The front page of the Los Angeles Times on April 9, 2014 featured a huge photo of 375 empty student desks, which represented the 375 students who drop out of the district’s schools each and every week. To reduce this drop-out rate, the superintendent of the district is asking for $837 million for a number of projects, including:
- More tutoring and greater access to counselors and other services for 11,600 foster youth.
- More instructional coaches and training materials for teachers of 154,110 students learning English.
- More assistant principals, counselors, social workers, special education workers and other support for students at 37 schools with low-performing students and high teacher turnover.
- 192 library aides and 15 middle school librarians.
- 130 new teachers to reduce the size of middle and high school math and English classes.
While on the surface this list of enhancements sounds great, the reality is that hiring new specialists and installing more programs will be yet another wasted expenditure. Why? Because it does not address the core of the problem.
The superintendent needs to realize that classroom teachers are in the relationship and motivation business. Therefore, until teachers improve relationships (especially with disadvantaged students) and learn to motivate students to WANT to learn, students will continue to drop out.
The fact is that the brain and body are an integrated system. Feelings and cognition are interrelated and have a significant effect upon learning. If you are a parent, you know this. When your child returns home after the FIRST day of school, you may ask, “How was school?” You also may ask, “What did you learn?” And you most certainly ask, “Do you like your teacher?”
We know from our personal experiences and through research on the workings of the brain that how we feel has a significant effect upon what and how we think and behave. Therefore, IMPROVING RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN TEACHERS AND STUDENTS IS ONE OF THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL REFORMS THAT SCHOOLS CAN INITIATE. And in fact, this is where the LA district superintendent should be focusing both time and money.
The three practices of self-talking and communicating in positive terms, of empowering by choice, and of using the skill of asking reflective questions (all of which are described in detail in Discipline Without Stress) are universal and enduring approaches that improve relationships.