Communication Training for Head Start Transportation Staff

Head Start programs that provide transportation services should consider communication skills training to increase the efficiency of their transportation staff.

Explanation and Background

Any agency that provides or contracts transportation services for families of children attending programs funded by the Head Start Act must follow prescribed regulations which affect the quality of transportation services. (Purpose, 45 CFR §1303.70). Both staff and parents need to be informed about these regulations in the Head Start program. These regulations are important as they safeguard the lives of children and improve the quality of the transportation services.

The system of communication in a Head Start program has an impact upon the quality of their transportation services. On a daily basis, transportation staff members are involved with teachers, parents and children, as well as among themselves (45 CFR §1302.46 (b)(iv–v)). These individuals are entrusted to deliver or receive written or oral information that may be confidential. They are also seen as the caring adult to whom the child may reveal their own fear or pain. Supporting better communication skills assures children, staff and parents that the Head Start program is caring and responsible in its actions.

Local programs are encouraged to schedule training prior to the start of the program year before bus drivers start their bus route (45 CFR §1303.72(d)(1–3)) and whenever bus monitors are assigned to a vehicle (45 CFR §1303.72(e)). In this way, communication skills can be included with the training on bus safety procedures.

Training on communication skills should address the diverse nature of families and their needs. As described in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), a child with special needs must receive transportation services tailored to their needs (45 CFR §1303.75). The safety of these children and their participation in riding on a bus should be a positive experience. This positive experience also applies to parents who may speak another language than English or who have specific needs.

Communication skills can be used in the classroom where children practice how to follow safety procedures (45 CFR §1303.74). Their simulation of riding in a bus helps the child learn the importance of good behavior as a key to safety. For children, setting a positive and calm tone of voice, consistent directions, and caring will reinforce cooperation and the following of directions when they are given by the bus driver or the bus monitor.

Standard Practice

It is misleading to conclude that communication skills are only used in adult conversations on the required communication in a vehicle that is transporting children (45 CFR §1303.71(b)). In reality, what's often overlooked is that this communication takes within the hearing range children. As a result, oral communication necessitates appropriate tonal and emotional considerations, particularly self-control, in the reporting of incidents, signs of child abuse or neglect, parental complaints, and during emergencies.

A child's communication with the bus driver or bus monitor has a major influence on their start and end of each program day. It is important that child needs be dealt with in a comforting manner and not to increase their level of anxiety. In this daily interaction, there is a continual reassurance that child needs are being recognized by adults.

The unique learning environment afforded by being on a bus contributes to a child's socializing and educational experiences. Planning can avoid conflicts, for example, by using assigned seating in the bus. Under the care of the bus driver and bus monitor, children can practice bus safety and patterns of behavior during a fixed bus route (45 CFR §1303.73(a)). All efforts should be made for giving children a positive experience during this routine part of their day.

As the Head Start community is diverse, staff should avoid the stereotyping of any ethnic, racial, or cultural group. The bus monitor should extend courtesy and respect to all families when children are boarding and exiting the bus. Cultural differences should be part of all training sessions so that staff understands appropriate behavior in situation, such as physical closeness, body language, gestures, or eye contact.

Head Start programs must provide training on an annual basis that allows staff to review set procedures (45 CFR 1303.72(d–e)). At this time bus drivers and bus monitors can review communication skills to improve the way they talk with children and with a parent/guardian or even to assess how a previous stressful situation could have been handled differently. The proximity of working in close quarters on a bus should encourage respect, teamwork, and ways staff can conduct themselves with maturity and with [the] utmost concern for children.

The bus driver and the bus monitor have a daily face to face contact opportunity with parents/guardians. Their skill and ability to communicate allows the child's family to have a better understanding of the program. At times, the bus driver or bus monitor may convey concerns from the teacher about the child's health or behavior. Likewise, parents/guardians may have specific questions or information relayed to the teacher. The communication skills of the bus driver and bus monitor are essential for a healthy program.

Head Start programs are required to provide developmentally appropriate and individualized services both inside and outside the classroom. The transportation staff should recognize the short attention span of children and be able to use simple and clear language with them. Individualization may require verbal and non-verbal communication to enhance better understanding. For example, a "thumbs up" sign may be a non-verbal sign for children who are verbally being to "Board the Bus." Keeping safety rules simple can reinforce safety procedures and the goal of child safety.

Local Perspective

Every Head Start program is unique as it differs in size, demographics, and perhaps cultural practices from their closest neighbor. The agency may be in a rural or urban setting and either provide transportation services or contract out the service. These are differences that shape each local perspective. As such, local decision-making will establish the best practice on how to meet the required regulations. It is this uniqueness that allows a local program to be able to assess needs and find ways to overcome challenges so that the grantee is able to comply with requirements for the operation of a Head Start program.

Each Head Start program should integrate this local perspective into their own communication skills training to increase the efficiency of a bus driver and bus monitor. Keeping a training log for each transportation staff member will help to verify the date, topic, and length of each training session. The local program may structure training on specific topics as the content material.

These topics may deal with how to handle situations faced by the bus driver and the bus monitor; for example, child abuse, changes in the bus schedule, or even how to handle child pick up and release procedures that have different scenarios involving difficult or unauthorized individuals. Lastly, training should recognize the confidentiality of children and families and respect their needs.

Training also needs to focus on what is appropriate communication between the bus driver and bus monitor. Appropriate communication should eliminate gossiping or negative remarks made in the presence of children. Training discussions can be helpful to identify negative situations and support appropriate ways for positive communication to take place on a bus.

The bus driver and bus monitor must use their communication skills to ensure the safety of children who are being transported (45 CFR §1303.72(a)). Training can assist transportation staff to practice beforehand on how to deal with planned and unplanned events, including hazardous conditions which challenge their communication skills. This supportive training effort can help staff maintain a positive outlook and self-control while meeting these challenges.