Setting the Tone for a Kind Classroom

I know we aren't supposed to pick favorites, but I have one...

A teammate first introduced Have you Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud to me when I was teaching kindergarten back in 2012, and I have been obsessed with it ever since. In my opinion, if you teach elementary, this book should, hands down, be one you read the first week of school (and a couple times a year as a reminder).

The message in this book is simple enough that kids fully understand what it is describing, but deep enough to make a long term impact on their hearts. A few years ago when I moved from kindergarten to a 3rd/4th blend, I thought it might be a bit too "little kid-ish", but my big kids fully embraced the idea of bucket filling every bit as much as my younger students. 

So what is a bucket filler

A bucket filler is someone who makes positive influence on the world around them by saying or doing kind things. Bucket filling can be as simple as a smiling at someone, or more bold such as complimenting someone or inviting them to play at recess. As we use our own words and actions to "fill others buckets", we often find that our own bucket is also filled, simply by showing kindness to others. 

Every year, I read this book during the first week of school. It helps to emphasize the class culture that I want for us, but it also allows students to have a voice in the class culture they hope to experience by giving ideas of how to "fill buckets". As we share ideas as I class, we create an anchor chart showing some of these ideas we have created together. It turns out something like this in the end.

My favorite way to follow up this book is with an interactive bulletin board. This allows students to really look for acts of kindness from their peers and see that no act of kindness is ever too small. 

We start by creating our own buckets. For this, I just fold and cut pieces of construction paper in the shape of a bucket. (I staple the sides, while leaving the top open so that we can "fill" the buckets later). Then kids decorate them as they see fit. It turns out like this:

As students observe acts of kindness, they fill out little cards with a quick note and "fill" someones bucket with it...literally and figuratively. I usually have a variety of pre-printed notes available, but also allow students to write their own. You can download these notes here.

This activity serves a couple purposes. 
1. It has kids actively looking for the good around them. It's amazing how much kindness you can see when you are intentional about finding it!
2. I can watch the buckets for patterns...who is getting a lot of notes? Who is getting few? This allows me to make early social interventions as a teacher without being invasive or kids even noticing. How can I partner up friends to promote more inclusivity? 
3. It sets a tone for our class culture. Bucket Filling is a message that everyone can understand. I love hearing kids say phrases like, "Thank you for sharing your marker. That filled my bucket." It's in small moments that I can see the message has struck home. 

You can grab my Bucket Filler Interactive Bulletin Board HERE or by clicking the photo below.

You can grab Have You Filled a Bucket Today and all the other amazing books in the series by clicking the photos below.

Want to get ideas for other books you should use the first week of school? Check out my Back to School Must Have Read Aloud Books blog post HERE

If you found this blog post helpful, I would appreciate you pinning the image below and helping me spread the word. 

Pulling Off An Amazing Kindergarten Graduation

Graduation was one of my favorite parts of being a kindergarten teacher. The celebration was always filled with pride and joy and so many happy tears. For me, just as much as the kids and parents. 

As a teacher, it can also just be one more big thing on our plates. There are so many elements to prepare for...besides the actual academics to finish kindergarten!

I taught kindergarten at a private school, where graduation was a big deal. The kids put on a performance complete with songs, memorized poems and Bible verses, and even a play that we spent months preparing for.

Graduation was always such a big project, that often took months to pull together. For years, I have wanted to compile a resource with all the elements I used to make graduation go off easier, and after about 5 years of piecing it together, that resource is finally completed! I hope this blog post helps you as you prepare for graduation, and if you want a bundle that includes ready made/easily editable files for all the elements that I reference throughout this post, you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store HERE.

So let's get started!

If I do not write things down, I will not remember them. Sometimes it feels like my lists have lists. So it's no surprise that I am a big fan of brain dumps. To do this, sit down and make a list of all the things that you think you will need to do, and keep it handy for if you need to add or remove items from it. Include things such as: 

🎓 Decide What Activities You Want to Include 🎓
Do you just want to simply hand out diplomas and be done, or do you want to put on a full performance? 

🎓 Volunteer Task Ideas 🎓
What tasks can you pass off to parents (or even students) to take a load off of you?

🎓  Paperwork 🎓
Are there any forms that you need to fill out, such as facility use forms, AV help, chair set up, etc? Do you need to submit a budget request? Do you need to to order any supplies, such as tassels, caps, or gowns?

🎓 Other Items to Consider 🎓
What things do you need to prep ahead of time? Do you want to prepare a performance with songs or memory work? Do you want to create a slide show? Do you want a program for parents to look through? Do you need invitations? Do you need decorations? Are you going to have refreshments?

Grab a FREE sample checklist like the one that I use HERE.

A well-known fact about me...I have a hard time delegating tasks. I do not do well at asking for help, but when it comes to putting on an event like this, I cannot emphasize this point enough...ASK FOR HELP. Not only will you feel less stressed about it, but you will have parents feeling excited about helping. Remember that brain dump from earlier...figure out what steps can be delegated, and don't be afraid to pass them off to volunteers! Parents are usually more than happy to volunteer their time and resources! Have a parent that's a baker? Don't be afraid to ask them to donate cookies! Have a parent who is a photographer? Don't be afraid to ask them to take some informal picture for decorations. Have a parent who just wants to help in any way possible? Don't be afraid to ask them to help with menial tasks like setting up chairs, picking up balloons, ironing gowns, or even practicing parts of the performance with kids who need extra practice!

