RU GSE Student Blog

A Student Perspective

Fill My Bucket!

As graduate students, it’s easy to fall into autopilot. We read pages and pages of textbooks, write pages and pages of papers, and engage in frequent group work. We complete tasks for our various internships. We sometimes fit a social life into the mix. We sleep…if possible. Then, we get up and do it all over again the next day.

Something that can break this monotony is appreciation and recognition. It really, really, really feels good to be appreciated and recognized in our work. And, at the same time, it feels reeeeeeeeeeeally crappy to be unappreciated and unrecognized for your efforts.

Unfortunately, recognition and appreciation are not always staples in your organization’s culture. So, it’s up to us as grad students to bring appreciation and recognition into the forefront of our daily lives.

Shhhhhhh…Come close. Here’s a little secret. Just as it feels great to feel appreciated and be recognized, it feels pretty darn awesome to recognize and appreciate others.


In our work with undergraduate students, there are infinitely many ways that we can create a positive culture of appreciation and recognition. Whether we teach classes, advise student organizations or supervise undergraduate staff, the power is in our hands to appreciate and recognize our students. 

Allow me to walk you through some simple ways to do so…

But, before I do that, let me establish the difference between appreciation and recognition.

  • Recognition: focuses on performance (i.e. what the person does)
  • Appreciation: focuses on the value of person (i.e. who the person is)

Both appreciation and recognition have their value in working with students. Depending on the context, one method can be more powerful.

How do you feel?

Have you ever though about how full your bucket is? If your answer is “no,” then you totally should! The concept of filling buckets has appreciation and recognition at its core.

This is what is means to fill buckets:

“Each of us has an invisible bucket.

It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful.

 Each of us also has an invisible dipper.

When we use that dipper to fill other people’s buckets –by doing or saying things to increase their positive emotions—we also fill our own bucket. But when we use that dipper to dip from others’ buckets—by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions—we diminish ourselves.

 A full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. Every drop in that bucket makes us stronger and more optimistic.

But an empty bucket poisons our outlook, saps our energy, and undermines our will. That’s why every time someone dips from our bucket, it hurts.

So we face a choice every moment of every day:

 We can fill one another’s buckets, or we can dip from them.

 It’s an important choice—one that profoundly influences our relationships, productivity, health, and happiness.”

 From How Full is Your Bucket?

by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, PH.D.

Our goal must be to create positive, healthy and productive relationships with the students that we work with on a daily basis. By using the Bucket Philosophy as the basis for infusing appreciation and recognition into our everyday practice, we can help motivate our students and ourselves.

Now, let’s get practical.

I: How to Show Appreciation: 

From The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplacethese approaches include:

Words of Affirmation: Using words, both oral and written, can affirm and encourage others. Some people prefer one-on-one communication, while others value being praised in public. This can be as simple as a note of thanks or praise. 

Quality Time: Some one-on-one time goes a long way. This   could be “hanging out,” collaborating as a team on a project, or just having someone take the time to listen to them.  Don’t we all just want to feel important!?

Acts of Service: Everyone can use a helping hand sometimes. Helping a teammate, working collaboratively on a difficult project, or just working alongside him/her on a task, are all ways to show appreciation for others. This team approach can help students feel as though you’re “on their level.”

Tangible Gifts: It’s the “thought” that counts. No really, it is! It’s not about the amount of money spent. Even just noticing what others enjoy (chocolate, coffee, cashews),  their hobbies and interests (sports, books, crafts) and buying them a small related gift shows that you are getting to know them as a person and understand what is important to them. While as grad students, we typically don’t have the power, authority or funds to give our students money, we can always capitalize on food as a ticket to our students’ hearts. 

Appropriate Physical Touch: Appropriate (key word= appropriate) physical touch can make a big difference. It can sometimes be a spontaneous “high five,” fist bump, pat on the back, or handshake. When appropriate, a hug or high-five can be worth a thousand words.

II: How to Show Recognition:

Now that we have some methods of appreciation to work from, let’s talk more about recognition. In order for recognition to be effective:

  1. All students must be eligible
  2. We must be specific, clear, & consistent about which behaviors and actions are being rewarded
  3. It must happen relatively soon after the rewarded behavior or action occurs
  4. The process must avoid favoritism. Instead of you selecting which individual is recognized every time, perhaps, you empower the group to do so.
  5. It should be random and provide an element of surprise. Keep it fresh!

III: My Top 5 Appreciation & Recognition Initiatives:

Personally, I LOVE showing the students with which I work that I appreciate them. Here are some ofthe ways I do so:

SNAP Bucket: each person writes “SNAPS” (words of encouragement, appreciation, thanks or kudos) to recognize individuals for their hard work.

In the Spotlight: A flashlight is passed around the circle. Each student chooses to shine the light on someone else in the circle and verbally recognize him/her for something. (This works particularly well during retreats and with larger groups.

Touch of Warmth: All students sit on the floor and close their eyes. As a moderator (i.e. you) reads various prompts (i.e. Touch someone who has made you smile, Touch someone who exemplifies leadership, Touch someone who has supported you, etc.), a smaller number of students are chosen to open their eyes and tap whichever people they would like to anonymously recognize. (This is a creative way to help students recognize without showing their identity.)

I appreciate you because…: Each student in group puts a piece of paper on their back, which states: “I appreciate you because…” Students go around the room writing why they appreciate each other on these pieces of paper.

Passing of the Torch: Students pass a tangible object (i.e. a fake torch) from member to member as a means of recognition. Each week, the person with the torch must verbally recognize someone else in the group and pass the torch onto him/her

Regardless of your approach, creating a culture of appreciation and recognition for your students can only help them feel more values for who they are and what they do. If you strive to fill others’ buckets, you’ll likely end up with a full bucket of your own… 


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