A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his recent trip to West Africa. It looks like he might have a fever as he is sweating profusely.
Pete: In modern America, with its 24-hour news cycle, most bus drivers not only became aware of Ebola but probably became sick of it (as opposed to sick from it.) Despite all of the publicity, they came to know that the chances of this deadly disease affecting them or anyone on their bus are beyond miniscule. There's a comparable chance that their bus will be hit by a meteorite. Nevertheless, some drivers, swayed by the incessant media publicity, might overreact to the sweating parent at the school bus door. Worse yet, some supervisors and directors might do the same.
Peggy: As you know, Pete, with the holidays, the indecision and confusion of planning a kitchen remodel, and other professional and personal distractions, I'm just now reading your late November thoughts. Interestingly — and sadly — the first paragraph might now say: "A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his unwillingness to have his son vaccinated for measles." Unlike Ebola, measles is a more real, "trending" threat. While a driver — and a supervisor — might have a far more legitimate fear about letting this student on the bus, how does planning for the possible impacts of unvaccinated students on the bus impact our actions?
Pete: Those in leadership positions in all professions must prioritize training. This is even a bigger challenge to student transporters because there are typically very limited training resources available. Beyond legally mandated training, student safety and customer service are the top priorities in student transportation. However, because we have limited resources, we never seem to have enough training to ensure our drivers — let alone our students — are completely safe. Similarly, we could always improve our customer service yet we just don't have enough time to teach as thoroughly as we'd like.
Faced with these challenges obviously the first priority needs to be legally mandated training. Beyond that, effective managers consider how important the training is, its potential impact, the likelihood of the training topic occurring, and the likelihood that training will make a difference.
Peggy: And I need to add — although it overlaps with what you've said — the relevance of the training to issues that are on-going in the district. For example, complying with legal minimums where training is concerned isn't enough if your own "current events" warrant more.
Pete: There just isn't enough time or money to waste training on the "sexy" popular topic that's likely never going to happen. It's far better to re-train using a different technique on a topic that's very likely to happen.
Peggy & Pete: Here's a partial list of topics that should be taught and re-taught as much as possible:
- Complacency avoidance
- Student management (including Bullying prevention)
- Child securement
- Disability awareness
- Safe driving habits and techniques
- Emergency evacuations
- Seizure (and other severe medically related) procedures
- Adverse weather driving techniques
- Proper and effective communication
- Customer service
- Appropriate allocation of duties and teamwork between bus driver and aide
So as you consider whether or not to spend your precious limited training time and resources on dealing with the "Ebola Crisis" (or some other equally unlikely event), I would advise you to consider how much more "bang for your buck" you'd get if you thought and taught about much more likely and dangerous situations like performing child checks which may just help keep a child alive. We're not saying that these high profile training topics are unimportant. Rather, we're just urging prioritization by clear heads that recognize that we still need work in the day-to-day issues.
Peggy A. Burns, Esq., and Pete Meslin co-write the blog "Clearance Lights" that provides insights on leadership, management and operations for student transportation professionals. They are teaming up once again at the Transporting Students with Disabilities & Preschoolers National Conference in March on the general session "The Guts of Leadership," inspired by their blog.
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