Emotion and Logic: The Essential Tools of a Common Core Advocate ~ Neil Gupta


Dr. Neil Gupta is the Director of Assessments and Programming for New Albany Plain Local Schools, located in Columbus, Ohio.  Dr. Gupta is also the President-Elect on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators (OASSA).  Through his involvement on OASSA, Dr. Gupta represents the secondary school administrators on the PARCC Educator Leader Cadre for Ohio and serves as a lead on the new state assessments across the state.

Dr. Gupta earned a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics from Miami University, and Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Ashland University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Ashland University.

Back in high school, I was a master at getting my parents to buy me new shoes!  I’d make the rational argument that my feet were growing at an astronomical rate (new shoes were a practical necessity) and couple it with an emotional appeal  about the peer pressures in fitting in at school. My strategy never failed; I was a natural advocate who unwittingly employed a technique described in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch. It’s a valuable construct that applies not only to new sneakers but also to those educators who support the Common Core.

In Switch, the Heath brothers illustrate the difficulties in creating change; the need to craft arguments that appeal to both logic and emotion simultaneously.  The brothers offer the metaphor of a mighty elephant being directed by a tiny rider. There is a need to direct the tiny, rational rider while also motivating the enormous, emotional elephant on the correct path.  After attending the Student Achievement Partner’s Core Advocate Conference, I am reminded of our need as educational leaders to consider the same framework to advocate for the Common Core State Standards.

Joined with more than 150  other educational leaders from across the United States, we spent a significant amount of time investigating the background and shifts in the State Standards.  Teachers and administrators are the tiny riders directing and shaping the work. While many tend to glance over the simplicity of concepts like focus, coherence, and rigor (elements of math instruction emphasized in the Common Core), the teams of K-12 teachers, higher education professors, district administrators, and state leaders at the conference unpacked the complexity in these foundational concepts of the Common Core.  Although the temptation might be to focus on what concepts need to be covered, we engaged in deep conversations and engaging tasks to better understand the shifts and framework in the Standards. A noteworthy activity to stretch our thinking was deconstructing one math standard in creating fifteen different assessment tasks to measure whether student mastery was evident.  It wasn’t about compiling a list of do’s and don’ts, but instead building a deep familiarity with the content and instructional practices that will let us “steer the elephant.”

In addition to delving into the Common Core content, we also took some time to reflect on how our unique experiences as educators can make us strong advocates who can help shape the enormous elephant that is public opinion. All 150 of us stood with our arms stretched wide in a ‘power pose’ that would help prepare us for the challenge of sharing our experiences as educators that moved us and have the power to move others.

While our support for the new Standards may have been evident before attending the Conference, we realized the need to advocate for the Common Core even more.  No matter our roles in education, the influence we have is enormous.  In Switch, the Heath brothers revealed the three-part framework we need to invoke which will ensure implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

I. Direct the Rider

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates need to provide crystal-clear direction for their colleagues who are implementing the Common Core. What’s worked well for others? What are powerful strategies to help students meet the standards?

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates must articulate how the Common Core State Standards will support student success for college and career readiness.

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates must correct misconceptions of the Standards.

II. Motivate the Elephant

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates need to consider the emotional state and perspectives of others.

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates should empathize with their audience; with their fears or anxieties with the new Standards.

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates should share their personal story about the Common Core Standards that grabs at the heart. Nothing is more powerful than the truth – educators have access to a unique set of advocacy tools: their own experiences.

III. Shape the Path

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates change the situation to improve practices and processes.

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates should ask themselves: How can you support learning and communication processes?

<span “font-family:symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” symbol”=””>·         Advocates should think creatively about what their community needs. How can you help lead change?

Advocating for higher standards for our students is a bigger task from my days convincing my parents for a new pair of shoes, but the stakes are also much greater.  In this era of information overload and competing voices, educational leaders need to be more than supporters of the Common Core State Standards.  They need to be a part of the conversation.  We all have a story, and the opportunities are evident.  As you reflect on your work with the Common Core State Standards, I encourage you to consider the rider, the elephant, and the path and share your story.