New Teaching Ideas

Suggestions for School Bus Discipline

William N. Bender, Ph.D.


Proactive Discipline for the School Bus

Many discipline plans for school bus safety are reactive in nature, providing guidance only for situations where a disciplinary problem has already occurred. This is not consistent with the long accepted stance of educators on discipline'that a proactive approach is more effective at reducing disciplinary problems. Thus the following proactive plan, based on the book, "Relational Discipline: Strategies for In-Your-Face Kids!" is recommended. One basic premise of Relational Discipline is that effective discipline depends upon the establishment of effective relationships with the kids'relationships in which the kids feel cared for. Without such relationships, one is left merely with "Policing" tactics, and not true discipline. This proactive plan for bus discipline focuses on building a relationship between the bus driver and the students, such that disciplinary problems will be less likely to occur.

Steps in Proactive Bus Discipline:

The driver should be encouraged to build a relationship with each child and his/her parents, by:

1. Send a letter to each student/parent, expressing the driver's concern for student safety and comfort on the bus. In some cases, driver's may wish to share their phone numbers with parents, in an effort to open communication (This may not be practical in large districts, etc.). Tell the parents that, when not driving (e.g. bus loading) you will be watching the behavior on the bus, so that all students feel comfortable. Emphasize your commitment to safety and comfort of each child. In that letter, you may request a similar commitment from parents (commit to have the kids ready on time; to be involved in supervision at the bus stops, etc.).

2. Drivers should learn the student's names ASAP, and call each one by name as they enter the bus. This both assists in building a relationship, and decreases school safety concerns. It is the kids who are anonymous that gain attention with firearms.

3. Drivers should learn one hobby or interest area for each child. If that doesn't work, note what the student prefers to wear and begin to compliment him/her on that "outfit theme." Perhaps, driver's should be provided with some information about each student, and paid for ' day prior to the beginning of the year to learn this information on student interests.

4. Drivers should determine who the "Power Kids" are. These are the "leaders" and will disproportionately influence the overall discipline on the bus. Drivers should observe and note their moods, and attitudes each day, and may thereby be able to predict which problems may occur. etc. Driver's may wish to negotiate special responsibilities for those kids, and/or request they special assistance on particular days when their moods seem to be problematic. Drivers may wish to give them daily responsibilities or share power with them (e.g. help in backing up, if that is required, or bus counts of the passengers). The driver thus, gets a friend, for tough situations in the future.

5. The driver should post a seating chart, and emphasize it daily for the first few weeks. A posted chart removes the responsibility for seating from the driver, and allows the driver to refer to the chart.

6. Identify in advance the bullies, and talk with them about their influence on the bus. Ask if they would be willing to assist you (voice only) if problems arise. Tell them you want to count on them, and you'll need them to sit near you. If the driver empowers these students, they will not need to demonstrate their power to you.

7. The driver should let each student know you care about the kids. Ask them how their hobbies are going, as they get on the bus. Interact with them, in an appropriate fashion, and make every reasonable effort to build an effective relationship with them, on a professional basis.

8. Driver's should not attempt to be the "best buddy" of the students. Rather, drivers are professionals who are interested in and care about their students, and must communicate that caring without becoming "best friends."


Guidelines for Managing Parents and Professionals

Managing parents and professionals is not usually a disciplinary issue, but many of the parent relation techniques which teachers use, as well as some "disciplinary techniques" (e.g. defusing techniques) work quite well for bus drivers. Here are some guidelines.

1. Initiate a prior relationship. Don't let your first contact with a parent involve a problem area or concern. Usually a brief introductory letter to the parents can initiate a more positive relationship.

2. Assume good intentions and valid concerns on the other part of the parent/professional, even if that person appears to be angry. Try to understand what those concerns are, with our responding to the anger.

3. Schedule a meeting to discuss the problem. This indicates your desire to move towards a solution in a positive fashion. Do it at the convenience of the other parent/professional. You may wish to meet them at the door of the school, since such a welcome often leads to a more productive meeting.

4. Build a caring relationship by acknowledging the concerns of the other party, even if you cannot act on them. Ask the person if you can make notes during the meeting, to demonstrate your attention to the problem. Sometimes merely acknowledging the concerns can alleviate some of them. A statement by you that you will discuss your position with your boss, and perhaps reconsider may also alleviate some problems.

5. At the first of the meeting, provide the parent with a written description of his/her complaint options, should your meeting fail to resolve the problem. In most cases these are not used, but doing this at first indicates your seriousness about the other person's concern.

6. If you can take one positive action requested by the other party, do so. If you can suggest an alternative positive action which you can take, do so. If you can take no action to alleviate the other's concerns (and can think of no alternatives), explain carefully, why you cannot take the requested action. You should, if possible, based your response on safety issues and fairness to others, rather than nebulous statements about "school policy or budget concerns." Parents/professionals will often respond much more positively to the former than the latter.

7. Throughout the meeting, use a softer quiet voice than the other party. Adults tend to "match" the emotional tone and loudness of the person they are speaking too, so if the other party gets loud and angry, you should become much more quiet and soft spoken. At some point, your quite voice will begin to have a calming effect (in almost all instances).

8. Throughout the discussion, you should call the other person by his/her first name, if appropriate. This has a calming effect, and is one technique used by hostage negotiators (included in the FBI training).

9. At the end of the meeting, thank the other persons for bringing the issue up, and then summarize the meeting. Include the stated concerns, the possible options/actions which were discussed, and any actions which either party may take.

10. After the other party has left, write a memo on the meeting summarizing it, and send that to the other party. Save a copy for your notes, should the problem persist or grow into a larger problem.