When you look in the professional mirror each morning, what do you see looking back at you? Do you see a transportation professional? Or do you see an education professional responsible for the safe and efficient transportation of America’s school children?
Like our school colleagues in psychology and nursing and facilities and library science, we must work hard to view ourselves and our work fully in the context of the schools we serve. The more we focus on our place in the school environment, or as I like to call it, the education enterprise, the more we gain in terms of our relationships with other school administrators with whom we must and need to deal. Let us explore that in several different ways that other educational professionals engage and gain credibility:
Being “In the Room”
In an earlier article, I referred to a ‘credibility portfolio’ as a way of describing achievements we accumulate that gain us acceptance in our work. That can apply within our school environment as well. Our ‘portfolios’ are enhanced by our involvement in school board meetings, CSE activities, school athletics planning, redistricting issues or academic topics like ESSA and IDEA. Through such involvement we become a recognizable resource and partner to school leaders. Being in those places increases our exposure to other leaders and gives us opportunities for input as well as for gaining benefits for our team and our operations. Avoiding those venues has the opposite effect of decreasing our credibility and diminishing our impacts.
In my work as a state association executive director, I would often find myself in meetings ostensibly set up for the usual array of school officials. So often, the minute others heard I represented school transportation, lights went off and questions were asked. Why? Because transportation is an integral part of the education process and an essential part of the school community. We need to understand that they want and need to hear what we have to say from our perspective and experience. How often have you scratched your head and wondered why school leaders make decisions that are near impossible for us to address.
Using Your Knowledge
And that leads to a further point in relation to our engagement in the school community. A common complaint among transportation office staff is: “Why didn’t they ask? I could have done what they wanted and way cheaper!” Here is the challenge: do school leaders know you are there to ask? Do they know you will give them a reasoned and practical answer? Do they know you will stop to consider the parent and political balances they are striking? Does the CSE understand that your input could actually offer more responsive services for children to fulfill the terms of their IEPs? Do school officials know you will be good to your word?
Issues Awareness and Research
The world of education is filled with change and opportunities to adapt to new realities for our children and our institutions. There is change afoot in terms of school choice and alternative education models, including charter schools and, more recently, synchronous and asynchronous instruction modalities, individualized learning formats and more. There are evolving norms in terms of social-emotional development of our children, managing student behavior and preventing bullying and other asocial behaviors. As our children’s classroom environment changes, it is important that we adapt to bring their school bus experience into alignment with their school experience. But to do so, and to demonstrate or investment in the school environment, we need to read and understand the elements and philosophies of those modes and programs. That will take some time and effort. But it is worth it.
Most professions require continuing education of individuals who are licensed or certified to practice in that field. In our world, we use conferences and trade shows along with workshops and function-specific trainings to learn and to grow. NAPT, for instance, has a unique Professional Development Series and now the ACTS! program as integral parts of its educational offerings. Teachers, librarians, facilities directors, nurses, psychologists all are mandated to complete specific hours of educational content in order to continue to work in their field.
School transportation professionals have not been subject to such requirements but that should not prevent us from engaging aggressively in such programs. Those other professions have long known that intensive immersion in those programs makes them better and more confident professionals. In fact, it is what differentiates them from other groups.
Success is important. Its importance cannot be overstated. At the same time, it is important to find meaningful ways to promote and celebrate our successes. And it is important to promote those successes to people other than ourselves: to our superintendents, unions, parents, the media. If we do not take time to celebrate a safety milestone or a career milestone, trust me: no one else is going to promote it for us. Do not hesitate to ‘thump your chest’ once in a while to call attention to the good you do for the children and for the community.
In the April 2021 issue of School BUSRide, we explored the area of advocacy for and about our profession. I reiterate that view here because I believe in it very much. Advocating for school bus safety funding or new equipment or driver training is a key part of giving all of our children a safe ride to school…
Being an education professional responsible for transporting children to and from school is a safety-sensitive position, to be sure. That puts you in an influential position and one which you need to consider using when appropriate, with diplomacy and prudence, and to best advantage. You especially have an opportunity — in fact, a responsibility — to speak out when something will not work safely for the children. Having a good relationship with school leaders gives you opportunities to do that.
Directions in Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us and our school colleagues and parents that education can be offered in many different ways and we have seen some of the traditional forms of learning set aside on an interim basis while we coped with the pandemic. But as things begin to ‘open up’ we may find that some of those alternative approaches continue and become standard operating procedure for many if not all students.
We can expect some percentage of students to continue learning from home for part or all of the school day and we are likely to see some adjustments in student movement to and from occupational programs and other satellite offerings. We are likely to see adjustments to the length and outlines of the school day and fluctuations on the numbers of students who attend each day. Each and every one of these factors (and others) will have long-term effects on transportation services, including on vehicle quantities and selections, driver assignments, routing configurations and more.
How much do we know about those options and about our school districts’ plans and Ideas? How engaged are we in those planning discussions to ensure that transportation issues are considered? Are we comfortable with the terms and how they operate so we can estimate their impacts on us?
Here is the message: we are important links in a major enterprise called “EDUCATION.” One historical problem is that others in education have not always regarded us with respect and have not always engaged us in their larger discussions. But the other historical problem that WE can do something about is that WE have not always taken the time or made the investment in advancing our value as a resource for education and as an advocate for the children.
It is time for that to change and it is up to us to be that change. A year from now when you look in the mirror, who will you see?
Peter Mannella (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.