I used to be very much a creature of habit. I did the same things, the same way, every day. I craved routine and loved it. Perhaps it was more about control for me. I liked feeling that I was in control of my life and destiny. The way I looked at it was, that if I am able to make things in my life go the way I want them to go, then my life will turn out just as it is supposed to. That strange theory once made a lot of sense to me, until I realized that I am not in control. When I saw that my ideal life was slipping through my fingers, great stress fell upon me. I began living life in a very fearful way. “I shouldn’t do that because then this horrible thing might happen,” I constantly thought. I got to a point where I wasn’t able to focus on everyday life because I was so afraid of everything. It was no way to live my life.
So, I made some mental changes. First, I realized that I need to live life on life’s terms. I gave up trying to control every little thing. I thought of myself as a tiny stone in a river’s bed. I couldn’t control what other people did no matter how hard I tried. Instead, I focused on controlling my choices, thoughts, and actions. I allowed the river of life to take me along for a ride. I turned when one side of my beautifully bumpy rock got a bit too smooth of course, but I tried very hard to just let life happen. Because of this huge mental switch, I’m much happier than I ever was. I’m no longer filled with stress and worry because the parking spot I usually take was filled with someone else’s car. I don’t allow the actions or reactions of others to cause me discomfort. I realize that everyone is their own rock in this giant river of awesomeness. I can’t control what other rocks do, but I can control what I do and how I view what these other rocks do. I used to allow what others did to frustrate me or cause me great stress. Now, I just go with the flow and enjoy the ride, and what a beautiful journey it is. Life is so wonderful, beautiful, amazing, sad, and joyous all at once. It’s like that painting in a museum you once saw that left you transfixed and in a state of awe and wonder.
Now that I have given up trying to control things, I’m very happy and at peace. As a teacher, it has allowed me to create an open classroom that is flexible and student-centered. The students are involved in most of the classroom decisions. They choose where they sit and how the tables and chairs are organized in the classroom. Before I plan any field experience, I ask for their input. While I have generated a curriculum for each subject, it is not rigid nor set in stone. If I ever feel as though my students need more time with a particular concept, I can put the rest of my activities on hold to review and re-cover that challenging topic or concept. I have come to realize over the years that if my students are not engaged in what is happening in the classroom, then no genuine learning is taking place. Being able to craft an individualized and fluid curriculum for my fifth grade class has allowed me to become a better educator and support system for my students. As my number one goal is always to help my students feel safe as they grow and develop into the best possible version of themselves, I am completely open to making changes to my schedule or daily lessons. Even the morning of, as I write the daily agenda on the whiteboard in my classroom, I think about each lesson. How can I make it more engaging, meaningful, or tangible for my students? Nothing is ever fixed. Like how I now live my life, I allow my students, classroom, and lessons to take me on daily adventures. I don’t ever go into a day thinking I know how it’s going to turn out, because I truly have no idea until the end of that particular day. While it’s a bit scary living like this, it’s also so much fun, as I’m open to all possibilities.
This past Friday, I drove to school thinking about my plan for that day’s Morning Meeting. What was my goal for the meeting? What did I want the students to gain from that morning’s meeting? I knew that I wanted to provide the students an opportunity to share their thoughts on Bucket Filling, but I wasn’t completely certain how I wanted this to look. Did I want to simply engage the students in a discussion on how they have filled the buckets of others? Or, did I want something more than that? As I parked my car that morning, I still hadn’t decided how I wanted this activity to unfold. Knowing that my brain does it’s best work when I don’t even realize it’s doing anything, I began my morning by sweeping and vacuuming my classroom. This mundane task would allow my brain to keep mulling over the best way to approach the Bucket Filling activity I wanted to complete in class that morning. By the time I began etching the daily agenda onto the whiteboard in my classroom, I knew what I wanted to do.
