They say the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing but expecting different results. Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010. Prior to this adoption we received an “F” for failing to give our students the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s workforce. I believe the Common Core can make a difference for our students and help create a workforce of creative thinkers and individuals who can work collaboratively to solve problems. But it’s going to require a cultural shift in how we think about educating our students. The point was hit home for me last summer when I attended Harvard’s Project Zero courtesy of the Martin Institute. A professor shared his meeting with a top executive from a company in Michigan; she asked him what was going on in schools. She explained that she hired top graduates from universities across the country, but they couldn’t solve problems. They wanted the formula and her reply was, “…if I knew that, I didn’t need to hire you!”

My training in Common Core began in 2010. I’ll admit it took a year to wrap my head around this change. It initially seemed like a shorter list of grade level expectations. However, as my training progressed, I realized that wasn’t the case. The Common Core standards are more rigorous and the concepts taught build upon one another, as students progress through each grade. I started to realize it wasn’t about what I was teaching but how I was teaching it!

In the past year there has been a lot of negative press surrounding Common Core. It’s clear to me there is a great deal of misunderstanding about its purpose and how it’s being implemented in districts across the country. Tennessee has implemented Common Core from the State Department of Education down to each district across our great state. No other state in our country is approaching Common Core implementation the way we are.

My training from Harvard’s Project Zero, as well as a Common Core Math Coach, dictated a new approach to my instruction. This past school year I taught an amazing group of second graders. For the first time in my ten years of teaching I didn’t feel pressed to cover material. I wanted my students to go deep into content and think, to find ways to solve problems and work with their peers. Fast forward to this year and I’m teaching third grade. One of my second grade students from last year is in my class this year. In fact she was one of my struggling students last year. But her growth in my class this year has amazed me; she’s one of my top scoring math students this year. Why the difference? I firmly believe it’s due to implementing the principles of common core: teaching her to think analytically and creatively; going deeper into content and really analyzing what’s before her instead of teaching her how to memorize facts. Does she still have some work to do? Absolutely! But her performance this year has shown me that if we give our students the tools and time they need to use critical thinking and problem solving skills they can be prepared for the workforce when they graduate.

We still have a lot of work to do. This cultural shift isn’t going to happen overnight, but if we want our students in Tennessee to be prepared for the workforce of the future, whatever that might be, we have to give them the tools to think. I believe that the Common Core standards, along with good instructional practices, can help our students achieve more.

Students actively engaged in Karen Vogelsang’s classroom.