Cheers Drive – Leading (and Learning) on the Buses

It was a rainy afternoon during the last week of Term 2, when I found myself captivated by a gentlemen who I had only just met. He was talking to me about the importance of building a culture of respect when working with young people. He was driving a school bus, as he has done twice a day either side of his work as a civil engineer, for over 20 years. Little did I realise that I would learn so much on this single journey.
A series of events lead up to this chance meeting. During the previous week, a parent raised a concern about a minor incident on one of the buses that serve our school. Contact was made with the bus company (who were not concerned) and with the parent (who just wanted us to be made aware). The matter could have been dropped at that point. However, I saw an unusual opportunity presenting itself. 
There is a bus duty rota shared among staff each day to ensure all of the students get safely on the right bus. However, I thought I would go a step further and ride the bus with the students. Having arrived in a large school (1,800 students) as a senior leader in September, I have worked hard to get to know as many of the staff and students as possible. This seemed to be another way that I could further build relationships. However, the experience produced many more positive / unintended outcomes than I anticipated.
A time to listen 
I spent most of my time talking to students, asking them to reflect on their day. It was good to hear how students were feeling about their day of learning. The highs, the lows, their concerns and successes. I allowed the opportunity for students to talk and express their thoughts, rather than be lectured at by a teacher (the last thing they want after a day at school!). Although not a formal “student voice” meeting, it allowed students to feel as though they were being listened to and they expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share their thoughts.
Barometer / Thermometer  
Through this dialogue, it was a good way to test the temperature of the school from a student’s perspective. It is really interesting to hear the candid views of students perceptions on particular lessons, subjects, staff, assemblies, tutors, break / lunch times and many other aspects of school life. 
Establishing yet more relationships 
I now have another 25 or so students that I can say hello and talk to in the corridors, classrooms and canteens. This type of interaction plays a big part of my role as a senior leader.
Human being first…
Having recently read High Challenge Low Threat, by Mary Myatt, I enjoyed (among many others) a chapter called Human Being first, professionals second. This experience presented me in a light different to that presenting in an assembly, being on duty or managing / investigating an incident in school. Students spoke to me as a human being. I think this relationship is important for many reasons, including giving confidence for students to raise issues (particularly if the students are disadvantaged) and to reassure them that I would understand and respect their opinions / concerns. It also made me remember that students are human beings –  not pieces of data which need to be drilled day in day out to produce good “outcomes”. They are young people, with lives outside of school, with emotions that deserve our respect and consideration, with interests and hobbies outside of school and the same worries and challenges that we all face. 
Numeracy lesson
Students asked how I intended to get back to school. Once they realised I was going to run back (I had changed into my PE kit) and they saw my Fitbit watch, we started to estimate how many steps I had taken in the day, how many flights of stairs I had climbed, how far my return run would be, how long it would take me and many other numeracy based questions. This lead into conversations about the cardiovascular system, hear rate zones, principles of training, healthy lifestyle choices and much more. There was some good content recall being demonstrated by the GCSE PE students. The following day, several students asked how the run was – I was able to show them this graphic and talk about the route, the weather (it absolutely lashed it down) and heart rate amongst other things. They were shocked (as was I!) to find out that my heart rate peaked at 191bpm, having calculated it on the bus to be 183! (220 – Age). Next time I will not attack the hills with as much gusto!
Leadership learning 
I also spoke at length to the bus driver. Before we set off, I watched in admiration as he organised the right students onto the right buses. He called everyone by name (albeit he called everyone Dave!), but the students seemed to love it. He worked with a smile on his face and connected really well with the students, our school staff on duty and the other bus drivers. He knew every student’s drop off points and two students in particular (refugees recently arrived in the UK) appeared to want to be on his bus, such is the level of trust that he has built with them in a short period of time.
I didn’t ask for his name, instead calling him “Drive”; this being the standard name for any Bristolian to call someone that drives taxis, buses etc.
When I commented on the excellent behaviour of the students on the bus, he had nothing but praise for the students. He started talking about building a culture based on respect. It was a simple message – treat people with respect and in a friendly manner and they will respond positively. There has never been a need for him to shout or use a derogatory tone in all of his years driving the school bus. It seems simple, almost too simple in fact. But in various walks of life, I all too often see people acting in such a way that contradicts this approach.  If only these people realised the impact it has on others when you treat them how you would expect to be treated yourself.
Getting to know the community
Over a 15-year period, I gained an intimate understanding and knowledge about the community that my previous school served. Doing this helped to build stronger relationships with my students and their families. Although this particular run took me along major trunk roads, I still felt that I got to know the area a little better than I did before. I now plan to go on the remaining bus routes to other parts of catchment area (which is vast – just like the school) throughout Term 3. I hope that I will learn as much as I did on my first trip
I do plan to ask the driver of the bus his name, as I want to call South Gloucester Local Authority and tell them what a great job he is doing.
For the time being, all I can say is – Cheers Drive.

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