As our school transportation world rapidly evolves, we need to adjust to and even try to anticipate changes. This can make training difficult, especially when adding budgeting challenges into the mix. Still, there are some simple ways to train new dispatchers, document that training, and have them demonstrate proficiency in key operational areas.
Our transportation department used a simple framework for the first time this past year to train new dispatchers. It addresses the areas I had not received training on as a new dispatcher and some of the technological enhancements that we recently made in our communication center to bolster our operations.
This training program can reduce the time it takes to get a dispatcher to a competent level, which can cut down on errors and the associated costs, and more importantly, increase student safety and the overall performance of transportation operations.
Dispatcher trainees come to the position with varying competence in different areas, so the process was adjusted as needed. One guideline we used was “See One, Do One, Teach One.”
We had a staff member who is proficient in PowerPoint take screenshots and create a simple training manual and we give the trainee a notebook that includes training details and instruct them to read it, take notes, and list questions. Then, the trainer teaches each section. After that, the trainee completes the procedure one or more times as the trainer watches. Finally, the trainer observes and allows the trainee to handle operations with very little guidance. If the trainee is proficient, they are released to serve shifts in the communications center. If not, some remedial training is done to get the trainer to proficiency.
The trainer continues to observe and provide guidance to ensure that training is reinforced. This process requires management support and it can also be helpful to provide the trainee with some sort of certificate, so they feel like they achieved something.
Here is a summary of the technological training program content, which covers how to access and manage information in Google G Suite programs, routing and bus tracking software, mobile texting, emergency procedures, and radio and telephone etiquette.
Google G Suite
Here, we familiarize the trainee with Google G Suite, including Google Sheets, Google Docs, Google Forms, and Google Presentations. This section includes the Master grid Google Sheet, which has over 17 tabs containing a wealth of information that used to be on paper in multiple versions. We cover editing the tabs and provide examples. Important tabs include staff phone numbers; a grid with all of the route numbers, bus numbers, drivers, and assistants; bus locations at the district transportation facility as well as layouts and lineups for high school p.m. routes; and snow delay protocols.
We also discuss how to manage in Google G Suite and communicate the student transportation overflow process to avoid overcrowding.
The Master grid sheet is the heart of our transportation operations, so it gets significant training and emphasis.
We demonstrate the “sub worksheet” online tool and the tabs used to manage substitute drivers and assistants, including abbreviations, processes, and protocols for route assignments. One of these is the Substitute School Bus Legend, which we use to choose appropriate equipment to substitute on routes and use on trips.
We show trainees how to use the transportation functions in education technology software PowerSchool, as well as our routing software (Infofinder Le from Transfinder), and bus tracking software (Zonar). This includes accessing data such as speed, inspections, and locations.
Our department implemented a web-based program that allows us to text drivers, staff, and assistants. We cover the various groups and lists and train on configuration and appropriate use of the program.
Office Operation Procedures
This training includes all the steps the morning dispatcher needs to take to prepare for the day’s operations: starting computers, checking messages for sick calls, making substitute assignments, and looking up and displaying weather documentation on the electronic operations screen in the driver lounge. We also cover communication practices with various staff members and schools for the day’s operations.
Additionally, duties throughout the day include monitoring exterior door security, office access, copiers and printers, sending faxes, and configuring phones.
Field Trip Program
This part of the training includes looking up, setting up, and printing field trip information using our in-house program designed for managing field trips. We also train on union field trips and union contracts and how they apply to various department operations, including assigning duties based on seniority.
Here, we outline how we document and communicate information on collision procedures.
This telephone training, which is on ShoreTel, includes basic handset and computer operation. We also go over radio protocols, including etiquette; dealing with parents, schools, and others; forwarding messages to a supervisor; and “do not say” items.
We teach trainees how to make basic transportation-related updates such as delayed routes to the district website.
Help Desk Tickets
In this section, we cover the process and links for accessing assistance from the technology department for computer and network issues.
For an electronic copy of our manual, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stuart Vogelman is a dispatcher for a school district in eastern Washington. He has also worked as an emergency management systems dispatcher, motorcoach and school bus driver, senior executive, international business consultant, pastor, and chaplain for a state police agency.