I grabbed 8 differently colored pieces of paper and wrote the name of a student on each one. I then drew a very simple picture of a bucket onto the paper. I taped these “buckets” onto the front board in my classroom. They added a nice splash of color to the board. As the students entered the classroom, that was one of the first things they noticed. Many of them asked, “What are these for?” Like any great teacher, I responded with, “That’s a great question. You’ll have to wait and see.” Students do not like that response, but it kept them thinking and wondering, which is what I wanted them to do.
When it was finally time for the Bucket Filling activity, I explained the activity to the students after a quick review of Bucket Filling: “Each of you will be given three small pieces of paper. On each piece of paper, you will write one thing that someone has done to fill your bucket or one character trait that you respect and appreciate about that person. You will then tape that slip of paper to the person’s bucket. If you want more paper, feel free to grab extra slips from my desk. Like you usually do, be mindful as you are writing and filling each other’s buckets. Make sure that everybody’s bucket has at least one slip attached to it by the end of the activity. Spread the love.” I then addressed questions the students posed. One student was a little confused by the activity, and so I clarified it in a way that helped her understand what she needed to do. Another student then asked about a bucket for a student who wasn’t in class at that point. “Shouldn’t we make a bucket for him too?” he asked. And so, I did add a bucket for that student. I love how compassionate my students are, thinking about others. Then, another student suggested that I should also have a bucket. While I did intend for this to be an activity for the students to be filled with joy and happiness, I did add a bucket for myself. Why not? I can never have too much joy. My favorite question during this time had to do with the activity itself. “Could we do this activity during our Closing Meeting instead of the Gratitude Wall each afternoon?” he asked. Oh, I thought. What an interesting idea. “Let’s see how this all plays out first, and then we can talk more about it,” I responded. I was amazed that this student could already see the value in this activity before it even started. Wow!
What I thought was going to be a very quick activity, turned into something much greater. As the students began taping their positive comments and thoughts of thankfulness for their peers to the various buckets, they saw that not everyone had the same amount. So, they all grabbed more slips of paper to balance the buckets. While I thought for sure that I’d be recycling the extra thirty slips of paper I had made that morning, each and every extra piece of paper was taken and used by the end of the activity. Smiles covered the faces of my students as though they had just been told there would be no homework for the remainder of the school year. They seemed so happy filling the buckets of their peers with kind words. I was bewildered yet again. My students never cease to amaze me on a daily basis. What could have been a quick task that would have allowed them to move into the reading of their Reader’s Workshop book within a minute or two, transformed into a very special 10-minute activity of awesomeness. Seriously, I am such a blessed and fortunate educator. Not only do I get to work at an amazing school like BHS, but I am able to wake up each morning and learn from a group of amazing fifth graders. It doesn’t get much better than that.
After the students had literally filled each other’s buckets on the board with caring words of kindness, I then read the slips of paper aloud to the class. The positive energy filled the classroom like helium in a balloon. It felt wonderful. I then asked the students how they felt after having been a part of this activity. One student said, “It feels good to know that our classmates appreciate what we are doing.” Another student said, “While it was hard at first to think of something to write for one student, it became easier, and then I couldn’t stop filling buckets.” Another student said, “It felt good to make other people feel good.” I then closed the activity by asking the students if they would like to replace the Gratitude Wall with this activity each afternoon. All but one student wants to complete this activity in place of the Gratitude Wall during our daily Closing Meeting. As this is a version of a Gratitude Wall, we aren’t really losing that wonderful activity; instead, we are replacing it with something more specific and special. I can’t wait to see how our Bucket Filling activity goes Monday afternoon.
Because I allowed this activity to unfold as it did, it grew into something unexpected and remarkable. What I thought would be a short discussion on Bucket Filling, turned into a heartwarming activity that further united my class together. Had I not been open to the possibility of this brief little discussion becoming something more, then my students and I would have missed out on a very special opportunity. Allowing life to take me where it will in the classroom, has made me a more effective teacher. I just need to have faith that things will work out as life intends.