Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

How Full Is Your Bucket coverI have just finished reading How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O Clifton. It’s an easy read (I knocked it off in two half-hour sessions) and presents some very simple messages about the psychology of positivity. I am also part-way through reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. They are remarkably similar in essence.

How Full Is Your Bucket uses a bucket as an analogy for positivity. With every interaction or experience we have, our bucket is either filled or emptied a little bit. By filling someone else’s bucket, our own bucket is replenished. By taking a ‘dip’ out of their bucket, so too is ours diminished.

According to Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman (who is quote in the book), we experience approximately 20,000 individual moments in each waking day. Each and every moment contributes to life as a whole. How many of our ‘moments’ are positive? How many positive moments do we create for others? And what is the cumulative effect on our buckets?

Working to strength

A fundamental philosophy underpinning gifted education is the principle of working to strength. Start with what someone is good at and extend that; don’t be tempted to ‘balance’ a student or focus on the areas of apparent ‘weakness’ that might need ‘fixing’. For example, if someone demonstrates strength and ability in writing, don’t fuss about them being less inclined towards numeracy or rugby. Supporting and enabling them to become the best writer they can be will be far more effective than insisting they practise scoring tries until they also excel in rugby. The same applies in the workplace.

Teachers and educators understand this. They also recognise the importance of promoting and enabling intrinsic motivational strategies with their students. However, they would most likely agree that in the lifelong journey that we know as education, we might not see results immediately or by the end of a school year. Early on in my teaching career, there were certain students in my class that I’d inevitably worry about, while also fretting about whether I was actually providing for them what they needed. I rationalised that even in 10 or 20 years’ time, if that individual made a positive choice or acted on even the tiniest seed that I had planted or nurtured when they were a child, then I would have succeeded. The pressures of assessment and accountability can make it challenging to accept that educators might never get to see the real difference they make in a student’s life. The bucket theory ascertains that every little bit makes a difference, and I sincerely hope this is true of a couple of students in particular.


I believe that no feedback, or feedback that is insincere, can be as destructive as criticism. The same is true for any relationship. In addition, frequency is the key; the loss of productivity that can result from a lack of positive feedback is not to be underestimated. Recent surveys show poor levels of job satisfaction for New Zealanders, with 60% of workers either hating their jobs or just hanging in their for their salaries. That is a tragic loss of potential and productivity. I wonder how much could be attributed to a lack of recognition, appreciation or positivity in the workplace environment? Rath and Clifton refer to the following couplet:

“Once I did bad and that I heard ever.
Twice I did good, but that I heard never.”

There is, however, a big difference between sincere appreciation and hollow flattery. Both can be quickly recognised and it doesn’t take long to see that the latter does little or no good for anyone. The good news is that we can immediately start filling our buckets and the buckets of those around us with every action and interaction we take from here on in. How full is your bucket? And have you filled anyone else’s bucket today?

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Anne Frank


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