Ask any adult who works in or around schools and they will likely tell you that student misbehaviors are a daily problem. It seems like students don’t have the self-discipline or respect for others that we all experienced in our own youth. While there are a variety of factors influencing student behavior, there is strong evidence that adults can affect the probability of positive behavior with a set of fairly basic actions.
Evidence clearly shows that student behavior in the classroom can be predicted by three broad teacher behaviors. The first is active supervision, which simply means that the teacher communicates expectations and maintains consistent eye contact with the students. The second involves verbally engaging students in a positive manner. This can be done with personal greetings, questions, comments, and even small tasks that keep the students’ minds focused on positive behavior. The third is simply the delivery of positive verbal feedback — just letting students know that they are acting appropriately.
Recent research summarizing 12,000 classroom observations has shown that teachers not using these behaviors have students that are 67% more likely to be disruptive during class. These same teacher behaviors can be adapted for drivers to use on the bus.
Changing student misbehavior requires change in adult behavior
Of course, the school bus presents some challenges that are different from the classroom, the first being that the driver’s first job is to navigate traffic and keep all students safe. Because of this, drivers cannot move about the bus, make constant eye contact, or hold prolonged conversations. However, there are some simple strategies that can help drivers to effectively increase the chances of student compliance with the rules.
A new set of five video-based driver training modules from the Educators Media Resource Group (EMRGcorp.com) provides descriptions of how drivers can use these strategies as part of their normal routine, with realistic video examples. The EMRG group talked with bus drivers and then created video vignettes of the most common bus problems — things like students placing their hands outside the window, getting out of their seat, disrespect, bullying, and blatant noncompliance.
Across the modules, there is a continuous focus on the driver’s responsibility and professionalism as a foundation for considering effective strategies for student behavior. A big part of this is the ability to control one’s emotions and remain calm in the face of challenging student behavior. We know that as adults get mad, raise their voice, or threaten students, students who are prone to misbehavior are likely to respond in kind, with their own yelling, threatening, and increased refusal to comply.
Because drivers said that they also had similar escalations from parents on their route, examples of both student and parent behavior are included to consider and discuss during training. Drivers get a chance to see what it looks like to maintain a business-like demeanor with a student who is threatening, refusing to comply, or otherwise escalating behavior.
Active supervision is trained by showing drivers how to use their mirror and to seat students in a manner that allows for viewing of those who need the most supervision.
Engagement is presented as a simple set of interactions that can be initiated by the drivers as students board and leave the bus, during the ride, and at other opportune times. This is done with a range of examples and the case is made that the driver does not have to be the students’ best friend, but some simple personal interaction goes a long way toward prevention of many misbehaviors.
In a related sense, the idea of positive feedback is presented as a part of normal interaction. There’s no need to make a big deal about a student following the rules, but the research is very clear on this point: the more times a student hears that he or she is doing the right thing, the more likely they are to keep doing it.
Change in adult behavior requires engaging training
Although these effective strategies aren’t particularly difficult or complex, training adults to change their behavior is often as big a challenge as changing student behavior. Research is clear that convincing adults to change their old habits out for new behavior requires that training to involve some very specific strategies.
First, simply having drivers sit through a presentation is unlikely to result in any change at all. Similarly, just watching videos or hearing testimonials from other drivers are equally as ineffective.
Spurring adults to change requires three key training components. First, drivers must understand the logic or need for change. Hearing, “Because it’s the new policy” is as unconvincing to drivers as “Because I said so” is to students. Second, drivers must have a chance to see models and demonstrations, but the key is in considering how those examples would have to be tweaked to work on each individual driver’s bus, with their unique kids and route. Finally, it is critical that training include time for discussion among fellow drivers. This allows for drivers to talk through strategies that might be more challenging to implement or concepts that are harder to accept.
These components are built into the EMRG modules in that each begins with a clear and logical rationale, each provide real examples via video scenarios, and each provides discussion prompts to help drivers think through how these strategies would have to be applied on their own bus.
There’s no sure thing when it comes to strategies to decrease misbehavior on the school bus — or anywhere else. But we do know that some things work better than others, and it’s just logical that we would want our drivers to use those strategies that provide the best chances for success.
Dr. Terrance M. Scott is a Professor and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of Louisville (Ky.). He is also the director of the Center for Instructional and Behavioral Research in Schools and content developer at EMRG.