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Nurturing Positive Student Behavior: Effective Management Strategies

Student behavior management is crucial in ensuring safe and enjoyable transportation for all students regardless of their abilities. While school buses are a convenient means of commuting for students, they can also be a challenging environment for both the driver and attendant due to the close quarters, diverse personalities and special conditions. The school bus is often referred to as an “unstructured environment,” so it is essential to implement effective behavior management strategies to create a positive and orderly atmosphere.

The first step in managing student behavior is to establish clear expectations. School transportation departments should develop behavior guidelines for bus transportation and communicate them to students, parents and Individualized Education Program (IEP) team participants. These expectations may include rules regarding noise levels, seat assignments, bullying and appropriate language. By outlining these guidelines, students understand what is expected of them and stakeholders learn the importance behavior plays on overall bus safety, reducing the likelihood of misbehavior and increasing support for transportation. This article explores various approaches that can foster positive student behavior on school buses, ensuring a safe and harmonious journey for all.

As the assistant director of transportation, I am tasked with triaging the bus behavior referrals from the transportation staff. The most important tool in my toolbox is relationship-building with school principals and their aides. The second most important tool is using data to inform our decision-making process and determine if our system works as we have envisioned.

Our school district has over 10,000 students, 217 school buses and 13 public schools. We also service an additional 50-plus schools that are out of the district. In the 2014-2015 school year, we started collecting data to show how many bus referrals our drivers submit per school year. Our department didn’t have a written plan for the bus team to follow. In the third year of data collection, we produced a student management process that was shared with the drivers and attendants. As each year went by, we re-enforced the process with our staff, especially when we determined drivers were not following the process and were having problems managing their buses.

Data showed that school staff was not completing the bus behavior resolution circle and sharing it with our department. Our office staff started to make a concerted effort to complete the circle. Completing the circle and sharing the resolution with our drivers and bus attendants increased our staff’s confidence in the system exponentially. The COVID-19 shutdown and subsequent school restart caused bad habits to reappear. As we analyzed the data, we doubled our efforts to ensure transportation and school staff followed the process. The following steps we believe are required for successful student management on our school buses.

Clear Expectations and Rules
Establishing clear expectations and rules is the foundation of effective behavior management on school buses. Schools and transportation authorities should develop comprehensive rules aligning with their district’s code of conduct. These rules should be communicated to students, parents and bus drivers, emphasizing the importance of safety, respect for others and adherence to regulations. Collaborating with school buildings to learn ways they are reinforcing and teaching students about expectations and rules can be a great way to bring consistency from the school to the bus. Posting these visual reminders of the rules inside the bus can also help reinforce that the bus is an extension of the classroom.

Positive Reinforcement
Recognizing and rewarding positive behavior is an effective strategy to promote a respectful and cooperative atmosphere. Bus drivers and transportation staff should acknowledge students who consistently exhibit good behavior, whether being polite, following rules or helping others. This positive reinforcement can be verbal praise, certificates, or small incentives. Celebrating exemplary behavior, or even improved behavior, encourages individual students and sets a standard for others to follow.

Management Negative Student Behavior
While positive reinforcement is vital, it is equally important to address instances of misconduct promptly and consistently. Transportation departments must develop a student management plan that outlines a series of steps to implement for different levels of misbehavior. Bus drivers must be trained to implement these steps fairly and consistently. When disciplinary actions are taken, they should be accompanied by clear explanations and an opportunity for students to reflect on their behavior and make amends. The goal is for a positive outcome after the student reflects on their behavior and displays the outcome that is sought after, at which time, the bus driver must allow the student to return to normal seating and interaction with their fellow students.

Communication and Partnership
Maintaining open lines of communication between schools, bus drivers, parents and students is key to addressing behavioral issues effectively. The center spoke in this communication wheel is the transportation department’s leadership. Regular meetings should take place to discuss concerns, share updates and seek stakeholder feedback. Department administrators should provide ongoing training and support to bus drivers and attendants, equipping them with effective communication and conflict-resolution skills. Additionally, involving parents in the behavior management process and seeking cooperation can reinforce positive student bus behavior. Maintaining open lines of communication among all stakeholders involved in student bus transportation is key to effective behavior management. Schools should encourage regular communication between bus drivers, attendants, teachers, parents and administrators. Fostering collaboration and sharing information keeps everyone informed about behavioral patterns, concerns and specific issues related to individual students. This enables a proactive approach to addressing behavioral challenges promptly.

Training and Support
Bus drivers and bus attendants play a crucial role in managing student behavior. Providing comprehensive training and ongoing support to these individuals is essential. Training programs should cover effective communication techniques, conflict resolution strategies and de-escalation methods. Equipping bus staff with the necessary skills and resources will make them better prepared to handle challenging situations and maintain a safe environment for all students. This training should not be the same year to year and must adapt to changing student dynamics. It is important to be aware of these changes and adjust training accordingly. Bus drivers and attendants should feel supported by school and transportation administration, and be encouraged to ask for help.

Education and Awareness
Educating students about appropriate behavior is crucial for fostering a safe and respectful environment. Schools can conduct awareness campaigns or workshops to teach students about the importance of following rules, being considerate to others and the potential consequences of misbehavior. These initiatives can also guide how to deal with challenging situations, promote empathy and encourage students to take responsibility for their actions.

Student behavior management requires a proactive and holistic approach that combines clear expectations, positive reinforcement, consistent discipline, effective communication, and educational initiatives. By implementing these strategies, schools and transportation authorities can create a safe and pleasant environment on school buses. Nurturing positive student bus behavior ensures all passengers’ well-being and promotes a culture of respect and responsibility that extends beyond the bus ride, benefiting the entire school community.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the January 2024 issue of School Transportation News.


Belinda Govich is the assistant director of transportation for Shenendehowa Central School District in Clifton Park, New York. She can be reached at govibeli@shenschools.org



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