Bret Brooks, chief operating officer for Gray Ram Tactical, conducts a class about preventing student-on-student violence.
Find the root cause
Students don’t just become violent — there is often a trigger, at school or in the home environment, which causes them to lash out. In order to stop violence as it happens or prevent future incidents, it is important for school and transportation staff to discover the root cause and address it properly.
“When we look at student violence in America, sometimes it can be attributed to students being bullied and they’ve lashed out in violence,” Brooks explains. “There are a number of reasons for individuals to become violent, whether adolescent or adult. But if we as a society, as teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, if we can find out the root cause — we can deal with it.”
Beauchea says that school staff must have a “listening ear” when it comes to student safety.
Because the signs of bullying are often subtle, bus drivers and other school personnel must “make sure that [they] look at and address every incident, every time a child tells [them] something is happening,” she says.
Avoid aggressive body language
When approaching a volatile student, it is crucial to remain non-threatening.
“If you’re dealing with someone who is potentially violent, and you’re flinging your arms around because you’re getting excited, that rapid movement — it subconsciously triggers something in a violent person [and] you can actually make the situation worse,” Brooks says. “You want to have proper body language and display a sense of calmness to the person that you’re dealing with.”
Brooks adds that drivers and aides should avoid charging at a student. “If you’ve got a student in the middle or toward the back of the bus who is getting agitated, the driver doesn’t want to walk down the aisle to that student. It’s seen as charging … You don’t want to encroach upon their personal space.”
Don’t be verbally confrontational
In a similar vein, school personnel should not resort to yelling to achieve order in a classroom or on a bus.
“Yelling at a child never works on a school bus,” Beauchea says.
Not only does it not work, it can actually make the situation worse.
“If I’ve got a loud bus, and I try to yell over all the noise, what am I doing to the overall noise level? I’m raising it,” Boardman says. “The louder I get, the louder they get … and suddenly it comes to where we bump heads.
“A ‘Sit down and shut up’ or ‘I am in charge and you are not!’ approach to managing behavior is no more successful on a bus than it is in a classroom or school hallway,” he adds.
Summers does point out that when a student crosses a line into irrationality, sometimes speaking slowly and quietly won’t cut it.
“When someone is acting irrationally, sometimes it takes a loud voice or noise or unexpected action to stop the chain of irrational thinking and get his or her attention: yell ‘Stop’ or ‘Listen,’” he recommends.
Create a supportive, respectful environment
At Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., Summers trains school administrators, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers annually using the school safety and healthy children training curriculum from Human Factor Research Group.
“The training focuses on giving each individual person respect and treating people the way you want to be treated,” Summers says.
First Student similarly focuses on fostering a respectful environment on its buses.
“Our drivers and attendants work very hard to create an environment of trust and respect on the bus by showing or being a role model to the passengers,” Beauchea explains. “If you want to get respect, you need to earn respect. Anytime they observe children mistreating each other or making fun of each other or calling each other names, it’s time to stop. It’s zero tolerance.”
Boardman compares the school bus environment to the classroom environment.
“A teacher’s job is not just to know content — they need to know how to deal with people. I think the teacher … creates the feeling of ‘this is a safe place to be’ in [the] classroom, both physically and emotionally. The principal does that for the school,” he says. “And I believe that on a bus, a driver sets and creates that same climate.”
Boardman adds that CPI’s training centers on the concept that the behavior of school employees affects student behavior.
“If I take a very strong, authoritative, confrontational, I-don’t-want-to-hear-your-side-of-it approach, that will garner a confrontational/challenging response,” he says.