Engaging the Whole Community to Support Positive Bus Behavior
Post submitted by Jessica Bohn, principal at Gibsonville Elementary School in Gibsonville, N.C. She has worked at all levels K–16, including as a university assistant director, assistant principal, district curriculum specialist, and science teacher. Bohn is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2012 and is passionate about STEM education and 21st century learning.
If you are an educational leader, you know that promoting positive behavior on the school bus can be a challenge. Students are often tired, restless, and ready for unstructured play at the end of a school day. Last year, I was presented with the data that our buses were the location of the majority of our discipline referrals, and I wondered what I could do about it.
We are a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) school, but translating those practices to the school buses has been challenging. Principals do not often supervise bus drivers or establish bus routes, but they often bear the responsibility for student discipline on school buses. It is also important to acknowledge that the well-being of children as they arrive and depart from school can affect their outlook on the educational environment. I decided that I needed to engage our larger community in the discussion in order to understand the whole child and make a difference.
The Whole Child Tenets (PDF) state that children need to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Promoting positive bus behavior involves tackling at least four of the five tenets. Desiring to minimize unsafe and mentally unhealthy behavior, I set out on a quest to engage the community in a conversation. I needed to have some hard data before taking action, so I ran an analysis of discipline referrals and found that the vast majority of referrals were coming from one particular bus. I also found that the infractions were spread among many children who rode that bus, and this was not a case that was isolated to two or three students. The conversation would need to involve more than one or two sets of parents. The following are the steps we took to tackle the problem and establish a support system to proactively mitigate concerns in the future.
Teaching of PBIS Procedures
Children have to be taught what the right actions look like and sound like. We used our PBIS team to develop lessons that taught appropriate bus behavior, and all classroom teachers taught the lessons and reinforced them periodically.
Meeting with Teams of Students and Individual Students
The administrator met with grade-level teams and individual students periodically to discuss what actions were being witnessed and the appropriate way to handle these interactions.
The Bus Club
We started a "Bus Club" at school, in which we chose students who had one or more bus referrals to be involved. These students did not know how they were chosen for the bus club, but they felt empowered by being selected. The students would meet during lunch once every two weeks with the counselor, principal, or lead teacher of the school. During Bus Club, they were able to give input regarding the actions taking place, but more important, they were able to have open dialogue facilitated by a supportive adult. The adult gave feedback and coaches the students through the conversation. Members then put together a videotaped skit for younger students about appropriate bus behavior. At any point, if a student in Bus Club got a bus referral, the club voted on whether the student should be allowed remain a member, should have to sit out the next meeting, or could no longer participate. The Bus Club created the opportunity for positive leadership in students who were experiencing the most challenges. It worked. After implementation of the club, our bus referrals fell by more than 50 percent.
The Parent Meeting
The principal held a mandatory meeting with the parents of the students whose bus had the highest concentration of problems. In advance of the meeting, the principal prepared letters to each parent explaining its purpose, who would attend, and resources to be provided. A folder was prepared for each child who rode that particular bus, stating the number of infractions thus far, consequences for future infractions, and resources to help teach positive behavior at home. Partnering with the local police department seemed like an ideal way to engage the larger school community in the conversation. The local police chief attended the bus meeting and explained the need for support and action. Parents engaged fully in the conversation and wanted to know how they could help. School staff, the bus driver, the local police, one local business, parents, students, and the school administration were all in attendance. Children who attended with their parents were able to see the whole community come together to support this important topic. The message was received. Bus referrals dropped again.
Implementation of DARE
In order to provide proactive and sustainable solutions to support progress made thus far, we implemented Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), in cooperation with the same police relationship we had established for the bus meeting. The program proved beneficial to our students and their overall well-being.
With this new school year, we are extending our efforts by including our bus drivers in our PBIS program. Our entire PBIS committee met with our drivers and provided them with signs, tickets, incentives, expectations, and much more. The special bus tickets are being integrated with our schoolwide reward system and included in our Bus Rider of the Week program.
The successes we have experienced have not come from one program, but rather from a comprehensive effort to engage the community to support the whole child.