A Bucket List for K-12 Students


In today’s global and entrepreneurial economy, every student must be able to walk out of the building with a meaningful diploma, prepared for success in the twenty-first century.
Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises, and the Data Quality Campaign, 2011, p. 1


In 2007, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in The Bucket List.  In the movie, Nicholson and Freeman make a list of things they wish to do before they die.  They sky dive, travel the world, visit landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, and climb the Great Wall of China.  The term bucket list is becoming more popular.  When someone uses the term sarcastically, they may say, "That is definitely not on my bucket list."  Recently, a friend gave me a book titled, The Baseball Fan's Bucket List.  The book suggests that every baseball fan should visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, learn to keep score, see a Double AA game, and watch the movie Bull Durham.  As a baseball fan, I can promise you that these things will bring happiness.  Each of them have been checked on my bucket list.


Typically, people create a bucket list, because they want to have the opportunity to do the things on the list before they 'kick the bucket.'  What if schools created a bucket list?  I realize how morbid this sounds.  It would frighten a nine year old to hear the teacher say, "We are going to learn teamwork and communication skills today, because you need to have these skills before you die."  For the remainder of this article, let's eliminate the thought of dying.  Rather than dying, assume that all students will need to have their bucket list checked by graduation day.


What would a Bucket List for K-12 Students Look Like?


This is the age old question, "What should every student know and be able to do?"  As we celebrate the Class of 2012, we can reflect and ask if each student is graduating prepared for college and career.  What skills are students lacking?  Do they have a good balance of academic skills and soft skills?  Do they know how to complete a job application?  Did the school teach interview skills?  Do they know how to manage their money?  The following list is a short list that I have started for K-12 students.

  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Time Management
  • Interview Skills
  • Personal Financial Literacy
  • Digital Literacy
  • Ability to analyze multiple perspectives
  • Ability to share his or her own perspective (i.e., blogs, social media, and creating original work to post online)
  • Civic Literacy
  • The Tools Needed to Succeed in First Year College Courses, without Remediation
  • Resiliance
  • Punctuality
  • Metacognition
  • Ability to Apply Skills and Adapt Abilities in Different Enviornments
  • Critical Thinking Skills
  • Citizenship (The type of skills that apply in most international settings)
  • Reading and Writing Skills (not just a passing grade in English, but true skills)
  • Global Awareness
  • College Knowledge (What Does It Take to Get Into College? - See David Conley's books and articles)
  • Students Who Understand the Importance of Community Service


If you have attended a Senior Awards ceremony or a graduation, you may have overheard adults whispering:
"He is the total package."  "She is what every employer is looking for."  "He is the most well-rounded student."  "She may win 3/4 of the scholarships tonight."  "He has the skills that every student needs upon graduation."


According to the Alliance for Excellent Education (2009), “The mission of the public education system must shift from educating some students and preparing them for the twentieth-century American economy to educating all students and preparing them for the twenty-first century global economy” (p. 4).  The recent adoption of the Common Core State Standards may support college and career readiness across the United States.  If educators would commit to a bucket list for students, then there would be an intentional effort to see that more students are 'the total package.'  Some students will still possess better reading skills and some students will have a deeper understanding of digital literacy.  Some of the seniors will still go to Harvard and Stanford, while a majority will not qualify.  If you have ever viewed The Bucket List, you see the satisfaction that it brings the actors to check off their goals and dreams.  Student success should not be left to the decision students make when they come to a fork in the road.  Students will make choices for the remainder of their lives and those choices should be based on a solid foundation.


As a parent, I would be thrilled if my own son and daughter graduated with the skills that I outlined in this article.  Which skills or understandings would you add to the list?  Share your thoughts below on ASCD EDge.  If all of your students entered your class with a bucket, could you fill it by the end of the year?  Which skills are elementary, middle, or high school-specific?  Which skills are taught and retaught throughout the K-12 years?  How can a bucket list provide more students with the skills highlighted by the Smithsonian Institute's recent video about education?  If we truly want to change the world, we may need to develop a bucket list for K-12 students. 


  • Hi Steven. I am new to ASCD. I enjoyed your article. It makes me wonder what would a bucket list for educators look like?
    Jennifer_Davis_Bowman, 9 months ago | Flag
  • Krissy: That is a great post! Thanks for providing perspective from a Kindergarten teacher. I don't have the answers for every grade level, but you provided some outstanding outcomes for Kindergarten! This will give others ideas for their grade level. Thanks for expanding on the article by sharing your experiences and ideas. I would love to have a child leave kindergarten with those outcomes! Make it happen this year!
    Steven_Weber, 2 years ago | Flag
  • I love this article and idea about a bucket list for K-12 students. I teach Kindergarten and a great book that I share with my class is called Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide To Daily Happiness for Kids and it is written by Carol McCloud. It provides a very basic understanding about how actions and words can effect the well being of others and ourselves. Students learn how to appreciate and be kind to others - very important to foster good communication, collaboration and problem solving skills - some of the items you mentioned in your list. Other important items for Kindergartners to have on their bucket list would be: self confidence, independence, compassion for others, the ability to share, patience and respect. I'm thinking about using this bucket list idea as a theme in my class this year. Thanks again for a great article!
    Krissy_Cordes, 2 years ago | Flag
  • Mark: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have not hear of the book you recommended. I am going to buy it! Our nation has a problem with students going to college for one year. One and Done is bad when your team loses the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It is a much bigger problem when your nation's students are "One and Done." North Carolina has a website which tracks students who graduate from a NC high school and enter the UNC system. It is online at http://www.northcarolina.edu/ira/ir/analytics/fresh.htm. Thank you.
    Steven_Weber, 2 years ago | Flag
  • Students already get so much advice on how to get into college.  I'm more worried about all the students that don't know what to do once they get there, i.e., how to be successful and not become one of the huge number that don't make it to their second year.  So in addition to David Conley's books and articles, perhaps a book like the following: http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Best-College-Revised-Updated/dp/160774144X

    Mark_Warren, 2 years ago | Flag

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