The Secret Balance of How We Establish Rapport on Our School Buses

February 28, 2017
Open book in a classroom setting

During in-service week at Glendale Elementary School District #40, many of our transportation department crew members received CPI refresher training. Our new crew members received the two-day Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course.
During our own Instructor training, my colleague Donna Webb and I received a lot of information about de-escalating both students with special needs and regular education students. This input made the classes we conducted interesting and the role-playing was great. Our crew members used scenarios from the school bus.
Our drivers learned about the warning signs of a student having a bad day when they board the bus stomping their feet, throwing their backpack, and/or shoving another student.
Staff learned that giving a student the extra attention they need by asking them briefly about their day in school and/or at home before boarding the bus makes for a better ride. They recognized that causes of these kinds of behaviors include the student getting a bad grade or being bullied on campus. In other cases, a student might have a bad day in the morning at home with another sibling. There can be a range of causes for the behaviors our drivers encounter.
When trouble-shooting examples of students having bad days and escalating as a result, our drivers learned to use what we call our “palm card.”
One side of our palm card says:

  • Learn about bullying
  • See something, do something—be assertive and calm.
  • Start with verbal warnings, using the student’s name.
  • Maintain control of yourself.
  • Speak clearly and calmly—do not yell. Use your P.A. system on the bus.
  • Do not argue.
  • Move affected students.
  • Report incidents the minute you come into the bus terminal by filling out a student conduct form.
  • Call Dispatch.
  • Stop the bus in a safe place if you need to.

 The other side of our palm card says:

  • Establish a positive atmosphere on the bus.
  • Be clear, fair, and consistent about rules.
  • Treat the student the way you want to be treated and the way you want them to treat each other.
  • Learn and use their names.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Get to know all of the students on your bus—including students who bully.
  • Use positive, nonverbal interactions—smile, nod, thumbs-up, high five, or a pat on the back.
  • Notice something positive the students do and say something about it to them or someone else when they can hear it (perhaps a school staff member in the bus bay or a parent at the curb).
  • If it’s your regular route, get to know what the students do (play a musical instrument, sports, spelling bee, dance, etc.).
  • Show an interest in each student and their school. On Fridays you can wear a mascot T-shirt from their school.
  • Submit a Positive bus referral by choosing OTHER, or fill out an incident report of Good Behavior so the student can receive a Good Ridership Certificate or prize from you.

The majority of our daily routes are with students who have special needs. In our trainings, drivers and bus monitors used a lot of examples of verbal intervention while transporting students. One of our monitors used the parasympathetic response for releasing from bites, which cause a student’s mouth to open when they bite. Employees were skeptical but this method does in fact work!
Another of our bus monitors shared this story. A nonverbal student was very apprehensive about riding the school bus. Some of his behaviors included hitting, pinching, and biting. Another thing he does is clap his hands when he’s happy.
When we discussed this, we determined that verbal intervention would fail with this student if he hits, pinches, or bites. Instead, the bus monitor determined that she would use her nonverbal communication skills to help him feel better about getting on the bus—gestures with her hands, eyes, and face (such as blinking, winking, waving, giving the peace sign, smiling, etc.)—to show him that she cares how his day is going. She can tell what will help by paying attention to the apprehensive look on his face, or his refusal to board, sit, or ride.
When she was a child, she learned how to make and create cool structures by using only paper. She went home and decided to try something outside the box to communicate and make the student want to get on the school bus, sit down, and ride. She made some of the paper structures that she learned how to make as a child. The next day, when she got the student on the bus, she gave him one, and then began to make another one.
The student was absolutely amazed and began clapping over and over again. To this day the student loves to ride on the school bus.
Several other bus monitors read books to the students. This demonstrates a different type of Therapeutic Rapport, also building a great relationship between the student and the employee.
Establish or re-establishing communication with students is very important on a school bus for the safety of all passengers.
We have several driver teams that reported singing to our students on the bus, which also helps alleviate anxiety! The students really like it and it makes them happy and want to ride the bus.
Some of their favorite songs are “Wheels on the Bus,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and even “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for preschoolers. Some drivers are using store-bought CDs for their players on the school bus.
All of these examples are great ways to maintain CPI interaction and get through a school run quickly and efficiently. School bus staff do not have the ability to restrain students or send them on a timeout to the hallway, or to the principal’s office.
All students are literally in a metal capsule with bolted-down seats being transported in the public eye on the roadway. This is a good reason for all employees to be trained and certified to use CPI methods.
Our drivers and bus monitors are known to assist school personnel when necessary in the bus bay. Having everyone trained districtwide in CPI is very helpful. I’ve been told that when an employee can jump in and say, “I’m CPI certified—do you need help?”, it brings a feeling of relief for the other employee.
Every single day CPI methods are used with our crew and students on and around the school bus.

Doris Bean is a manager of transportation for Glendale Elementary School District No. 40 in Glendale, AZ and a CPI Certified Instructor for the transportation department. Having worked in the transportation school bus industry for over twenty years, she says, “It’s never a dull moment.” Doris has seen really bad things happen to really good people, which is why she respects and believes in CPI methods. Over and over again CPI methods improve a person’s spirit, mind, and humanity.

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