Joe Resteghini: Fall forward in Vermont schools

This commentary is written by Champlain Elementary School principal Joe Resteghini.

Each spring we inevitably hear the Alexander Pope poetic term, “hope springs eternal.” This annual refreshment offers a ray of sunshine at the end of a long, cold winter. This year, as we begin a new school year, I would like to encourage Vermont teachers, students and families to consider “falling forward into opportunity.” We have the opportunity to begin to redesign how we educate for our future. True partnership!

I am a principal in Burlington Elementary School, and I have had a summer of growth, self-reflection and consciousness. I am a white man, raised in a middle-class family, bringing a tremendous amount of privilege in sharing my voice. I’ve had a summer of family hardship and Covid (which seem to be common themes), but the silver lining that remains is: working for our students to create better futures ahead. 

The concept that I would like us to fall forward into is that of a mindset shift from considering ALL students to that of considering EACH student in our schools. I am very hopeful that this change is possible, knowing that Vermont educators are exactly the right people to lead the way. Our example can be and often is the national model. Vermont students already are finding their voices, and Vermont families are building trust, faith and partnership with their educators — setting the path for success.

When we consider the concept of creating opportunity for ALL students we are thinking on the global, or whole-school level. My paradigm shift idea (which is not new) is that we consider EACH student, on a personal level and what they bring to our classrooms. The concept seems simple enough — built on the framework of invested relationships, communication between school and home that is considerate and graceful, and knowing that an investment in learning is an investment in future success. These aren’t new ideas and this won’t require meetings or professional development. 

The ask of Vermonters is simply to welcome EACH student, each day, being considerate and understanding what they are bringing to school each day.

Students that are historically marginalized by our system can be brought into the light of a brighter future when we plan our lessons, organize our classrooms, create partnerships with families with a level of personalization that considers EACH and every student.

I don’t need to deliver a motivational speech around this, because I know that Vermont educators already get it. What I will say, though, is that when students know in their hearts that we believe in them, they see it through encouragement and setting high standards for them — they will seek to meet and exceed our expectations. When we challenge students to expand their learning, when they know in their hearts that we care about their learning, they will strive to make us proud.

Relationships are the business, and if we are invested in relationships with EACH student, then business will be good.

There will inevitably be new initiatives and new curricula. There will be days that will challenge our ability to be graceful with each other. There are going to be hard days. For every challenge though, there is a solution. For each hardship, we can grow. Every student deserves a teacher that cares deeply about them to help see them through. 

Best wishes on falling forward into a year of opportunities. Let’s fall forward, in service of a better future, the future our students deserve.

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