Wednesday, July 8, 2020
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Communication, Compassion And Trust

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth, Mike Tyson famously said. Most of us have been directly impacted by COVID-19 like an uppercut to the chin, but we certainly are all confronted with situations in life that will test us in various ways, both professionally and at home.

Are you planning for school to reopen this fall? The new normal may look like checking the temperatures of students, implementing multiple routing scenarios and split classroom sessions, and tracing students who have contracted COVID-19. Then, there is erecting driver shields, addressing new staffing shortages, and ensuring staff have appropriate PPE for their job duties. And what about school bus cleaning protocols, budget challenges, and social distancing with reduced school bus capacity? It all sure sounds stressful.

In a School Transportation News survey conducted last month, only about 13 percent of 361 readers as of this report said they are discussing the health screening of students before allowing them to board buses.

In a recent interview on the School Transportation Nation podcast, Kayne Smith, director of transportation at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, said that he is working closely with his district administrators to move forward toward reopening classrooms for the 2020-2021 school year.

Smith said he has been funded based on this past school year’s level, but he also fully expects his budget to still change, as the district attempts to plug a deficit. However, Cy-Fair has allocated $10 million in contingency funds for unknown transportation expenses like issuing PPE to staff, purchasing cleaning supplies, and delivering educational packets.

Additionally, Cy-Fair proactively produced an outreach video to inform students that the school district staff was thinking of them, especially those who graduated this spring. The videos were shared via social media and generated over 10,000 views in a matter of days, according to Smith.

I truly believe that building trust with the parent will be key to getting kids back on the school bus. Social media campaigns executed properly like the one by Cy-Fair are wonderful ways to communicate with your community by displaying compassion. This also helps to build trust.

As we focus on restarting school sometime over the next several months, parents will be asking themselves how they can trust classrooms and school buses to be safe for their children again.

When is the fastest opportunity to build trust? During a crisis or recovery, according to David Horsager, president of the Trust Edge Institute, who was also recently interviewed on the STN podcast. Horsager shared that the week after 9/11, George W. Bush received the highest public trust ratings of any U.S. president. If you can be consistent in your message and actions, then you will create trust. You follow a leader because of trust, Horsager added.

How are you as the leader communicating to your community about your school transportation challenges and showing compassion to your parents and students?

I highly recommend you consider developing a communication outreach plan. Share details with your administrators and public relations teams to get the ball rolling now.

With all this change will likely come stress and frustration, which is a natural response and one we all can identify with. Mistakes will happen, so be sure to also show compassion to your staff. Try to avoid punishment and make each issue a learning lesson, so the behavior does not happen again.

Understand the thought process of your staff members and provide necessary training to help them grow professionally. This is a vital response in normal times that is only heightened by the sensitivity of this health crisis, to make sure that processes and procedures are followed.

Yes, school will start again, but it will not look the same. Do not expect or assume this to be like the 2008 recession staffing boon, either. Driver and mechanic shortages will likely remain if not worsen. The demand for labor with the expansion of delivery services has increased. Plus, unemployment benefits will impact the workforce’s motivation to return to work at all.

Be proactive about monitoring CDL drivers that are expiring to be sure they are ready to return to work when school does restart.

When the dust settles from all this be sure to have an achievable plan in place to respond to these changing times. You will be glad you did.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the June issue of School Transportation News.

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