Assertiveness is not just about how you react to inappropriate behaviour. Assertive teachers use proactive strategies for managing behaviour, their expectations are implicit in their language, tone, attitude and actions. They expect appropriate behaviour, they expect to acknowledge and reward it:
‘Hold on a minute, where are my stickers/merits/positive notes/stamps? I am going to need them today, I can feel this is going to be an excellent lesson’
‘I have been looking forward to this lesson all week, I can see you are going to enjoy it, there is so much to fit in…’
Assertive teachers have their rewards and sanctions clearly on display, not simply on the wall of the classroom or hidden in the drawer but on their desk and in their hand – positive note home pads, incident report forms, stickers, a class list for recording interventions. They use them to remind the children of the benefits of following the rules and to divert others from the sanctions path. The teacher who, seeing a problem at the back of the room, casually picks up an incident report form, thumbing it while walking around the class sends a clear yet subtle message to children who are choosing to break the rules.
Assertive adults set precise time limits within their instructions, ‘In five minutes you will have….’, ‘When I come back in two minutes I will see….’, ‘You have ten minutes to successfully….’ The assertive attitude is disappointment not anger,. When children break the rules the assertive adult feigns surprise/shock. With their physical language they say ‘I can’t believe you are talking while I am giving instructions’ rather than ‘I am angry with you’. The assertive teacher separates their emotional and rational response. They attack the behaviour and not the child, avoiding labeling, ‘I am so disappointed that you have chosen to break the rule again, you are making some poor choices today, think very carefully about your next move’.
The assertive teacher recognises that managing behaviour in private is more effective and they plan for private moments in the classroom:
© taking children to the side of the room away from their peers
© using ‘warning tickets’ to subtly but clearly deliver sanctions
© slipping merit tickets/stickers under the book of a child who is working hard
© using gentle touch to reinforce appropriate behaviour
© employing non verbal signs and signals to adjust and prevent behaviour
© using classroom charts to indicate rule breaks
© getting down lower than eye level to speak to children who are sat at desks
Assertive adults do not hold grudges but neither do they pretend that yesterday did not happen. They are able to be cold (for a day) rather than confrontational, allowing the child to know that their behaviour can have a negative effect on others while encouraging the child to work to recover damaged trust. The assertive adult has the ability to switch from an informal tone to a formal one, to control the atmosphere in the room and move between relaxed and businesslike.
© Paul Dix 2007