It was great seeing so many friends and colleagues in November at the 2022 TSD Conference in Frisco, Texas. We had a record attendance of over 450 attendees and 72 exhibiting companies for the 30th anniversary of the conference. I especially enjoyed listening to the opening keynote speaker, Dr. Stephen Sroka. It was my second time seeing Sroka speak. He was a previous keynote speaker at STN EXPO in Reno, Nevada, back in 2016 and brought a message of positivity and hope to our audience of school transportation professionals.
“The Courage to Live and Lead in the Face of Adversity: It’s All About Relationships” was the title of Sroka’s TSD presentation. He opened with a story about his own personal struggles as a child with ADHD and a speech impediment. Growing up in a rough Detroit neighborhood, he was considered the minority being a young white male. Other kids ridiculed him for being different, and he recalled the names he was called. Even then, educators in school told him he didn’t have the IQ for college. These negative words weighed on him greatly, but he overcame the adversity and strived to succeed, which resulted in a successful career that included him being named a Walt Disney Outstanding Teacher of the Year.
Sroka described the importance of relationships, especially the connection between school bus drivers and students, which promotes safety and respect. “Be a cheerleader for your staff and kids, as no one is going to speak up for them except for industry leaders like you,” he advised. While it takes the power of one to start something (Sroka wore a T-shirt with the saying), he said it takes the power of many to make it happen, like the transportation of students with special needs.
I walked away with three takeaways from Sroka’s keynote:
1. Put great value on the the mental health of your staff and students. There are many stresses that can be present in people’s lives that can distract or disrupt behaviors or their state of mind in a positive or negative way. These situations could have ripple effects that you may not realize is impacting the people you work with or the kids you transport.
2. Words matter. They can help you build relationships or destroy them. Sroka said that hurt people hurt other people, and it’s an educator’s job to help people help other people. “The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words,” he said. The power of one is not about changing the world, but instead changing one action at a time. He noted that to make a difference in a child’s life, one must first get to the heart.
3. Put the time in to build relationships. Sroka broke down a communication strategy of the three H’s (Honesty, Humor and Hope), three L’s (Look, Listen and Learn), and two S’s (Smile and Say ‘Hi.’) These are great reminders to share this with your staff. Students will remember the kindness their school bus drivers displayed every day with a hello and asmile, possibly a joke, too. We hear stories of this all the time.
Do you have a communication strategy within your organization? I know that I need a constant reminder to execute these simple ideas and behaviors. Bottom line, you must invest in others if you want to receive positive outcomes in your personal and professional life.
School transportation professionals work tirelessly and often with little recognition that they deserve for the successes they’ve achieved, be they large or small. Know that the power of one makes an impact. But when we look at our entire industry, the power of many is effecting change for the kids and communities we serve. Ours is a mission-driven industry, helping students achieve successes, especially the students and children with special needs. I encourage you to keep doing the good work you do in whatever aspect you serve our great industry.
As I reflect on 2022, our team at STN remains committed to helping improve safety and efficiency within your operations with the goal of helping kids and school transportation teams everywhere. Let us be the voice of many and the catalyst of change to inspire others.
I wish you a safe and prosperous 2023.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the January 2023 issue of School Transportation News.
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