Hardly a day goes by in which an account of student misbehavior doesn’t make the news. Teachers, school administrators, bus drivers and attendants are all faced with potentially volatile situations on a regular basis that, if handled incorrectly, could put students and staff at risk.
Crisis prevention experts, school safety professionals and violence intervention trainers all agree: Your campus and pupil transportation staff must be capable of actively listening to students, addressing harassment and bullying in a timely and consistent manner, and defusing tense situations — and if violence does occur, they must be ready to protect themselves and their students.
Know your students
The easiest way to recognize potentially dangerous or unwanted behavior is to know your students, according to Dr. Randy Boardman, executive director of research and development at the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI).
Drivers and teachers who address their students by name each day are more likely to recognize unusual behavior. They are also more likely to forge a relationship with a student that could lead him or her to ask for help rather than act out.
“As a driver, just the same as a teacher or a school administrator — the more I know about any individual student or students, the better prepared I’m going to be to respond to a problem,” Boardman explains. “With each student on a bus and when I was operating in the schools as a principal, I had a golden rule: I didn’t want the first time of me meeting them to be in my office over a discipline incident.
“The more the driver knows about any and all individual student(s) as a person, the better prepared they will be to respond to an escalating situation. Each student has to be understood as a person, not just a passenger,” he adds.
Recognize the signs
Knowing your students can help you to better identify changes in mood or manner that might signify a potential outburst or misbehavior. If a student who is upbeat and talkative suddenly becomes withdrawn or sullen, this could be a sign that something is wrong.
Students who are bullied, Boardman says, might begin to overtly challenge their aggressors or withdraw completely.
You should also look out for students unexpectedly changing seats on the bus, says Dona Beauchea, special-needs operational safety and training manager for First Student. “When children are changing seats on the bus, it’s because they’re not comfortable.”
Drivers and school staff should also be aware of bullying trends. A recent study in the Journal of School Psychology found that students who receive special-education services for behavioral disorders and those with more obvious disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their general-education counterparts — and are also more likely to bully other students.
“Just as we provide education and special training about students with special needs or conditions for school-based staff, this should extend to transportation staff as well,” Boardman says. “The keys are teaching the driver about the students with special needs and related expectations, as well as also teaching the students coping skills for handling the bus environment.”
In addition, the average perpetrator of violence on a school bus is a 14-year-old Caucasian male, according to Bret Brooks, chief operating officer for Gray Ram Tactical LLC.