Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Be…assertive! Be, be assertive!

You can read about week 1 (managing your own behaviour) here and week 2 (rules and routines) here and week 3 (making praise personal) here.

What kind of teacher are you?

Hostile, passive or assertive?

Find an assertive voice in the classroom- assertive is much more than an aggressive voice. Passive is equally as ineffective as you’re pleading with students. An assertive voice is more urgent and more focused.

Try some assertive sentence stems:

  • Try ‘I need you to’…
  • In 5 minutes, I will see…
  • You should be…
  • You must be…

The following article was recommended by one of the MOOC participants and it includes advice on tone, language and body language: what to do and what to avoid. It reminds me of some of the more passive-aggressive tendencies I might sometimes display- like rolling my eyes or sighing. It holds some incredibly helpful content about how to adapt your approaches to display a more assertive style.

Be assertive and fair while maintaining student dignity

Another of the MOOC participants shares her examples of hostile, passive and assertive communications:

Hostile: “Just do it”, “I told you to be quiet.” “Close your book – NOW”, “I don’t tolerate that in my class” “I’m not asking, I’m telling you…” , “Nobody is leaving this room until….”, “You’ll be sorry you said that…”

Passive: “Could we all be quiet please?”, “It would be good if you could finish that”, “1,2,3 eyes on me”, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea”, “Its getting very noisy in here”, “The bell’s about to go. We won’t be ready to leave” “Could someone please sort out the books”

Assertive: “In two minutes I need to see you settled and writing”, “We can discuss it at lunch time”, “I need you to put that away “, “When you’ve taken your hat off, then I will help you”, “You need to listen carefully to the instruction”

Some more examples were shared:

Hostile: I’ve had enough of your behaviour / Stop throwing  Put your phone away now

Passive: Don’t behave like that please / Why are you throwing things? It’s very disruptive./ I really don’t want you to have your phone out

Assertive: I need you to stop throwing paper aeroplanes and concentrate on your work/ When we meet at break we can agree some strategies to help you stay on task/ Please be ready to report back to the class in 5 minutes/ I need you to put your phone away . When I return to your table I want to see you have made a start on your list

Reading through these examples, I definitely recognise some of the more passive behaviours in my own approaches and I think the assertive stems will be really helpful in approaching my requests to students and the class- one of my colleagues said he had tried these out already and had experienced great success.


Image available from here

Light-touch interventions

These simple gestures and ‘light-touch interventions’ work by demonstrating to students that you have noticed their behaviour but you’ll be giving attention to the rest of the class too. They do not commandeer all of your attention and focus.

These were some favourites suggested on the MOOC:

  • ‘Offering the student a pen while speaking to another student who is sitting alongside
  • Standing next to the student who is causing concern while speaking to the rest of the class
  • Sitting next to a student while continuing other conversations
  • Adjusting the student’s work while calmly reminding them of the first step in the task
  • Giving simple non-verbal cues to remind the student of the expectations
  • Showing acts of kindness – lend them a pencil, smile and see if they are ok, hold the door open for them, ask if you may hang up their coat’

Decelerating poor behaviour

You can read this article, printed in ‘Teach Nursery’ magazine, here

Using the biggest sanctions too soon can cause problems later on- often leaving you with nowhere to go when faced with behaviour that doesn’t meet expectations.

‘From disappointment to disapproval, there are a million shades in between.’

The article shares how you can move through levels in a subtle way: shifting tone, body language, word choice- before having to escalate to a more dramatic state.

It’s all about ‘slowing down the rush towards consequence and encouraging pause for thought.’

This serves as a model for the student’s behaviour- encouraging them to mirror your calm and assertive behaviour.

Use the 3 As when you intervene in poor behaviour:

Audience– How might the audience affect the interaction? How could they be affected by it? Consider moving to quieter space or having the conversation away from the group.

Acceleration– How can you stop the situation accelerating? Which deceleration techniques work with this student?

Anger– How are you managing your anger and the anger/emotion of the student? Do you need to give the student time to calm down, time to think or consider their next move?

Ten reasons not to send them straight out

  1. If you stray from the agreed hierarchy of sanctions you are showing the children that you are inconsistent; you have broken your agreement with the class.
  2. Going for the highest sanction straight away leaves no further room for manoeuvre.
  3. The child may react defensively – answering back, confronting, protesting publicly.
  4. Colleagues find it difficult to gauge when you need support and when you are simply sending children out through frustration.
  5. You allow the class to see your emotional reactions over your rational choices.
  6. You are encouraging parents and senior staff to question your management of behaviour.
  7. By sending children out you only relieve your frustration temporarily.
  8. Other children will see your inconsistency and may protest or react against it.
  9. For children who are often sent out without moving through the sanction steps, being excluded becomes an expected outcome.
  10. Your behaviour management agreement with the class is trampled on. Trust is broken.

