Character education and the ‘360-degree me’

Northampton High School explores intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences was originally posited by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. It was perhaps the first serious work that attempted to separate intelligence into specific areas rather than considering it under the banner of general ability. The research suggested that an individual’s overall intelligence was the sum of many parts, with certain elements having greater or lesser prominence. Gardner argued that there were at least eight types of intelligence, including musical and sporting, as well as what might be considered the classic logical and verbal (Maths and English) abilities. 

Two of the other intelligences discussed by Gardner relate to our ability to understand ourselves and others, so-called ‘intrapersonal’ and ‘interpersonal’ intelligences. These aspects of Gardner’s theory interest me in particular as they deal with conscious self-awareness; how our actions affect others and inevitably reflect back on ourselves. Ultimately, I feel these elements help us get to grips with the somewhat fluid concept of ‘character’ and therefore have an enormous impact on success and fulfilment in life, both professionally and personally. 

We believe that every girl needs to develop intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence to help her understand herself and her future in a constantly changing workplace, where women still have a struggle to achieve parity with men

At Northampton High School, we believe an understanding of character and values is essential for personal growth and also hugely important in helping students achieve self-reliance in their learning. The importance of ‘character education’ has not been lost on the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, who said: “For too long there has been a false choice between academic standards and activities that build character and resilience. But the two should go hand in hand…As much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job, and to be able to bounce back if things don’t work out.” 

This emphasis on character was reflected at the recent Girls Day School Trust Conference in London where two inspirational women commented on the way the workplace is changing and on how potential employees are being judged. Incoming CEO at Grant Thornton, Sacha Romanovitch, commented that academic criteria are no longer the defining elements for her in recruiting to influential positions. Instead, she looks to find the key character traits of initiative, adaptability and creativity within what she referred to as the ‘three circles of connection’: world issues; dealing with people; the connection to self.  

Sacha Romanovitch speaks at the GDST conference

The second speaker, lawyer Sandie Okoro, General Counsel for HSBC Asset Management and President of the International Lawyers of Africa, reinforced the point that employees need so much more than top academic grades. She sees an individual’s academic background as a ‘shorthand’ to get past the first hurdle, the sifting of CVs, but it is how people put intelligence to work that really matters in her view. Indeed, character and integrity are fundamental because we have to get on with other people to understand the world and to discover how we can contribute. As Sandie said, ‘If only there were an A level in being human!’ 

Sandie Okoro speaks at the GDST conference

While we can’t offer an A level in being human just yet at the school, there are ways we can help girls focus on how to achieve the positive self-image needed to develop character, values and confidence. It was with this in mind that we designed our 360° Me Day held in July, led by Mrs Peck from the Humanities faculty. The day was designed to give students the time and space to reflect about themselves and asked them to think about who they would like to grow up to be. 

During the day, girls from the year six intake for September through to year nine were taken off timetable to engage in exciting, thought-provoking and energising activities, supported by older students and their teachers. 

We believe that every girl needs to develop intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence to help her understand herself and her future in a constantly changing workplace, where women still have a struggle to achieve parity with men. GDST values aim to help our students achieve this from the very beginning, they are: ‘Girls First’, ‘Networked’, ‘Principled’ and ‘Bold’. A high school girl needs to demonstrate her boldness, principles, values and character by linking up with and helping others across the school, as we saw in our 360° Me Day, because her best network will always be those she went to school with. 

In the words of Sandie Okoro, ‘Your net worth is your network’. I would add to that, your value is in your values. 

John Rickman is Deputy Head – Academic at Northampton High School    


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