Improve bus behavior by empowering your bus drivers.

How to cut your bus disciplinary referrals by 67 percent

It starts with empowering your bus drivers ...

Among the three dozen drivers, there were doubters, just as there are with teachers when adopting a new program.

I showed them research and statistics:

  • A study found drivers who have frequent positive interactions with students generally experience significantly better bus behaviors than drivers who primarily emphasize reprimands and punishments.
  • Students’ behavior on the bus will improve if they know that they can earn or lose school incentives as a result of their bus conduct.
  • When interacting with students, drivers who maintain a ratio of at least three positive interactions for every reprimand or other disciplinary consequence have less disciplinary issues.
  • Greeting at the door is positive. One study showed improvement from 45 percent to 72 percent in on-task behavior. Indeed, greeting each student in some way improves behavior.

I explained the primal psychology of misbehavior:
Behavior serves one of two purposes: to get something, such as attention, objects, sensory regulation; or to get out of/away from something (escape).

Once we understand the function, we can implement interventions. I advised that they institute simple strategies consistently to make a big difference. Just scolding or disciplining a student with behavior issues is like mud wrestling a pig—you both get dirty but only the pig enjoys it! Also, as with ineffective teachers, they are doing all the work and the student is getting all the attention. Reverse this and reward the vast majority of good kids instead.

Back to the naysayers: You might imagine that a few chimed in to try to poison the moment. They did. I was ready. Here’s what one said: “This is so elementary, it won’t work with middle schoolers.” Using my own basic psychological advice, I knew never to argue with this naysayer. Instead, I agreed. “You are right, it is so elementary, and that’s the beauty of it, it’s so simple to make work.” There was silence and then, when I issued the incentive tickets, almost every driver asked for extra packs of them, including the naysayer!

Ongoing success
I continue annual meetings like this and made it clear to our bus drivers that I support them. The results have been overwhelmingly successful: 67 percent less discipline than before implementing driver-assigned seats and participating in an incentive program. You might think that’s a lot to do, but it’s a heck of a lot better than encountering constant bus issues, angry drivers, upset parents, and troubled kids. Minimizing discipline is an investment that positively affects the whole school. Knowing they have my support, drivers are an active part of our positive behavior support program.

If you have bus discipline problems, try meeting with drivers, giving them support, and being prepared for some of the humor and bonding that results.

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