• Lori Harvie

Schools and Airports: The School Traffic Controller

School Traffic Controller

Buses, cars, and vans all funnelling into designated routes for departures and arrivals. Passengers lugging backpacks, instrument cases, lunch boxes, and more. Announcements. Commotion. People moving faster than the average person can jog, with fixed stares. Others chatting and laughing loudly. Numerically labeled entrances. Queues of people. Some move nervously. Others seem at ease.

Mrs. Sanchez looks so lost. The school office administrator, Carla, spots that look as easily as middle schoolers find free wifi. Carla walks up to her, smiles, and offers some soothing words. Mrs. Sanchez gives her son a big hug and as she leaves, she looks over her shoulder and mouths, “thank you” to Carla.

Most of the school community is used to Carla’s warmth and calm presence; these habits are well practised and very intentional. Carla, herself, has been a parent in a new school and the empathy certainly isn’t difficult to muster.

“Like ants moving purposely to and from their hills, right?”

It is Michael’s mom.

“Not a big fan of insects!” Carla laughed.

“Maybe you could try air traffic controller school?”

“Ha, I like that! School Traffic Controller. I’m going to ask for some new cards,” Carla smiles back.

Check Baggage, then Check Attitude

Schools and airports certainly have many differences, but the organized chaos, the emotions, and the boundless opportunities to lend a helping hand are very much the same. Many are unsure where to go and most just need a little nudge in the right direction.

The power of a kind voice and a warm smile cannot be underestimated. These are the “soft skills” we all possess as human beings. The school office, much like the main terminal in an airport, houses the people who have the power to soothe the frayed nerves of those unfamiliar with this ecosystem.

When a frustrated airport or school traveler steps up to a front desk and demands to be served at a high level, what is the best response? We can choose a positive attitude over a poor one despite any circumstances.

Now flip the perspective for just a second.

Have you ever been late to a flight? What do you say in your mind (or even aloud) when you realize that security is ten times longer than you had planned for? How do you handle your flight being delayed and missing a connection?

Many can probably recall throwing some type of tantrum in these scenarios. We huff-and-puff and get increasingly tense as the stress builds.

Honey is sweeter than vinegar.

The Stoics said it this way: Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what is beyond your control.

Be radically compassionate in stressful situations and go to bed at night knowing you were the best version of yourself.

Empathy and compassion are key. The next time you arrive at school, check your baggage and attitude at the door.

Check in

Much like the booking of a flight, a new school registration requires that personal information be placed perfectly in lengthy, but necessary, documentation that will be passed onto multiple levels of authority. For the new student to find optimal success and ease in transitioning to a new school, habits and protocols are necessary. A clear procedure on new student enrollment is respectful to student and teacher. It allows for communication, preparation and organization, easing all parties in the process.

Upon receiving booking information, airlines often follow-up with additional information ranging from tips to better ensure a good trip, to items travelers should bring to the airport; they even go so far as to allow check-in 24 hours ahead to make for a more efficient and smoother experience on the big day.

Successful and calming schools have many versions of additional information, tips and an early check-in process: follow-up calls from school personnel, letters from the teacher, class supply lists, emailed invitations from the parent council, and so many more.

Certainly, airports could learn a lot from schools, but what other early check-in ideas could schools learn from an airport to make those first-time school travelers more comfortable?

Arrivals and Departures

Anyone working in a school or an airport can be a difference maker and provide that moment of calm clarity that changes the narrative for the person who walks through the doors more than a little tightly wound.

Smiling and asking, “Would you like a little help?” doesn’t require training and kindness can be wonderfully contagious in crowded places. This is emotional intelligence at work as we perceive and assess the school environments for those needing assistance. This is awareness in action.

Equally obvious are those completely new to the routine or layout, as well as those individuals with sensory issues. Arranging for early or delayed release for these passengers to avoid chaotic, overwhelming stimulus supports mental health and emotional safety. This is what is often referred to as social emotional learning. It impacts the individual greatly and has a ripple effect that goes far beyond the moment.

Being prepared ahead of time always leads to better peripheral vision and more opportunities in our busiest times. Kind souls, like Carla, who search out opportunities to take care of the understandably and predictably anxious, almost always are well organized and purposeful.

10 Power Tips for the School Traffic Controller

Whether it’s the main terminal, check ins, FAQs, or simply time management, a few powerful tips can be helpful:

  • Consider all the visitor touchpoints.

  • Communicate with empathy (i.e. “I can see you are upset” or “I understand the sign in can be inconvenient”).

  • Admit mistakes, then follow-up.

  • Schedule the week in advance.

  • Use task management software such as Trello or Shared OneNote.

  • Turn off notifications on personal cell phones (those little bells and red dots can be irresistible)

  • Schedule time to check email, so it doesn’t creep into all of your working minutes.

  • Keep communication clear, simple, and concise.

  • Use routines whenever possible.

  • Be present, make eye contact, and empty your hands when possible to speak with someone.

12 Months Later...

Carla didn’t normally look too long at correspondence; her work really doesn’t allow for much it beyond ensuring it reads well and ends up in the right hands.

But on this day, she pauses for a mini celebration of sorts, as it seems the new parent council chairperson, Mrs. Sanchez, has sent a welcome email on behalf of the parents to the parents who will have children new to the school community next August.

In an instant, Carla suddenly realized her impact. She felt happy tears well up and fought them off with a smile, remembering her response a year ago to Michael’s mom and thought, “I better get on those new business cards.”

School Traffic Controller.


Daniel Bauer

Matt Foster

Abigail French

Aubrey Patterson

Vernon Wright


Canada ~ Lloydminster ~ Alberta

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