Issue 6 – MI at New City School by Tom Hoerr

Issue 6 – MI at New City School by Tom Hoerr

Thomas Hoerr, founding architect of the MI-inspired New City School in St. Lous, MO, discusses the challenges and value of implementing multiple intelligences. He draws on decades of experience with a vast number of students, teachers, and parents to conclude that “MI is not a panacea, but it can bring joyful learning into the classroom.” His books in collaboration with New City teachers are essential reading for MI implementation. Of note is Tom’s recent book Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School. A unique feature of New City is its world’s first MI-inspired library. See photo. It is a special place, indeed.

In 1983 Howard Gardner published his landmark volume, Frames of Mind, introducing the theory of multiple intelligences. Before there were such things as memes MI achieved global recognition as it went “viral”. If you are unfamiliar with MI in theory and practice, I recommend this wonderful podcast by UK’s master educator, Mike Fleetham.

MI Overview- Thinking Classroom.

Mike also conducts a fascinating interview regarding school culture with this month’s essayist Tom Hoerr. The Challenges of Implementing the Multiple Intelligences- A View from the Principal’s Desk


The Challenges of Implementing MI:

A View from the Principal’s Desk

By Thomas R. Hoerr

The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) makes intuitive sense: We all have different talents and learn in different ways. That’s quite apparent when we talk with or observe others – or reflect on our own predispositions. What, then, accounts for the lack of MI thrusts in U.S. schools in 2023? The publication of Gardner’s book, Frames Of Mind, was revolutionary; it spurred an examination of how we viewed intellect and how students might learn. In the late 90’s, my school, the New City School in St. Louis, was visited by hundreds of educators each year to see our implementation of MI. We hosted four MI conferences and each was attended by 250 educators. But what happened?

Before analyzing the path of MI implementation, it is important to note that the theory of multiple intelligences is alive and well. Gardner’s findings continue to be affirmed in daily experiences. Many teachers continue to use elements of MI thinking to recognize students’ talents and tailor curriculum. MI is particularly attractive to educators in Asia and Europe. But MI has not planted itself in the K-12 educational arena and is not a factor in most American schools. Why is that?

First, No Child Left Behind legislation defined success based on standardized test results. Certainly, students do need to learn the 3R’s, but NCLB eliminated looking at all children’s strengths and tailoring pedagogy appropriately. The pathway to success in American schools remains narrow – too narrow.

Many, many educators told me that they personally believed in MI, but that their principal/school system wouldn’t allow any time or energy to be spent on activities that were not directly tied to test success. (I believe, no, I know, that using MI does increase traditional achievement, including standardized test results, but mine is a lonely voice in this debate.)

Another factor that worked against MI was the lack of respect for teachers. By that I mean that good teachers are more than performers who read from a script. Good teachers draw from resources, including teachers’ guides, but the good teachers I knew were creative artists who brought their passions to the classroom. These teachers learned as much as they taught; they learned from their students, they learned from their colleagues, and they learned by teaching their colleagues. MI became our educational orientation; it framed our school culture and was cited in our school’s mission statement. Naturally, we focused many staff meetings, committee meetings, and PD sessions on MI. We began by looking at our own intelligence profiles and how these affected our teaching and lives. The goal was always to find ways to incorporate MI into the curriculum, to use MI in pedagogy, and to assess through MI. Our spring Portfolio Night emanated from wanting to share students’ growth in and through other intelligences with their parents.

Finally, as assessment guru Grant Wiggins said, “What you measure is what you value.” As long as our report cards are limited to reflecting on the 3R’s and offering a superficial version, at best, of a child’s personal development – “Works well with friends, applies effort, doesn’t run with scissors” – MI will not be able to flourish in the classroom. We designed our report card around MI, devoting the entire first page to the Intrapersonal and Interpersonal intelligences, and reflected the other intelligences in subsequent pages.

The factors that work against MI are not obscure. It’s clear that the second and third obstacles – professional growth and assessment – stem from the too narrow focus on achievement and intelligence. Sadly, there hasn’t been much improvement in the past score of years. Indeed, oftentimes student performance is declining as is teacher retention (principal retention too). Implementing MI is not a panacea, but it can bring joyful learning into the classroom and generate enthusiasm among every child and adult learner.


Tom Hoerr led the New City School from 1981 – 2015 and has written much about MI and school leadership including his most recent book, The Principal as Chief Empathy Officer. He can be reached through

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