Friday, June 12, 2015

It's okay to be irrationally crazy.

One of the cool things about intentionally following educational resources on social media is the discovery of legitimate theories that I can totally embrace, all the while wondering why I've never heard of the theorist before.  Urie Bronfenbrenner is such a theorist.

Granted, he was Russian, and many Russian surnames are light years more complicated than American or European surnames, but it does seem that the challenge of learning to spell BRONFENBRENNER in kindergarten already gave him a distinct advantage in the persistence and learning focus departments.  (Face it, learning to spell your name in kindergarten is a big deal.  And, if you're like my son Benjamin, when you get to first grade and realize that teachers will accept nicknames on papers, shortening your name to BEN for all eternity seems like an unfair shortcut that kids like Amy and Eve have been taking for years!)

Anyway, Bronfenbrenner's theory significantly compartmentalizes the various intricacies of environment on learners.  The microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem influences described help to support and define the success (or lack thereof) of a student.

Starting at the innermost circle, the microsystem is those closest to the child. The mesosystem is the interaction between the microsystem and the larger influences, for example, the larger group of people who may be involved in the child's care or education.  The exosystem is the larger influence on the child -- perhaps the influences of a parent's job requiring time away, or affecting the financial support of the child due to injury or loss of job, and the macrosystem is the even larger society as a whole that may influence the child through regulations and laws, including Children and Youth Services, etc.

Many adults might be surprised if they were to examine the neediness of students today.   Many of those adults are politicians, attempting to compare school today to the school they remember from their youth.  The reality is that yes, there were single-parent families in the past.  There were kids who struggled financially, and there were "latchkey" kids who had little supervision.  

But classrooms today are so much more complex.  As teachers, we are often surprised by the situations of our kids.  Some parents maintain constant contact, allowing the school system to know when their child is ill, or emotionally stressed due to the illness or death of a family member.  

One day this past school year, one of my students posted a thank you for a bag of groceries  left anonymously on her front step.  I was devastated at the thought that I hadn't recognized a hungry child. There are many kids, with many needs, and even more that are unnoticed.  There are mental and physical illnesses, environmental stresses, financial stresses, and social stresses, including cyberbullying and plain old bullying.


Teachers keep granola bars in their desks for hungry kids, and real, quality tissues in their closets for the kids with raw noses.  Teachers have a stack of book covers and extra pencils, to help when mom wasn't home to help.  Teachers have small blankets in their closets for chilly kids, and work to make sure that everyone is celebrated for excellence in someone.

Teaching has changed, dramatically, in the last ten years.  Heck, in the last three years.  And while some politicians are pointing fingers at teachers for a lack of student achievement, they certainly aren't comparing apples to apples, and they certainly aren't aware of the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner.  If they were, they'd be working on fixing the systems surrounding the students, so that every single one of those systems hugs the child in a way that supports and encourages them, from macro to micro. 

Meanwhile, our jobs are to make sure that every kid in school has at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.  

Urie Bronfenbrenner provided the science to prove the need.