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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

One of my first realizations after starting the Peaceful School Bus program was how easy it is for educators to forget that what we don’t do or say has an impact on students. It was only after starting to invite bus drivers into the school building did I realize how it important it was to have students see drivers and teachers communicating with each other. We may think that students know that all adults connected to the school work together, but for students seeing is believing. Similarly, if students don’t see bus drivers and teachers talking together, they might think that what happens on the bus never “makes” it back to the school building: what happens on the bus stays on the bus.

How we spend our time also sends students a message. If little or no time is invested within the school building to what happens on the bus, students will think that what happens on the bus matters very little to the people in the school. If students think that what happens on the bus doesn’t matter to the people in the building they will automatically assume that the people in the school don’t want to hear about what is happening on the bus. Part of the reasons why the Peaceful School Bus has been successful is that it contradicts in a tangible way these mistaken, implicit assumptions that students often make about the relationship between the school and the bus.

Another important unintended positive consequence of the Peaceful School Bus was how it changed how bus drivers viewed the school principal and the school itself. After the program was established, I noticed that bus drivers were more likely to show up a few minutes before dismissal and ask to speak with me. I always welcomed these visits because the drivers alerted me to problems on the bus that had not escalated into serious problems. Upon reflection, I realized how easy it was for bus drivers to look at a school principal and think, “He/she is probably too busy to hear about what is happening on my bus.” I realized that it is not easy to approach someone who appears very busy and strapped for time (as most principals appear to be). If I were a driver, I would want to make sure that whatever I had to share would be welcomed. If a driver thought there was a chance of being perceived as not being able to handle problems, that driver would not “take the risk” of approaching a principal (someone viewed as having a higher status).

I also thought about how someone responds to problems when he/she feels supported as opposed to not feeling supported.  If I feel unsupported or alone in facing a difficult problem, I tend to be more anxious and tense as the problem arises.  The more and anxious I am the less likely I am to make a calm and reasonable decision in response to the problem.  The more anxious and tense I am the less likely I am to have access a greater range of responses and instead rely on a very limited array of responses.  A bus driver who feels that he or she has to solve the problem alone might react in a way that will make the problem worse or rely solely on writing up  a behavior referral.   A driver who feels supported (has back-up) from people in the school, is more likely to stay calmer in the face of the problem and therefore probably make better decisions.  Sometimes just knowing you have back-up, means you are less likely to have to use it.  Educators in the school need to go out of their way to let bus drivers know that they have their support and are ready to lend it.

As idea ( I never used as principal, but wish I did)  is having the principal give each driver a permanent invitation card at the start of each school year. The card would state unequivocally that he/she welcomes their input and ideas about what is happening on the bus. It could even state that although the principal might appear too busy, he/she will find a way to make time for bus drivers.

Trust is such a powerful force within any community because it opens up lines of communication. When people communicate they can solve problems together in new and creative ways. People working together in trusting relationships are much more effective than any attempt to solve a problem just through rules and consequences. The true power of the Peaceful School Bus comes as much from the gesture of doing it than from what happens during the PSB activities.

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