The First Chapter - Lower School 

Welcome to The First Chapter by Silvia Davis, Head of Lower School, a blog featuring wonderful stories about our youngest students.  

Mrs. Davis will be posting here regularly. Please be sure to scroll down to read more and check back frequently for updates.


Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Have you filled a bucket today? This is a question, I can assure, unless you are a teacher, you likely have not been asked before. Yet, as a parent of a student in the Lower School at Wardlaw + Hartridge, you may have heard murmurings of Bucket Filling from your children. The book, Have You Filled a Bucket Todayby author Carol McCloud, has been the anchor for our year-long character education. Character education, or social-emotional learning, is having a moment in the landscape of education.  

The October issue of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s publication, Educational Leadership, is wholly centered around “The Promise of Social-Emotional Learning.” As phrased in the opening pages, the call to put the social-emotional on equal footing with the academic curriculum is growing louder. The most caring teachers in the strongest programs have always put emphasis on “character traits,” “interpersonal skills,” “non-cognitive abilities,” or quite mis-named, “soft skills.” Yet, over time, the research base is growing and providing practitioners with evidence to support the work. 

A later article begins by saying, “Empathy is at the core of everything that makes a school caring, a teacher responsive, and a society civilized.” If we could say that one of the social-emotional skills to be the most important, or rather the one from which all the others stem, it would be empathy. The ability to figuratively step into another’s shoes provides the space for our children to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection. 

In the first Lower School Assembly, we read the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. McCloud uses metaphor to allude to empathy and kindness. She begins by writing, “All day long, everyone in the whole wide world carries around an invisible bucket. You can’t see it, but it’s there… Your bucket has one purpose only. Its purpose is to hold your good thoughts and feelings about yourself. You feel happy and good when your bucket is full, and you feel sad and lonely when your bucket is empty. Other people feel the same way too.” As the picture book continues, McCloud provides examples to readers as to how they might fill others’ buckets while filling their own at the same time. As in this she makes an important point, which many children do not initially consider. When you do good things for others, not only do you fill their bucket, but in turn you fill your own. And, in the converse, when you are unkind to others not only do you empty their buckets, but you as well empty your own. This connection to the invisible bucket gives the youngest children an anchor to consider their empathetic behavior, even at the youngest ages of 3, 4 and 5 years.  

In the past month of school, if you were to walk around the Lower School, you would see evidence of Bucket Filling all over the building. Children are talking about being a bucket filler, and they are pairing this with doing kind things for others merely for the sake of doing it. You can see the difference the Kindergarteners and first graders are making by traveling around the school filling the buckets of others. There is genuine joy evident in receiving a token of happiness from a 5-year-old, that is only expressed in the thousand words painted by a picture. 

Educational psychologist and parenting expert, Michele Borba author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, writes in Educational Leadership, that “students with high levels of empathy display more classroom engagement, higher academic achievement, and better communication skills.” While there is obvious value in investing in the social-emotional health of our students, there is also a clear academic by-product, or rather connection. Yet, this work is challenging as the curriculum is not as straightforward. We might find the boxed curriculum, approach or kit of social-emotional learning, yet it is not a one-size-fits-all program. In the educational landscape, research shows that framework is most often best-practice rather than opening up the box and reading fully from the script. Framework allows teachers with deep pockets of professional expertise to craft the work to fit the students in front of them rather than the other way around.

Borba also writes, “Educating for empathy is not about using a toolkit or a one-off program; it requires ongoing, embedded work guided by strong school leaders who are empathetic themselves.” The work our teachers do with the Responsive Classroom Approach and the time spent learn how to “Be a Bucket-Filler” shows the importance the Lower School puts on the other side of the academic curriculum, in order to prepare the foundation for the traditionally academic curriculum. We know that our students at Wardlaw + Hartridge are receiving the social-emotional education they do, because their teachers are bucket-fillers themselves. We ask our students to do as we do, not only do as we say. 

When touring a prospective family around the Lower School, we stopped in the fifth grade classrooms to learn more about the program. After discussing the day, one of our teachers remarked that Morning Meeting, while something he was not familiar with prior to this year, is his favorite part of the day. To paraphrase, the time spent, or rather, invested in the social-emotional learning of the fifth graders has paid exponentially as only one month into the school year, the connections with students are further along than they have been in the past. 

With our Fall Fair and Homecoming quickly approaching, I think of what former students remark as memorable in looking back at their time in school. It is a rarity that adults say, “I remember that really fantastic math problem in class.” Might the problem and the instruction have been excellent, yes. Yet, adults say, “I remember my really fantastic math teacher. He/she connected with me.” It is these connections and the social-emotional learning that impacts students’ lives well beyond their formal years of education. 

The traditional 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) are important, valuable and need to be taught. But, the moment that SEL (social-emotional learning) is having proves that the life-altering lessons as shown through the smiles and joy on the faces of the students in the classrooms, lay the groundwork for the 3Rs to really stick. 

Posted by Silvia Davis on Wednesday October, 10, 2018 at 01:21PM

1 Comment:


  Investing in the social-emotional health of our students is not only good for classroom engagement, higher academic achievement, and better communications skills. This investment will ultimately benefit our community, our country and our society. I can’t wait to see these empathetic kids become empathetic adults. Congratulations Wardlaw+Hartridge for your investment on our society.

from Ruth Arriaza on 10/12/18 at 12:02PM

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1295 Inman Ave,
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-1882
The Wardlaw + Hartridge School is a top private and college prep school in Edison, New Jersey, which provides an independent, pioneering educational experience at the early childhood, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school levels.
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