Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thoughts from a former high school administrator: The School Bus--10 Lessons Learned


A Tale of Two Bus Drivers

On a wet, fall morning in Daytona Beach, Florida… the sun was just coming up… the rain was constant and just a little bit cool…I was sitting in the car with my mom waiting on the school bus. 

Ok…so this was a while ago but wait you’ll understand…I was in 7th grade. We were early. Shortly, other kids started arriving and were either in cars or hanging out under a couple of palm trees. One of the kids noticed that the bus was on its way…because of the rain nobody moved closer to the road…the bus didn’t stop. She kept going…! Later she would tell the school that no one was standing at the corner so she didn’t stop.

The kids on this bus had no love for the driver. She didn’t speak to us except to tell us to stop talking. She never used our names. She didn’t smile. She seemed to take great joy in singling someone out to be her target for the week even if that rider hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

 Later that same year a couple of high school seniors decided to say good bye in a unique way…when they got off the bus on the last day to ride…they moved to the front of the bus and laid down on the road and refused to move. She yelled! She threatened. But the bus didn’t move. Cars were lined up for about two blocks behind the bus. This little two lane road was at a standstill. Eventually, the two seniors got up laughing and ran away.

My turn to be a target came the next school year, when I was getting on the bus to leave school. You see I was in band and that meant that I had to take my trumpet home to practice. The trumpet case was the correct size and was allowed on the bus. I had been riding this same bus for the last couple of years, and yet for some reason it was not an issue until this particular Friday afternoon. The event went something like this… “You can’t get on the bus.” What? (I didn’t ask why…I was taught to not question adults.) “You can’t bring that on the bus.” But… “Get off my bus!” But… That was not fun…by the way no cell phones then…a teacher on bus duty took me to the office to call someone. I was stranded at school about 12 miles from home until about 5:30 to 6:00PM. This was the last time I rode her bus. My parents had my bus changed.

The next driver was amazing! He smiled. He learned your name and he used it! He also learned that I sometimes was running late on Monday mornings. He asked me to tell him when I would be visiting with my dad so that he would know to wait or not on those Mondays. He waited for me and others. He took time to get to know parents. No problem with the trumpet here. No seniors lying in the road. Happy times! I would have gone to the end of the world and back for him! The kids actually gave him gifts at Christmas and the end of the year. What a difference!

Over the years I have worked with many different adults who drove buses. Some of these individuals were amazing with kids others not so much. I dreaded the days and evenings when we would get a phone call telling us that Bus 4 needed an administrator when it arrived or that Bus 35 was returning to the school and needed assistance. Too many times it was always the same buses that needed help.



10 Lessons Learned

As a former high school administrator I learned quite a bit about school bus discipline and working with drivers. Here are my ten lessons learned:

1.      Bus Drivers are paid little but have an enormous responsibility. They need support and training.

2.      Training for bus drivers usually focuses on driver operation of the bus and improving their driving skills. Additional training needs to be added on working with children and parents. Learning the skills that are required to de-escalate problems and challenges is a must.

a.      Teach the drivers how to …

                                                              i.      Self-reflect (Know what makes them angry. Know what kid behaviors push their buttons, like eye rolling, moving slowly, clicking sounds, and direct defiance. Help them develop the skills to control themselves. Teach them to be the adult.)

                                                            ii.      Build Relationships (They need to learn and use the kids’ names. They need to make riding the bus a pleasure by creating opportunities for fun like dressing up at holidays. Connect with the kids by talking with the kids…Good Morning, Steve…Have a great evening Francine. Take time to reach out to the kids…never pass up an opportunity to say something nice to someone and use that opportunity to learn their names.)


                                                          iii.      De-escalation (Be Calm. Be Objective. Be Proactive. Pay attention to student behaviors and attitudes. Recognize the signs when kids are different. Pull them aside as they get on and ask… “Is everything, ok?” Make sure that others can’t hear the question. Remember that you are the adult; don’t get caught up in student behaviors to where you will be sorry for making an inappropriate comment. Teach the drivers not to make comments that are not enforceable… “I’m going to suspend you from the bus forever!” Teach them to stay consistent…if you say it then do it. Teach them how to talk with kids and to eliminate negative body language like pointing at the student, standing with your arms crossed, glaring, and standing with your hands on your hips.

3.      Bus drivers need to know that they have someone who supports what they do. Someone to go to. This needs to be from within their bus shop and/or from within the schools. The support person or network provides them someone to get advice from and who might be able to help them in times of a jam. This might also be that person who rides the bus once in a while to assist the driver. This is especially effective on last days of the year or just before a holiday. As an administrator I would offer to ride the bus (I always rode in the back, not in the front….you know why…that’s where the trouble usually starts.) with the stipulation that the driver needed to bring me back to the school.

4.      A bus driver who connects with the kids and understands how to work with people is worth her weight in gold!!!!

5.      Bus Drivers who learn the kids’ names have fewer issues.


6.      Bus Drivers who take time to connect with the parents, kids, and administration at each school have fewer issues.

7.      The driver who teaches the kids how to ride the bus (rules, routines, and procedures) in the beginning and reminds the kids without making it a whirlwind of negativity will be successful as a driver.


8.      If you have a driver who struggles with discipline. Don’t isolate and talk about how bad she is…instead, provide training in working with kids and create a coaching or mentor relationship to help the driver develop the skills.

9.      Teach the drivers how to determine what an emergency is and what to do in case of one. Teach them how to follow through on the school/system procedures for disciplining kids. (Has the driver contacted the parent? Has the child been spoken with by the driver? Has the form been filled out correctly and submitted through the proper channels?)

10.  Celebrate the drivers! Buy them breakfast and or dinner. They will appreciate it!

Ok…I kind of snuck in more than 10 and could easily expand the list to more lessons, but it’s not necessary. These are my main thoughts and I hope that you will take a look at your buses and figure out how to support your drivers. Take care of the drivers and coach those who struggle and you will be rewarded with fewer bus discipline issues, happier drivers, happier students, and happier families!