The Importance of Social and Emotional Intelligence

In his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, well-known psychologist and author Daniel Goleman first brought to light the concept of social and emotional intelligence. He argues that human competencies such as self-awareness, self-discipline, persistence and empathy are of much greater consequence than IQ in life. Goleman consistently found that IQ (tested intelligence) contributes only about 20% to financial and personal success, and the other 80% is highly correlated with social-emotional abilities.


What is emotional intelligence?


Self-awareness – Observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.

Managing emotions – Handling feelings so that they are appropriate; realizing what is behind a feeling; finding healthy ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness.

Motivating oneself – Channeling emotions in the service of a goal; emotional self-control; delaying gratification and stifling impulses

Empathy – Sensitivity to others’ feelings and concerns and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about the same situations.

Handling relationships – Managing emotions in relationship to others; social competence and social skills.

Why do we need emotional intelligence?


It is fundamental to effective learning! According to research, the most critical element for a student’s success in school is an understanding of how to learn.


The key ingredients are:

  • Confidence
  • Curiosity
  • Intentionality
  • Self-control
  • Relatedness
  • Capacity to communicate effectively
  • Ability to cooperate


How does Maria Montessori’s unique philosophy of educating the child fit into this model of intelligence?


These are the very qualities she strongly emphasized in the development of her own learning environments!


  1. She aimed to develop confidence through the child being allowed freedom within a structured environment.
  2. She valued creative curiosity as a source of imaginative exploration that could lead to self-discovery and unfoldment.
  3. She gave children the freedom to follow their own innate instincts, thereby creating intentionality and self-motivation.
  4. She emphasized the need for discipline to come from within rather than being externally imposed, thereby developing self-control.
  5. She observed that children had an innate sociability and ability to communicate and that, if left in natural harmony with one another, they cooperated freely and with absolute delight.


Most importantly, every activity that a child is involved in initiates an emotional response. If the challenge is the right one, then the response may be curiosity, excitement, determination, perseverance, satisfaction and ultimately joy leading to a new desire to learn. If, however, the challenge is out of alignment with the child’s own natural skills and interests, it may provoke fear and reluctance or boredom and apathy…in essence, let us not push our children without listening to them first!


When do we see social and emotional intelligence growing and developing in our children?


When children carry out activities purely for the fulfillment that they experience in the learning process, they ultimately increase their contentment, self-confidence, and general sense of harmony within themselves and their surroundings.


Let’s remember that children always seek out meaningful work, demand responsibility and are capable of extraordinary creativity if left to their own devices in a supportive environment. In most cases, what really matters is not so much what children are doing, but how they perceive and interpret their chosen activity. For there to be a state of intense concentration, intrigue and determination, the activity needs to be originated by the child and be open-ended, with the outcome determined by the children involved.


Intrinsic Motivation


Researchers into intrinsic motivation have discovered an underlying similarity that is common to all intrinsically-rewarding activities: they all give the participants (big or small!) a sense of discovery, exploration, and problem solution. They also appear to need no goals or rewards external to the activity itself. The experience of learning becomes its own delicious reward.


In Summary


It is how children feel that matters. Developing healthy social and emotional intelligence is the key to developing successful harmonious communities inside and outside the classroom!


  • Lauren Plaviak – Former Roots & Wings Teacher