by Barbara Gruener
The year was 2006; I was desperately looking for a new book, something fresh and engaging, a booster shot of inspiration and love to fortify our character-education program in its infancy. So off to Barnes & Noble I went with no idea that I was about to find not only a book, but an entire movement for our character building.
The gem that I unearthed wasn’t front and center on the shelves where they showcase their bestselling hardcover books. In fact, it wasn’t a hardcover book at all. Instead, shelved off to the side with the softcover titles, in the parenting section, is where I would discover this diamond that would change the way that not only our school but also the world looked at emotional deposits and withdrawals. But no one knew that yet, on that night fifteen years ago, when I first read Carol McCloud’s bestseller Have You Filled A Bucket Today?
The Bucket-Filling concept is pretty straightforward: Everyone has an invisible bucket, one which is filled by the good things that happen and emptied by the bad things that happen throughout the day. As we journey through this amazing adventure called life, we are either filling buckets or dipping from them. The cool thing is that when we fill someone else’s bucket, our own bucket fills up, too. Conversely, we cannot fill our own bucket by dipping out of someone else’s. Using our lid empowers us with agency over our emotional wellbeing. It takes the concept of actions and reactions, of our feelings like happiness and sadness, and makes it more tangible for our youngest emotional scientists.
You can imagine my delight at finding this treasure. Sadie, our reading/therapy dog, was coming to school the next day, so that provided the perfect platform to test run the book in my small-group counseling classes. After reading it aloud, I gave students an index card with the word FILLER written on one side and DIPPER written on the other, to check for understanding. I’d give an example aloud, like – Your brother shares his toys. – and students would show me the FILLER side. When I said – Your friend tells you that she doesn’t want to be your friend anymore. – they showed me the DIPPER side. The friends caught on so quickly that, before I knew it, they were volunteering to make up their own examples. And that’s when I knew that this was a simply powerful tool, perfect for elementary-aged learners.
I read it aloud at our faculty meeting that month, to introduce the concept of filling buckets to our school staff. Before long, buckets started showing up all over the school. When a mom called to say that her child reports sitting next to someone who dips his bucket on the bus, I took it to the bus drivers, and, sure enough, buckets showed up on their busses! We ended up making stickers to give out to students who were filling buckets by doing the right thing that read: BUSted for my Bucket-Filling Choices.
Next stop, the PTO meeting. Parents and caregivers were eager to get the book for their family to keep the momentum going at home. I would field phone calls in which caregivers would share that Johnny told them that his brother dipped from his bucket or Sally thanked me for filling her bucket, and I could feel the Bucket-Filling language taking off at home as well as in school. Educators everywhere were using it to help young children make kind and caring choices. In Canada, the incredible kindergarten teacher and kindness crusader Laurie McIntosh, even dressed the part to introduce and encourage Bucket Filling.
I took this treasure with me to every workshop opportunity I led and used it to either begin the session or as a launch. I eventually mustered up the courage to email the author to tell her what a hit her book has been, and she ended up sending me a case of books that I could give as door prizes on my speaking engagements at no charge. Talk about your expert Bucket Filler!
It was a dream come true when she let me know that she was going to be in Texas and speaking at a school just an hour from my house and would I want to attend the training and then meet for dinner afterward. I’ll never forget that night, not only because I got to sit at the table with someone whose work of heart I admired so greatly, but because of what happened on my way to our meeting:
Carol’s talk was to be at Lakewood Elementary in Houston, so I took the afternoon off of school and headed out with a hand-drawn map since this was 2007, in our pre-Smart-Phone days. When I arrived at Lakewood Elementary, I was told that no, she wasn’t there; she’d arrived there early in the morning, but in what seemed like a comedy of errors, her assistant had sent her to the wrong Lakewood Elementary. She was actually due at a school by that same name about an hour across town. Wait, what? I was early, but I wasn’t that early, and now I missed my chance to watch Carol in action. I called my husband, who pulled up directions on his computer at work and dictated to my what I’d have to do to make our meeting even happen at all. If I hurried, I’d miss the afternoon rush-hour traffic and still be able to meet Carol for dinner. Feeling frustrated, anxious and a little sad, I headed across town and was able to make the last little bit of her talk. At dinner, she apologized and told me how she’d also gone to the wrong school, so I said something like, I hope you let your assistant know that she sent you to the wrong school. And without missing a beat, Carol McCloud walked her talk with this beautiful truth: Nothing good would come from telling her and making her feel bad.
I’ve heard those words echo in my soul more than once since that night. Mistakes happen. We don’t fill our own buckets by dipping from someone else’s reserve. When we show empathy, compassion, kindness and grace to one another, it all works out as it should. Such wise insight.
Schools around the world have adopted the Bucket FILLosophy; here’s an example of what one school in CT did with the book to help build a culture and climate of caring.
Since that first book, Carol McCloud has written nine other Bucket Filler books, including a chapter book for upper elementary students, a version for preschoolers, and her 2021 spiritual release, Best Bucket Filler Ever: God’s Plan For Your Happiness. The Bucket-Filling Team provides implementation training on how to become a Bucket-Filling School, and the movement is going strong even a decade and a half after then-preschool-teacher Carol McCloud first put pen to paper and scripted this robust resource to increase the happiness factor in the hearts of its millions of readers. Do let us know if we can make a banner for your Bucket-Filling school.