, having friends and feeling safe more than once a month at a character assembly?

Many social-emotional programs are being implemented in elementary classrooms today where children are learning how to identify their feelings, self-regulate, and problem solve. They learn how to connect with others, initiate and carry on conversations, compromise and share.

I have personally seen the success of a social skills program in my own classroom called Connecting with Others: Lessons for Teaching Social and Emotional Competence by Rita C. Richardson. The program is designed to “help students learn to be sensitive to differences, resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, and learn tolerance and acceptance of others.”

But what can an elementary teacher do if her school has not yet adopted a social skills curriculum? What is another way to get this feeling of comfort and connectedness with peers? Teach children how to fill each other’s “buckets”.

How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Mary Reckmeyer and Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud are two books you must have on your bookshelf. The message in these books is that we all have invisible buckets that get filled up with kindness, appreciation, and positive actions throughout the day and emptied from negative behaviors and actions. A simple smile or helpful act can put drops in someone’s bucket and in your own because you are making another person happy. The same works for emptying buckets. Yours empties when someone is unkind to you or you are unkind to others.

Each student in my class has a bucket to receive positive comments from peers.

The children in my class have buckets on a bulletin board. They can write “drops” to each other throughout the week to give a happy message, compliment someone on their appearance, attitude, or accomplishment.

Drops are supposed to go home at the end of the week, but I won’t send them unless every child has at least one. Within just a few weeks of school I had a child monitoring the buckets and she took every free opportunity she had to put a thoughtful drop in any bucket that was empty. I have noticed drops getting written when someone has helped another, when it is someone’s birthday, or if someone got a new haircut. Drops have been used for apologies, as well, with little happy pictures on the back. It’s amazing to see the messages that are written because they are truly coming from the heart.

“Drops” written by students to fill their classmates’ emotional buckets.

Drops are inspired from interactions at recess, lunch, reading groups, specials, and in the classroom. I have a bucket as well, and I know I’m doing my job when I read, “Thank you for taking care of us.” When drops are passed out in my classroom I see smiles appear, happy glances go around the room, and little thank you’s are whispered. My heart fills up with these exchanges. I know for 6.25 hours a day, 180 days a year, my students do belong together. They are friends. They try hard not to fight. They care for others. They are safe.

“So I won’t be mean, I’ll be kind.
I’ll leave all the bad stuff behind.
I’ll be trustworthy and open up my heart.
And that’s where the changes will start.”

Kathleen Hannon is a 2nd Grade teacher at Stony Brook Elementary School in Massachusetts. She has taught grade 1–3 for 25 years and has a M.Ed with an emphasis in autism. Follow her on Twitter @hannon_kathleen

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