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When Emotions Are in the School Bus Driver’s Seat

STN EXPO Indianapolis keynote speaker provides guide to leading with emotional intelligence in school transportation

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to make a quick decision in a high-stress environment? For leaders in the school transportation industry, this is a common occurrence.

From managing bus accidents to dealing with unruly students, handling complaints, or addressing concerns from the community — there are plenty of tense situations. In fact, whenever there are children involved, professionals operate in an emotionally charged environment. Teachers, childcare providers, healthcare workers, social workers, or even law enforcement officers may undoubtedly confirm that. In these professions, emotions can run high due to the nature of the work and the potential impact on the lives of individuals and families.

Thus, one of the critical skills for effective leadership in the school transportation industry is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s emotions and those of others. Research shows that emotional intelligence is a crucial predictor of success in leadership roles, with emotionally intelligent leaders more likely to have high-performing teams, better employee engagement, and improved organizational performance.

Leaders who possess emotional intelligence skills have the ability to control their own emotions through various strategies, including:

Self-awareness: The first step in controlling emotions is to be aware of them. Leaders can develop self-awareness by regularly reflecting on their emotions, identifying triggers that lead to strong emotional responses, and paying attention to physical sensations that may indicate stress or anxiety. Ask yourself:

  • Do I take the time to reflect on my emotions and identify what triggers my emotional responses?
  • Do I actively seek feedback from others on my emotional responses and behaviors?
  • Do I understand how my emotions and behaviors impact my team members and the broader organization and do I take steps to manage those impacts?

Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and focusing on one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness can take many forms. It could involve simply taking a few deep breaths before responding to an email or phone call, a brief walk outside during a break, a few moments to set an intention for the day, or focusing on what you want to accomplish or how you want to show up for your team members. By practicing mindfulness in small ways throughout the day, leaders can improve their ability to manage stress and respond effectively to challenging situations. Ask yourself:

  • Am I able to stay present in the moment, or do I often find myself distracted by external factors or my own thoughts?
  • Do I take regular daily breaks to clear my mind and recharge my energy?
  • Do I approach challenging situations with an open and curious mindset rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions?

Cognitive reappraisal: Leaders can practice cognitive reappraisal by challenging and reframing negative thoughts, finding alternative explanations for difficult situations, or focusing on positive outcomes. Imagine you just received negative feedback from a parent about a recent transportation issue. You might initially feel defensive or discouraged. However, by using cognitive reappraisal, you could remind yourself that any feedback can be an opportunity for growth and improvement, that the parent cared enough to provide feedback rather than ignoring the issue, and could consider how you can use the feedback to make positive changes and improve the experience for all students. Ask yourself:

  • Can I maintain a positive outlook and focus on positive outcomes, even facing difficult challenges?
  • Do I actively seek out opportunities for growth and improvement, even when negative feedback is involved?
  • Can I separate myself from the situation and view it objectively rather than take feedback or criticism personally?

Seeking support: Leaders can also control their emotions by seeking support from colleagues, mentors, or even mental health professionals. Talking through difficult situations with someone who can provide a different perspective or offer emotional support can help to manage emotions and make better decisions. You might sometimes feel overwhelmed with shock, disappointment, or guilt. However, if time allows, you may gain a different perspective or practical advice on managing a situation by seeking support and input from others—before you react. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a trusted network that I can turn to for emotional support and guidance?
  • Do I actively seek out different perspectives or input from others when facing difficult situations, or do I tend to rely solely on my own judgment?
  • Do I prioritize self-care and emotional well-being, even when faced with demanding or stressful work situations?

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Preparing de-escalation techniques: This involves strategies for calming down individuals who may be upset or agitated, preventing a situation from escalating. By preparing de-escalation techniques in advance, leaders can respond more calmly and rationally in these challenging situations. Rather than reacting impulsively or emotionally in the moment, leaders can diffuse tense situations and maintain a safe and supportive environment. In addition, it’s also essential to regularly practice and review these techniques with your team members so that everyone is on the same page and knows how to respond effectively in high-stress situations. Ask yourself:

  • Am I familiar with various de-escalation techniques, and have I received training on effectively using them?
  • Do I actively work on preventing situations from escalating into violence or conflict?
  • Do I regularly review and practice de-escalation techniques with my team members to ensure everyone is prepared to respond effectively?

Transportation leaders are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of hundreds of children every day, and any behavior that suggests they are unable to manage their emotions can erode trust and confidence in their abilities. Any emotional outburst or irrational behavior can create a negative atmosphere in the workplace, leading to further disruptions or safety issues.

Therefore, you must maintain a professional demeanor at all times, even in the face of difficult situations. You must remain calm and composed, using positive communication techniques and other strategies to manage your emotions and ensure the safety of all passengers, drivers and your entire team.

Remember that your efforts as a leader are making a difference in the lives of students and families across the country and that the little things you do every day, from a friendly word to effective communication, can make a significant impact. So keep up the great work, and know that you are appreciated and valued by all of us.

And to all the parents and students out there who might be reading this, I encourage you to take a moment to thank your transportation leaders and all those behind the scenes who work tirelessly to keep our schools and communities safe. A kind word or gesture can go a long way in showing appreciation for their hard work and dedication. Let’s all work together to create a safe and positive transportation experience for everyone.

Sylvie di Giusto is an international keynote speaker, author and expert in the field of emotional intelligence. With years of experience working with leaders across various industries, she understands the critical importance of first impressions and the impact they have on personal, professional and organizational success. Di Giusto will be training at the Transportation Director Summit during the STN EXPO Indianapolis in June and that same week providing the opening keynote address.

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