Bus Behavior

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Bus Behavior
An excerpt from Positive Discipline A Teacher's A-Z Guide

Problems on the bus seem to be a major concern kindergarten through high school. Look at the behavior on any bus, anywhere in the world, and you will have a barometer of the development of (or lack of) internalized social skills, life skills, and social interest.

How much bus misbehavior reflects a student's need for undue attention because he or she doesn't feel belonging and significance? How much is due to a student's need for some kind of power in his or her life and a lack of training in useful power? How much hurtful behavior reflects the hurt and discouragement students may be feeling because they feel hurt possibly because they are not listened to, don't have their thoughts and ideas validated and taken seriously, and generally are not treated with respect?

The bus driver is busy driving the bus. This leaves students with an opportunity to show what they do when not directly supervised and controlled by adults. Instead of looking at the ineffectiveness of adult methods based on control, we often blame students for their disrespectful behavior.

We need to take another look. We can welcome the view bus behavior gives us to let us know where we need to improve our methods to teach children an internal locus of control and social interest. We can learn how effective it can be to win the cooperation of students when they are involved in the formulation of guidelines and brainstorming for solutions to problems.


1. Bus drivers can decide what they will do. When students are acting disrespectful, they can pull to the side of the road and say, "I don't feel it is safe to drive when disrespectful behavior is distracting to me or hurtful to others. I'll continue driving as soon as you are ready." If students complain that they will be late for school, say, "Could be." Do not add any lectures or put downs.

2. When students complain about bus problems, ask them to put their concerns on the class meeting agenda. That keeps you out of the middle, and frees you from needing to solve all problems. Then allow students to work on solutions when that item comes up on the agenda. Be sure to let the students involved choose the suggestions they think will help them the most (even if two or more students choose different solutions).

3. Invite students to write notes of appreciation to the bus drivers. Form a committee to find out their birthdays so students can send cards.

4. Once guidelines are established, with the help of the students (see 5 under Planning Ahead), follow through on consequences. This can be done with dignity and respect. "I'm sorry you chose to be disrespectful on the bus and lost your bus privileges . Let me know when you are ready to take the responsibility (respectful behavior) that goes along with bus privileges." (When students are involved in problem-solving, consequences are seldom needed.)


1. Treat students with respect by listening to them and inviting their participation in establishing bus guidelines and solving problems that occur on the bus.

2. Facilitate a discussion on safety issues. Let the problems come from the students. Once they have listed problems, invite brainstorming for solutions to each problem.

3. Invite bus drivers in to share their feelings and concerns and to directly ask the students for their help. Include some role playing of the problems presented by the bus driver so students can play the bus driver. The bus driver may enjoy role playing a student.

4. Inviting students to be involved in discussions of safety issues, guidelines, and bus driver responsibilities, and brainstorming for solutions, increases their awareness and motivation to cooperate much more than lectures or teacher-initiated rules.

5. Discuss the concept of privileges = responsibility. Ask them to discuss what responsibilities go along with bus privileges. Ask for a volunteer to record their ideas. This can be followed with a discussion of the concept of unwillingness to accept responsibility = loss of privilege. Invite their ideas about the consequences of not following the guidelines of responsibility. (This is a good example of where logical consequences are related, respectful and reasonable. Students who don't want the responsibility, lose the privilege.)


submitted by Cathy Binns Ater

In a second grade class meeting in an international school in Germany, Sofia brought up the problem of older boys sitting behind her and kicking her seat. As the students went around the circle, they came up with the following suggestions:

Sit away from them. Sit behind them. Ignore them. Watch where they sit, and then sit somewhere else. Trick them by putting your bag in one seat and sit somewhere else. As soon as they get on the bus and sit behind you, move to where your bag is. Ask them to stop kicking your seat. Trade places with someone else. Tell them how you feel when they kick your seat.

It is amazing how many wonderful ideas can come from brainstorming with students.

Sofia choose No. 2.

In this same second grade class, Mindy brought up the problem of other students pushing her when she got off the bus. The students came up with the following suggestions during a class meeting:

Ask them to please stop. Tell them you don't like it, and that it hurts you. Be the last off the bus. Hang on to the bars. Get off first. Get off the back of the bus. 

Mindy chose to be the last off.

In a special education class at another international school in Brussels, a Down's Syndrome boy continually exhibited unsafe behavior on the bus. Mark would hang on the bars and run up and down the aisle while the bus was in motion.

This had been going on for a year when I came to teach this class. Adults and students excused the behavior saying that Mark did not understand the rules and could not learn. I took exception to this and sat down with Mark and talked to him about appropriate behavior on the bus. I told him that because of safety, he would be removed from the bus if he did not follow the rules.

I then invited his parents to participate in a conference with Mark. His parents agreed to drive him to and from school if he lost bus privileges by refusing to follow the rules.

The following day, Mark chose to exhibit unsafe behavior on the bus. When he got to school and I was told about him running down the aisles, I told Mark that he would not be allowed to ride the bus home. His mother picked him up from school. She had been coached to show empathy for his dilemma, but not to lecture or punish. Mark loved to ride the bus. It was one of his favorite times of the day, so he was not at all pleased when his mom showed up at the end of the day.

The following day when he was allowed to get on the bus, the same behavior occurred. We followed through and kept him off the bus for the rest of the week. Each day we would talk to him about safe behavior. Monday we were ready to try once again. Mark displayed no misbehavior and stayed seated the whole trip to school. He did not have any more problems on the bus for the rest of the year.


I started driving, for real, at the beginning of the year. I don't have my own route but I am taking a retiree's for a few weeks until the route is awarded through seniority.
During the route and especially when unloading, I'll receive many tiny gripes: "Bobby said a bad word,". "Evan pulled on my backpack strap,". Etc. None of these are actionable and I have no clue whether they're really bothered or just trying to get another in trouble.
I've told them to tell the other party to tell them that I said to stop it. Announced to the bus that we all need to be better behaved and chief the golden rule and given a warning, but I'd like to know how others handle these. Thanks in advance.,
Mister Jeff

Hi Mister Jeff, I have some suggesttions you might want to try. When kids tell you what other kids are doing, you might ask, "What do you think would solve this problem?"  This gets them thinking and focusing on solutions. There is something about asking a question (instead of telling them what to do) that sends a message to the brain to search for an answer. This helps them feel more capable.

Instead of giving them warnings, you might try saying, "Hey guys. I need your help. Who has some ideas about how to make this bus ride pleasant for everyone? Is there someone who is willing to write down ideas that everyone has and then you can all vote on the ones you think would be the most helpful."  Asking for help speaks to the innate desire of kids to want to help. It invites them to feel capable and to contritube--and to cooperate (in many cases).  If you try this, let us know how it goes.

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