By Michael R. Pinto, IPLI Mentor & Principal at James Cole Elementary School, Lafayette, Indiana
Have you ever joined a group because you thought doing so was the right thing to do, but later, after you joined, and the time of reckoning awaits for you to participate, you question yourself and your motives? This scenario played itself out this weekend. I had the unique opportunity to attend a two-day workshop south of Indianapolis. When the invitation came out, I was offered the chance to ride with other participants or to drive myself. Thinking about the value of community and the sense of responsibility for a wide variety of resources, I thought, “Ride the bus if it is offered.” So I signed up to be a passenger. It turned out that close to 15 others felt the same way, and we were all to meet at the ghastly hour of 6:00 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday for our professional development pilgrimage.
A few days prior to the event, I received an email from the organizer who said that he had a driver lined up for Saturday but needed someone to drive the mini-bus on Sunday. I had driven such a bus before several years ago, so I obliged. Again, the common good, right? Anyway, Saturday came and went and I had newfound appreciation for those that drive buses. I knew my day was coming. So Sunday morning, bright and early as the clock ticked just past 6:00 a.m., I was behind the wheel of this short bus ready to head out of the bus yard to pick up my cargo. It’s one thing to drive a large vehicle and risk damage to yourself and maybe a mailbox. It’s something quite different to have a busload of colleagues with you in your care. As I drove out of the parking lot with a full crew of anxious learners, I was sitting straight and at attention with elbows at my side. I was scanning the mirrors like a laser light show. I was intently lining up bus edges inside the yellow and white lines. I was focused. After making several turns onto intersections and merging later into oncoming interstate traffic, I felt the hurdles were behind me. I realized that my shoulders had relaxed and my left arm even found a resting space on the ledge of the door. As progress was made and we neared the interstate exit of our destination, I deferred my route to a few in the bus armed with smart phones and direction apps. As we neared what we thought was the last intersection, I was asked to take a right turn. I did and continued traveling onward until the reality that the GPS on the smart phone had led us astray. We were dead-ended. At that point we were redirected, and we found ourselves on a tour through the hollers of Johnson County: Up and down hills, sharp 90 degree turns right and left, and a plethora of “High Water” signs. We definitely went the scenic route but eventually arrived at our destination. At one point, near the end, I even grabbed the microphone and spoke into it like you would hear from a tour guide. The day went smoothly and so did the drive home. As I pulled into the parking lot, the travelers thanked me. I am sure that the thanks were for the ride but possibly for realizing that they were delivered home in one piece both safe and sound.
Here’s what I know about the Magic Bus. The experience affirmed many things I already knew. First, when you are learning something new, it takes all of your faculties. You have to provide undivided attention. You have to think constantly. You have to have your senses on heightened alert. It takes a lot of your energy. However, as you find small nuggets of success and garner more experience, fewer and fewer of your cognitive and physical resources are needed. It becomes routine with both muscle memory and cognitive mind maps being created. Second, landmarks never let me down. A GPS can really be an amazing tool, but if I know to turn left at Kroger and turn right at the Shell Station, I get there. It’s just how I operate. Third, sometimes a wrong turn leads you down a path you never thought you would travel but you come out at a better point than before you took it. It’s true of many things in life: The unexpected is just that – unexpected. Many times the curve ball turns out to be okay. I am also reminded about the expression, “What do you have to offer?” What I had to offer that day was a willingness to drive a bus. I’m not the best driver, but the job got done. If we all offered what we had within the scope of what we can, our world would be richer. Finally, the pure fact that each rider said, “Thank you” was not lost on the receiver. Simple gratitude means a lot. Don’t forget to thank those around you for doing things that may be their job but in some way makes your life better. It doesn’t take much breath to say these two words, “Thank You”.
Here’s the thing I do know. If there is a need for a driver again, I won’t hesitate to offer my services if needed. It’s amazing what one can learn when you allow yourself to take risks. It’s even more amazing how simple it is to drive a ‘Magic Bus’ with 15 kind-hearted adults in it, compared with what our school bus drivers experience daily. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for those men and women who drive the full-sized buses with 60-80 children with all levels of behavioral restraint within. They truly have the magic touch. I think I will happily stick with my little bus with kind and polite adults in it. As Clint Eastwood liked to say in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”