10 ways teachers can become more assertive
Not all personality types are naturally assertive. For many of us, we are more comfortable avoiding confrontation through being accommodating and understanding. Our strengths are empathy and de-escalation techniques rather than asserting ourselves and our needs in the middle of a conflict. Others are very comfortable with confrontation and are valuable assets when it comes to maintaining boundaries and order, but are prone to dramatic outbursts of emotion and can easily fall into persecuting rather than assertiveness. In both scenarios, behaviour management can be an area that sucks the fun out of teaching and learning and it can be extremely draining for everyone involved.
We have made a checklist of the best assertive behaviour management techniques that can be used no matter what your personality type is. Faking assertiveness can be exhausting so all our strategies allow you to be yourself and in true Trackit Lights style, we want them to be effective, whilst keeping anxiety and stress levels low!
1. Meet and greet
Being assertive doesn’t need to be aggressive, dominating or threatening. It’s about being in control. A warm welcome when pupils come through the door and some rapport-building conversation can exert the teacher into a social leader right from the beginning of the lesson. Relying on young people to do the talking can sometimes lead to short conversations so conversation starters like ‘hows the… (football practice, horse riding, drum lessons) going?’ followed by talking about your own experiences in that area of interest is effective. Open-ended questions for example ‘what do you think about..(the weather, the football result, a new film’ followed by your own opinion, can work equally as well. Another fun rapport builder is to ask ‘if you could…(have any animal as a pet, spend £1,000,000 in a day, meet any celebrity) what would you do and why’.
2. Clarifying expectations
Clarifying expectations is more effective as a proactive approach rather than reactive, so the earlier you can reaffirm them the better. It’s useful to do activities that set the ground rules so you can refer back to them in future lessons. Activities like discussing why the pupils think each boundary is important, making posters, signing a class contract and self-assessment tasks. Then you can ask questions like “do you remember why we said sitting down quickly and quietly is important first thing the morning?”. It also drastically improves behaviour if these boundaries are reviewed before potentially disruptive tasks or when disruption is building.
3. Start with a strong plan
Outlining the plan for the lesson from the start instantly implies leadership. This can be talking through the tasks and activities you will be doing, writing up the learning objectives, setting goals and specific behaviour objectives. Setting realistic progress targets at specific times can be effective because as you are approaching each time, you can give warnings “we’ve got 5 minutes until our first target point. How are you getting on Tom?”. If the class has been struggling with a specific behaviour, for example talking whilst working – make that the specific behaviour objective, write it on the board and constantly remind them of it.
4. Positioning yourself in the class
Where you stand or sit in the class can be used to assert yourself without having to do much else. Instead of sitting behind your desk, stand next to a disruptive pupil or a trouble spot in the class and see how effective it is. During tasks that require silent work, try managing the class from the back of the room and see if it has any effect.
5. Eye contact
Extended eye contact isn’t always the most comfortable technique for pupils or teachers, but being aware of its importance can assert you in any interaction. If you are going to challenge a pupil or assert your authority, make sure you establish eye contact before talking. Maintain it for the duration of the conversation and after speaking until getting the desired response.
6. Nip it in the bud
When negative behaviour is left unchallenged and boundaries have been crossed, losing authority is always the consequence and it is hard to get it back. Therefore the quicker you can challenge behaviour the better. Strive to understand your pupils and class dynamics. Understand the triggers and the hot spots and strategically scan the class and make eye contact with relevant pupils just before or after disruptive behaviour.
7. None verbal reminders
A recent Ofsted study showed that up to an hour of learning a day is lost due to low-level behaviour. It’s the most common, frustrating and difficult behaviour to deal with and it’s often more disruptive constantly challenging it than ignoring it. None verbal reminders are a great way to manage low-level behaviour without disrupting teaching too much. Techniques include: finger to lips, frown, hands-on-hips showing displeasure, hands faced down meaning calm down, stand up straight and fold arms meaning sit nicely, shake your head meaning stop.
8. Challenge pupils one at a time
When challenging behaviour, avoid addressing the whole class because they dominate you in numbers. Instead, call out an individual pupils name and challenge one pupil directly. The rest of the class is more than likely to correct their behaviour as well.
9. Ask questions rather than give instructions
There is nothing more damaging to your assertiveness than giving an instruction to a child and them refusing to comply. There also aren’t many options after that. It normally leads to punishment and in some cases can escalate quickly into conflict. An easy way to avoid this scenario is to ask questions rather than give instructions for example instead of saying “Tom stop talking” say “Tom why are you still talking?”
10. Visual aids, wall charts and interactive whiteboard tools
As well as developing skills and strategies of our own, external tools like wall charts and digital behaviour management tools improve pupil engagement, they appeal to different learning styles and they offer a constant reminder even when you aren’t personally managing behaviour. They also offer a very standardised and predictable consequence for behaviour.