Multiple Intelligences Newsletter, Vol 29, No 7

May 27, 2020

Hi MI Friends,

Years ago, Pat Bolanos, the visionary principal of the Key School in Indianapolis, the first MI school, and I were on a panel, discussing MI implementation. In her opening remarks, she stated that they arranged their school schedule so that each intelligence received an equal number of instructional minutes during the school day. I expressed admiration because I knew how difficult this would be to do and I also said that wasn’t how we approached MI at the New City School, the second school to be framed around MI.

I noted that while we gave time and attention to all of the intelligences, working to integrate MI into our curriculum and instruction throughout the day, we did not equally divide our focus. I said that we believed that the personal intelligences – intrapersonal (knowing yourself) and interpersonal (understanding others) – were the most important intelligences, and we worked hard to develop them. I believed then and believe today that strength in the personals intelligences leads to success. Put simply, who you are is more important than what you know.

For teachers and administrators, that’s even more the case in these COVID-19 days. The school year has ended as never before. Our personal relationships have been restricted, diluted, and inhibited. We’ve seen Zoom teaching, virtual graduations (sometimes held in a drive-in theater), instructional packets dropped off at doorsteps, cars of staff members parading down the street to wave at students standing at the curb, and virtual school picnics.

Staff congeniality and collegiality have largely evaporated. Virtual staff meetings happen but it’s not the same. A friend told me about her weekly staff meetings, in which the principal begins by asking the 40+ faces on a Zoom screen, “How are you doing?” My friend says that no one responds, the principal waits a second or two, and then moves on to the agenda.

That opening question is good but it’s not enough. The principal needs to devote time to ask and to really hear. Rather than a generic, perfunctory query, he should ask “What student did something cool last week?” “What did you do on-line that was new to you?” “What have you read or seen that caused you to smile?” And then he can create Zoom Breakout Rooms of four or five folks so that everyone can participate and be heard. Similarly, beyond that weekly staff, small groups of staff members can be formed to learn with and from one another in these uncertain times.

And what about our students? Their home situations, technology, and access to WiFi varies (in MO, 21% of the students do not have home access to the Internet). What does not vary is their need to be known and to connect with their teacher. Yes, our students need to learn skills and gain knowledge. What is most important, though, is that they learn how to learn and that begins with a teacher taking the time to know and care for them. Good teachers routinely do this, but it’s difficult to do through a screen or from a passing car. Put simply, we educators need to use our personal intelligences to help our students grow.

How can we get beyond this skill and that information? What can we ask that lets our students share their worries and frustrations? How can we assuage their fears and share that we’re worried too? Before history or mathematics or adverbs, what if we begin every 1:1 virtual interaction by eliciting a share and sharing ourselves? Even more these days, it is essential that our students feel known and understood. (If all instruction is a teacher Zooming to a class, that needs to change.)

Likewise, within the next month or six weeks, every principal should make the time for a 1:1 with every staff member. Yep, that’s a lot of time but it’s worth it; it’s an investment. And yep, it will probably be a Zoom and while that’s not great, it’s better than not doing it. We need to hear how our teachers are feeling and let them know that we care for them. Regardless of the quest for higher test scores, the principal’s most important skills are her personal intelligences. She is the CEO, the Chief Empathy Officer.

Looking ahead, we don’t know what the fall will hold. Even if everyone is coming daily and sitting in the same seats – not likely! – our students will need extra time and attention on the personal intelligences to recoup. And so will their teachers. If the school year begins in a different and less personal way, they’ll need even more of this. If you believe that “Who you are is more important than what you know,” you need to think about how this can be reflected in the relationships we develop.

These are tough and uncertain times. Please shoot me an email to share your reactions to this. I’d like to hear from you.

Take care, stay safe, and be optimistic!

Thomas R. Hoerr, PhD
Emeritus Head of the New City School
Scholar In Residence at UM-St. Louis


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