Disciplining students is never an easy thing to do. When you hear of a student being disciplined in school or on the bus, what picture comes to your mind? The Encarta Dictionary defines discipline as punishment, “designed to teach somebody obedience” or training, “the practice or methods of teaching … acceptable patterns of behavior.”
Bus drivers often struggle to create and carry out a plan of discipline that works consistently. Writing bus rider discipline referrals for students who break the rules on the bus seems to be one of the more common forms of discipline that drivers utilize. What if there was a way to train the students to behave, gaining control and the respect of the students on a bus, without punishing them by “writing them up”?
In this article, I will discuss a program that can help drivers accomplish this.
Positive Behavior Intervention and Support
In their book Responding to Problem Behavior in Schools: The Behavior Education Program, authors Deanne Crone, Leanne Hawken and Robert Horner write, “Students today present with diverse needs and present educators with a unique set of challenges (e.g., English as second language, difficulties associated with low socioeconomic status, significant learning and behavioral needs). To be effective in supporting all students, schools need to implement a continuum of positive behavior support.”
A program has been implemented across the U.S. called Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS).
Julius West Middle School in Rockville, Md., implemented a PBIS program three years ago, and through the program, the school has been able to provide students with positive incentives to meet and exceed behavioral expectations in the classroom, cafeteria and hallways.
In an article titled “Positive Behavior Support” in the Teaching Exceptional Children journal, Kelly L. Morrissey, Hank Bohanon and Pamela Penning say, “Teaching and acknowledging appropriate behaviors on a prevention-oriented basis, rather than reacting through suspension once a problem occurs, may be the first step in turning the tide toward safer schools designed for keeping students in school and experiencing success.”
The PBIS program is flexible, in that it can be designed for high-risk individuals, at-risk small groups and the general student populations at schools.
Including bus drivers in the program
The Montgomery County Public Schools bus operators who drive for Julius West Middle School faced struggles with their students’ behavior similar to those of most bus drivers across the country. Some students chose to stand in their seats, hang their hands or heads out the window, jump from seat to seat, talk disrespectfully to each other and the driver or eat food on the bus.
In previous school years, the only tool available to the drivers was to have the security team or administrators come on the bus to talk to the students, or write discipline/referral forms for the offending students. Although these measures resulted in some success, it was often temporary.
This pattern, as well as a general frustration with poor behavior on the buses, led to a cooperative venture between transportation and the school. The transportation supervisors and administrative staff at Julius West Middle School discussed ways that the drivers could be a part of the PBIS program run in the school. The drivers were trained by the Julius West administrative staff in September on the specifics of the program that apply to them.
“We were very pleased that our drivers wanted to work with us to support our PBIS/ROAR [Respect, Organization, Achievement, Responsibility] program,” Julius West Principal Nanette W. Poirier says. “Using this program across all school settings, including transportation, sends the message to students that behavioral expectations are universal. Our collaboration also conveys the message that the adults who work with them are consistent and work together.”
By including the bus drivers in the PBIS program, the school administration’s team has received fewer referrals and parent complaints.
Components of PBIS/ROAR
The mascot of Julius West Middle School is a jaguar, and the school created the ROAR acronym to help the students remember the behavioral expectations in the school.
The school provided the bus drivers with the ROAR message specifically designed for transportation, to be posted on the bus. Included in their packet was “JW Dough” (wallet-size slips of paper), to be given to student passengers whom the drivers catch being good.
“Students exiting the bus say to other students, ‘The driver gave me JW Dough because I didn’t act bad on the bus. You should try to get some too,’” says Frank Soohoo, assistant principal at Julius West.
The drivers are encouraged to give JW Dough to students who behave every day, as well as students who have a difficult time behaving on the bus.
Specific examples of when the JW Dough could be given include a student bringing an item forward to the driver that he or she found in the back of the bus, moving over to make room for another student or sitting down for the entire ride home (when the student has had previous issues in this area).
What drivers are saying
When asked about how the PBIS/ROAR program has benefitted him in his job, Harout Aghkekian, a bus operator for Julius West, had a lot to say.
“I have personally found it to be a very useful, powerful and positive tool, if used properly,” he says. “There are certain guidelines in which children are already expected to abide by while on the school grounds, however, just like their adult counterparts, children also enjoy recognition, acknowledgement and incentive for a job well done. Reception of an award has universally been proven to be the perfect gesture to showcase appreciation of many sorts.”
Aghkekian went on to say that even though he has only worked for the school for a short time, he sees this method of discipline as the best method because it provides a positive tool to assist in keeping 50-plus kids from misbehaving, and seeking ways to earn JW Dough.
A culture of change
Soohoo shares one of his favorite stories regarding the school’s PBIS/ROAR program, which for him represents a change in culture for students at Julius West Middle School.
“Early September three years ago, before we started PBIS/ROAR, students laughed at other students who were asked to help do something by staff. After students who helped staff started to receive JW Dough, they were able to use them to purchase things at the ROAR store [the school store],” he says, adding that later, during lunch times, the school began to give away movie tickets and tickets to local sporting events.
To enter the drawing, students would place as much JW Dough in a box as they wanted, depending on how badly they wanted the prize. Tickets to the school dances were also sold with cash or with JW Dough.
“Through all these incentives, things began to change,” Soohoo says. “Later that same school year, when I asked a group of students to help me clean up, three refused and one agreed to help. When the task was completed, I handed the cooperative student four [slips of] JW Dough for helping me. The other three students moaned and asked to be allowed to clean up at another table.”
Soohoo believes this exemplifies the power of the program, in that the student who was mocked can now be a positive example to students who normally would not be willing to comply, thinking it would be “uncool” to help out.
“This year, I ask students to help and they do it with no one laughing or mocking them, and without having to give out JW Dough,” he adds. “I do believe we changed the culture. I hope for the same kind of culture change on the bus.”
A school bus with well-behaved students is an unfulfilled dream for many bus drivers across the country, so a positive cultural change on a bus would be beneficial to everyone involved.
Using researched-based, proven discipline measures on the school bus with a school’s full support should lead to a safe and less stressful bus ride.
At Julius West Middle School, the administration and transportation staff are doing just that by working together through the PBIS/ROAR program to provide the safest, most enjoyable ride possible for the drivers and their students.
Keith Lowery is a supervisor at Montgomery County Public Schools’ transportation department in Rockville, Md. From 1999 to 2008, he worked in the county’s safety and training department. Lowery received his bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology and development in 2007, and is currently working on a master’s degree in post-secondary and adult education. He first heard about the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support programs while working on a Master of Arts teaching special-education degree in 2009-10. Lowery can be reached at [email protected] with comments or questions about this article.