🎓 Volunteer Thank You Notes 🎓
Writing notes to parent volunteers is a non-negotiable for me. I am grateful for any help I can receive, and make writing a thank you note a priority. Don't forget this step when it comes to volunteers!

I am a big fan of the idea that "an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure." Create a plan for what you want to do for your graduation ceremony, then start preparing for them. Here is an example of the activities that I have performed during our kindergarten graduation, which usually lasts about an hour. 
🎓 Pledge of Allegiance 🎓
🎓 Alphabet Song 🎓
🎓 Skip Counting Recital 🎓
🎓 States Song 🎓
🎓 Poem Recital 🎓
🎓 Bible Verse Recital 🎓
🎓 Three Little Pigs Play 🎓
🎓 Special Announcements 🎓
🎓 Giving of Diplomas 🎓
🎓 Look Out First Grade Song 🎓
🎓 Closing Announcements/Prayer 🎓
🎓 Dismissal of Graduates 🎓
🎓 Refreshments and Photo Booth 🎓

Your specific school and culture may be different. I recommend utilizing things that you have been doing in your class all year long. For example, my class learned this alphabet song, so it was the song we performed at graduation. Other poems and Bible verses were ones that we had learned throughout the year. This helped ensure that I wasn't having to cram extra activities in at the end of the year when it was already busy.

Snag my invitations and programs HERE.

I love a Pinterest perfect decor setting, but what I love more is when a decor is student centered and student made. Decor should be intentional, memorable, and reusable

A couple ways I love to decorate for graduation: 
🎓 Diplomas 🎓
We always handed our kids a "real" diploma. This is a fun keepsake for parents! I have one that I created and love that you can find HERE.
🎓 Student Bio Posters 🎓
 I make this a classroom activity. Let students complete a bio-and make it fun! (I have templates included in my TpT bundle, but you could definitely give kids blank paper and creative freedom!)
🎓 Student Slide Show 🎓
I try to keep this extremely simple. It just features student names, a photo (I try to include a photo of students dressed in their caps and gowns), and either a silly quote from them or what they want to be when they grow up. These are not elaborate, but they make a fun display while students are getting their diplomas.
🎓 Reusable Banners 🎓
I print a banner and use it year after year. Usually, I do not include the year, because I don't want to have to remake it every year! 
🎓 Balloons 🎓
Balloons are cheap and easy to acquire. You can purchase foil balloons at the Dollar Tree or purchase a Balloon Time helium tank and fill them up yourself.

Snag my printable decor items HERE.

None of the following are required for a successful graduation, but they are things that I love to include: 
🎓 Invitations 🎓
I have my kids invite their parents and family to graduation. Be sure to include if there is a limit to how many guests that can attend, times to arrive, etc.
🎓 Program 🎓
Our school required a program to give out to guests. We included a list of activities, graduate names, and thank you on this. 
🎓 Photo Booth Area 🎓
I love setting up photo booths. I usually do them several times a year in my class. They are a fun way for parents to take pictures of their babies in their caps and gowns. Years ago, I bought some cheap fabric from the store, and use that as a backdrop. I actually drape the fabric over my pocket chart rack and extend that bad boy as big as it can go. I add a few props to make it extra fun, and call it a day! Parents love this and the photos are priceless.
🎓 Refreshment Table 🎓
We had a local bakery that would donate cookies to our event. This was such a gift. We set up a refreshment table with cookies and water for guests and graduates to enjoy. Plan ahead if you are going to have refreshments so you can order them with plenty of time.

Ready to add extras? Grab my ready to print files HERE!

Remember that this event is meant to be fun. Try not to stress yourself out too much over it! :) 

I hope that you found this post to be helpful in wrapping your mind around the things that you need to do to prep for graduation. All of these things talked about in this blog post are included in my Graduation Decor Bundle. You can find that bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers HERE.

If you found this blog post helpful, I would appreciate you pinning the image below and helping me spread the word. 

If you have read this far and want a funny graduation is mine!

When I was pregnant with my oldest, I was due on the last day of school...Kindergarten graduation day! That year, I was the only returning kindergarten teacher, so I was put in charge of kindergarten graduation (which in hindsight was a terrible idea, but at the time it seemed completely rational). Guess what happened at 8 p.m. the night before?!

If you guessed that my water broke and I went into labor, then you would be spot on the money! 🤣 I had stayed at the school late finishing up a few last minute details. Then I made a stop at Trader Joes to grab flowers for my parent volunteers, and headed home. I was in the middle of putting flowers in the vases when all the sudden I could not stop peeing myself...

My contractions didn't progress for quite a few hours, so I was literally in the hospital barking orders over the phone to parents and co-workers in between contractions the following morning. I even had my father in law deliver those flowers and vases so that my wonderful mamas could get them!

My son was born about an hour before graduation started, and word on the street is that my students screamed wildly when they heard he had been born (I obviously wasn't there to witness it.

I missed graduation, but becoming a mama was definitely the perfect alternative!