When you think of someone who is a “person of authority,” who do you imagine? What is your picture of that leader?
Perhaps it is a police officer, a member of the military, a sports referee or an airline pilot. What do all of these people, who are leaders and people of authority, have in common? They all wear a distinguishable uniform. With just a simply glance you know who they are, what they do and that they are in charge.
I am often asked by school districts and bus companies how they can lower the frequency and severity of both disciplinary issues and violent outbursts onboard their buses. One of the simplest and most cost effective measures is simply having drivers wear a uniform. Of course when I say this there is always a deep, roaring growl amongst the drivers within ear shot of the conversation.
However, uniforms can mean a variety of things. I am not talking about giving school bus drivers chauffeur hats. And sure police officers wear head to toe uniforms including a badge reminiscent of the medieval knights carrying shields, but other uniforms are quite simple. Doctors wear white coats over their “normal” clothes and this simple act distinguishes them.
This white coat practice started around the turn of the 20th century when medical doctors moved away from primitive and ineffective techniques to more scientifically based research methodologies. At the time only laboratory scientists wore a white coat, but when doctors began using the scientifically proven medical techniques discovers by many scientist they wanted to “look the part” and set themselves apart from the non-scientifically based medical community.
So what is a good uniform for a school bus driver? It needs to be something that is unique and sets them apart from other school personnel. It needs to be something that is practical and applicable – meaning there is a purpose behind it, and not that it just looks good. I recommend one of two options.
First, simply wear a safety vest over your “normal” clothes. Much like the doctor’s coat this vest can be worn by anyone and can go over other clothing throughout the year. Whether it is hot and humid, or cold and snowy the vest can easily complement that day’s clothing. The applicability of the vest is safety. Students, parents and other motorists can easily see the driver in a variety of lighting conditions. Should an emergency occur the driver is already “suited up” for the job at hand.
A second option is to have drivers wear safety vest T-shirts. These are shirts that look like the safety vests but are just a short or long sleeve t-shirt. Because they look like a safety vest the applicability is the same as standard safety vests. However, because it is a T-shirt it can be easily screen printed with your district’s name, mascot or logo giving it some customization.
Additionally, these shirts look a little more professional than the vests. As I travel the country meeting with transportation departments I cannot help but to notice when I do see a driver wearing the vest, but it is not fastened closed. This appearance is not acceptable. If someone is going to wear a uniform it should be worn properly. Vests also tend to be purchased in bulk and I can’t help but to notice the drivers who were issued vests either too small or too large for them.
These sound like very simple ideas and they are. Uniforms do not have to include head to toe uniformity, just some uniformity. If all of the drivers wear the same thing and wear it every day, then they are in a uniform. By wearing a uniform they are showing everyone in the community – with just a quick simple glance – that they are in charge of the bus and they are the person of authority.
This visual stimulation can help to reduce the frequency of issues both on the bus as well as off the bus. Parents at the bus stop will take notice of the uniform; either consciously or subconsciously. Students will have visual reinforcement that the bus driver is important and should be respected. Don’t you want your drivers to be seen as leaders and people of authority?
Bret E. Brooks is the chief operating officer and a senior instructor for the private training and consulting firm Gray Ram Tactical, LLC. He is an internationally recognized speaker and has presented to tens of thousands of school bus drivers worldwide. He can be reached directly at email@example.com.