Gov. Mark Dayton proclaims Feb. 22 the state's first-ever School Bus Driver Appreciation Day.
Since school bus drivers are entrusted with tremendous responsibilities, one would expect that those receiving the benefits of their services would hold these drivers in the highest esteem. But many school bus drivers generally express the opposite sentiments. The question is: Why do some school bus drivers not receive the respect they deserve from teachers and site administrators?
To me, the transportation director is the one to provide the answer to this question. One of the director's most important responsibilities is fostering a positive perception by the public of his department and staff. Site administrators must rate their transportation provider highly in all areas, including punctuality, having well-trained and professional drivers and fast, effective problem solving by the transportation office staff.
Why aren’t all transportation staff members on the school team? There are several reasons. First, we never asked them to join us. Remember that they are just as busy as we are, and they need reminders that the transportation department needs their cooperation.
Secondly, good communication is essential between the school and transportation department. School staff may fail to understand the complexity of the transportation system and the reason for delays in correcting problems. Frequent feedback by transportation staff regarding specific issues really helps to improve relations with schools.
Finally, in some school districts, schools may be accustomed to a culture of mediocre transportation service and see no need to request improvement. The transportation department staff must be proactive in observing operations at the schools, frequently monitoring the performance of the bus operations and correcting even the most minor deficiencies. When a transportation supervisor is on campus, he or she should make it a point to check with the principal to solicit feedback.
All these efforts help build a team where all are working toward the same goal Ñ the safe transportation of students. Consider these team-building tips to bolster the contributions of all: Tips for drivers
Look and act the part — Drivers must dress and look professional at all times. When engaging others in conversation, the driver must always be friendly, courteous and business-like. Drivers should always wear official school district identification. Stopping frequently at the school office will reinforce their identity as professional drivers. Additionally, drivers should use the telephone in the teachers lounge only in case of emergency.
Get involved — Get to know the school staff. Volunteer. I know of several drivers who read to elementary students during their two-hour break between runs. What better way to get to know the perspective of teachers than to be working alongside them?
Shoot the breeze — Chat with the teachers on morning and afternoon bus duty. Share with them your perspective as a driver. They want to help you.
Tips for management
Collaborate on discipline policies —: For any system to work, driver, teacher and school administrator all need to be on the same page as to desired outcomes for certain misbehaviors. It is essential that drivers at a specific school — especially at middle/junior high schools — meet with the administrator(s) who handles student discipline. To make sure these meetings take place, take the initiative and go through the school secretary to schedule the meeting time and location at the school. At the same time, check with the site administrator before settling on a time for the meeting. These meetings should last less than an hour. The transportation director should attend, take notes and, of course, supply the donuts. The result will be development of good rapport with some of the most important people in a school bus driver’s day. When a driver is confronted with a disciplinary situation, he needs to know he has the support to correct the problem. Good communication here makes everyone’s job so much easier.
Show care with kindergarten — Schedule kindergarten orientation prior to the start of each school year. This is best coordinated in June. During orientation, provide color-coded wristbands to students and review school bus safety rules. If possible, all drivers from a specific school should attend and meet the parents. Bring buses to demonstrate the latest safety features. Many parents and grandparents never rode a school bus, or if they did, they remember low-backed, metal seats. They have been known to be more excited about a short bus ride than their kindergartner. Be prepared to describe safety procedures and expect to answer questions about seat belts and tailpipe emissions.
Provide student safety training — Pre-plan the instruction and involve the site administrator and teachers. A wealth of age-appropriate videos and other training materials are readily available for this purpose. Classes or assemblies can be scheduled throughout the year and conducted by the driver trainers. If possible, all drivers assigned to the specific school should accompany the trainer and participate in the instruction. At the end of the classroom portion, drivers should escort students to their buses for a demonstration of school bus safety equipment and evacuation procedures.
Tips for administrators
Show appreciation — Create an impromptu School Bus Driver Appreciation Day. Select a time soon to recognize school bus drivers. It need not be expensive. Have students meet the buses with a banner expressing appreciation. The principal could serve coffee or juice to arriving a.m. buses.
Strive for accuracy — Schools and the transportation department must work together to develop accurate student rider lists for school bus drivers, complete with home addresses and telephone numbers.
Meet up — Schedule meetings with drivers and special education teachers at each site to review individual student behaviors and methods of working with specific disabilities. Drivers and teachers should use similar techniques so the teacher can support the driver by reinforcing the driver’s actions.
Encourage dialogue — Site administrators must encourage teachers to develop a friendly dialogue with drivers. They should foster the attitude that drivers and teachers are colleagues working toward the same goals.
Watch for problem buses — If a teacher feels that a bus is "out of control," make sure they ask the driver if they want assistance before getting on the bus. If a school staff member perceives an ongoing lack of control on a bus, they should know to alert their site administrator to call the transportation supervisor so that additional training or other assistance may be given to the struggling driver.
Organize early — Most importantly, work with the transportation department before the start of the school year to make afternoon bus loading as well organized as possible. A few hours spent here can make for a smooth start-up. Elementary schools should work with the transportation department to provide teachers and drivers with names of bus riders and their assigned bus. Middle and high schools should develop a bus line-up plan understood by all students. Older students should know what route they will take in the afternoon and exactly where the bus will pick them up. Drivers need to be included at every grade level so they know where they are to pick up their students and procedures for color-coding students by bus.
Craig Wood, director of transportation at La Mesa-Spring Valley School District in La Mesa, Calif., says an effective working relationship with the school site and its administrator is critical to the success of any transportation program.
"The school sites and their staff are viewed as internal customers, and we’re providing a service to them," he says. "You earn their respect over time, and I think that's allowed us to build a strong, positive relationship with the different site administrators. They know our decisions always reflect the best interest of the children."
With such a positive outlook, you know Craig and his staff run a very successful transportation program.
Having accepted an early retirement package from Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District, John Farr is currently available to assist as interim director of transportation anywhere in the U.S. He can be reached at [email protected]
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