The bus driver overheard a middle school student say as he was walking off the bus at the end of the day, "I am going to get several of you tomorrow on the bus and blow you away for making fun of me."
This illustrates the complexity of driving a bus in today's world. What should drivers do in this sort of situation, and what if they choose to ignore the seriousness of the situation? What training have they received that ensures they know their important role in school safety? What if pilots were expected not only to fly the plane but also to ensure that passengers were given the meals they ordered, stayed in their seats during times of turbulence, wore their seatbelts at required times during the flight, and behaved appropriately? This is similar to what we expect of school bus drivers.
Drivers must focus attention on the highly complex task of driving the bus while at the same time monitoring and managing the behaviors of 40 or more students who are visible only through a rear-view mirror. This is coupled with the fact that most of the training bus drivers receive is focused on mechanical and safety issues.
While these are important training areas, more needs to be done to educate bus drivers in the important areas of effective discipline management, and administrators must begin to look at the school bus driver as an even more important partner in the safety process.
Almost all school districts provide continuing education to bus drivers. Coupled with this training should also come the message that drivers are the important "eyes and ears" of the school because they are often the first persons students interact with in the morning and the last they interact with at the end of the school day.
Overall goals for this additional training should include the following:
The principles of assertive discipline.
Drivers need to learn that the nonassertive bus driver and the hostile bus driver will exacerbate discipline issues. Losing control of the behavior on a bus is just as dangerous as losing control of the bus on the highway. The goal is to have assertive drivers who clearly and firmly tell students how they want them to behave, who stay calm and use a normal tone of voice, who have a plan of action when students do not behave, and who reward students who do behave.
Building relationships with students.
Drivers who know the names of their riders, greet all children as they enter the bus, and build a strong bond with their daily passengers will see reduced behavior problems and discover that even those challenging behaviors that occasionally emerge can usually be dealt with quickly.
Warning signs of youth violence and suicide.
Bus drivers who are connected with their students may also be the first to sense when a threat of school violence exists or a student is despondent enough to attempt suicide. Students often let down their guard in the environment of the bus. Transportation personnel can be trained in both of these emotionally charged areas so that they can recognize the warning signs and know how to respond properly to them.
Dealing with crisis situations.
There should always be a coordination of transportation crisis plans and districtwide crisis plans. Drivers should receive training in first aid and CPR as well as psychological first aid. There should be a plan for methods of communication with all drivers as well as a code word for danger. Bus drivers will be alone and in charge during the first minutes of any crisis situation and will need the skills to deal with it properly.
Education and training of transportation staff in prevention and intervention techniques will provide a safer busing environment for students. Bus drivers must be viewed as safety partners by school administrators, and frequent communication needs to take place between drivers and administrators. The shifting of gears in our training of bus drivers will ensure that we take advantage of this vital extension of the school environment.
Scott Poland was assisted with this article by Karen McKelvey of PSI, an educational services company that trains transportation staff in a program entitled "Shifting Gears: Remove the Bullies, Add the Discipline."