Community Bucket

*Again reflecting on the article written by Paul Tough from, Why Letting Your Kids Struggle Helps Them Succeed.  This time from the vantage point of an educator.

I think back on my time in the classroom; “Did I allow a helicopter parent to swoop in and rescue her child?”

Here’s her lunchbox. Here’s his homework. She didn’t do her project because I didn’t have time to go to the store. If he feels sick, call me right away. He’s tired from practice, so I let him sleep in. Please move her desk, she and Sally don’t get along.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but YES, I let ALL of those (and more) slide.  And I realize now, how much I enabled that ‘Rescue’ mentality.

So how does a classroom teacher create and foster an environment of responsibility and self-discipline, even in the younger kids?  More importantly, how does she establish that responsibility and discipline INTRINSICALLY– without the motivators of prizes, stickers, etc.

At my school, we had punch cards where positive behavior was rewarded.  An easy way to get a punch on your punch card was to have your planner signed by mom or dad.  One morning, I asked one of my students if he could get his punch card, because (like always) he had his planner signed.  “No thanks! I don’t need it” was his reply.  I was so proud of this little kid- he just did it because it was the right thing to do, not because he got rewarded with a PUNCH!  I of course praised him and praised him in front of the kids, hoping his desire to be responsible, “Just Because” would be contagious.  Unfortunately, since we already had a culture of “Do it for a Punch” most kids still expected that extrinsic reward.

Upon having this conversation with my sister-in-law Linda, who is also a teacher, she shared with me something that they do at her school called the COMMUNITY BUCKET.  Basically, after a positive behavior is displayed by a student, he or she can CHOOSE whether to reward himself or put it towards the Community Bucket.  Once the bucket is filled, the class gets to choose a Community Service project, or a way to GIVE BACK to their Community.  WHAT A GREAT IDEA!

And WOW!  My kids LOVED it and were so much more motivated to fill up that bucket than they ever were for themselves.  It took the focus off individual reward and “What’s in it for me?” to the idea of service and “What can I do for someone else?”  We did all kinds of things: Make cards for sick kids in the hospital, draw pictures and holiday decor for the nursing home across the street, and the favorite: Cleaning up the school grounds!

As teachers, we simply cannot change parents, or expect them to parent the way we think is best.  Rather, we can change the culture in our own classrooms!

What values and attitudes do you want your classroom to exhibit?  What life-long skills can you teach, foster, and establish in your students?

The Community Bucket was a WONDERFUL addition to my classroom.  To say it was humbling to hear the hearts of these nine and ten year olds spring to life is by far an understatement.  Go ahead and TRY IT in your classroom (and thank my sis-in-law!).  I’d love to know how it works for you and your students.


Glitter Bucket
Glitter Bucket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What are some other ideas you’ve used to build a classroom culture of self-responsibility and self-discipline?

Thanks again, Paul Tough for your article.  And thanks to my Sis-in-Law, Linda for sharing such a great idea!!

Happy Teaching 🙂

See my reflection on Tough’s article from a parent perspective here:

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