As a teacher in further education with a class full of students who were repeatedly sent out of English classes at school for messing about, I can see the detrimental impact it has later on when there is no escape (which is all they ever saw it as)!


Image available from here

Diversions and Diffusers

…are exactly what they sound as though they are. Confronting behaviour head on is rarely the best way to calm students down and put them in the right frame of mind for learning.

‘A skilled diversion gives everyone a chance to take a moment to regroup and avoid behavioural cul-de-sacs such as, “You will”, “Shan’t”… You want to stick to the conversation you have planned. Diffusers let the student know that you are listening to them and that they have been heard. ‘Diversions’ and ‘Diffusers’ will stop the interaction exploding.’

One of the MOOC participants shared her examples of diversions and diffusers:

‘Diversions basically mean asking the student to do anything unrelated to the problem thus giving them time away from the problem for a while to regain composure, they are distractions, for example, can you help me hand out these books, can you send this message to…, can you come up the front and do this on the board, can you help a person with… Etc.

Diffusers are basically giving the student permission to feel the emotion and deal with it then or later and helping them move on from that, I understand/know/get this is. Problem, let’s come back to it later…, that’s great but let’s talk about it later, you did this rally well yesterday, let’s try and find that again shall we, or let’s work on something together.’

We were then provided with a checklist of strategies for each- the great thing about this course is that alternatives are provided to suit our different teaching styles and approaches. I chose:
  • Grab the student’s attention with, “I need your help”, “Did you see…?”
  • Break up the lesson with a quick game to change the focus of the lesson and give you a chance to notice and comment on positives.
  • Tactically ignore and change the subject (but don’t forget the behaviour later).


  • End a request with ‘thank you’ – expecting that task will be done because you’ve thanked them for doing it already.
  • “You can’t help how you feel but you do have a choice about how you deal with those feelings.”
  • “Ok, I hear you, tell me the main thing that is upsetting you.”


Having a script can really help in situations where you might jump to feeling exasperated or reacting in an emotional way. Initially, a ‘script’ might seem like a restrictive approach. A script can help us to keep calm and is a powerful way to get our message across and behave in the kind of assertive way that’s necessary.
Get in, deliver the message, get out- with your dignity and the student’s dignity in tact. 
  1. An opening line … ‘I notice that … ‘
  2. The message delivered … ‘And you know that we need to … ‘
  3. The consequence … ‘If you choose to … I will need to speak to you after the lesson …

‘I’ve noticed you got a problem getting started this morning. Am I right? And you know we’re working on resilience. I need you to join in with the group.

You are going to have to speak to me for two minutes after the lesson today. Do you remember last week? Do you remember last week when I sent that note home to mum? I remember it. You did some outstanding peer assessment. The write-up of your investigation was extremely accurate, and you came to science club on Wednesday. That– that is the student I need you to be today. Thanks for listening and I’m off. I won’t take more than 30 seconds to intervene because I’ve got 30 other children to deal with, and they deserve my attention just as much as the child who’s disrupting. My script is repetitive. It’s calm. It sends a clear message.’

One MOOC participant shared: ‘I’ve noticed that you are having troubles getting started today. When you do……. I feel….. Can you please do (the behaviour desired)? I’ll give you a minute to get started and make a choice about how to get going. (Walk away and circulate the room). Come back to the student and either praise the for making a good decision or let them know you need to speak to them briefly after class because that has broken classroom rule number three about having mutual respect for others learning and we can discuss how to correct it privately after class.’

In an example we were shown- a scene that’s often seen escalating is reduced by the teachers words and actions. One MOOC participant summed up the steps taken and the script used in this comment:

‘I need you to stick to our agreement. (Instruction given) Phone out of sight and silent.
I’m giving you an instruction. (Instruction repeated) Phone out of sight and silent. (Expectation of the required behaviour anchored) Thank you. Thank you very much then I will deal with Michael (message to the rest of the class that the behaviour will not be ignored. Safety within the classroom is maintained). Thank you for putting your phone in your pocket. Ok everyone I’m looking forward to hearing your persuasive arguments and well chosen phrases. (expected behaviour reinforced). Thank you Michael for putting away your phone. No, really. Look you got started, date and time, you are off. (Michael is caught making the right choice. Even small steps can help students move on.. The teacher is calm and consistent. The trust is not broken. The teacher’s and Michael’s integrity are intact.’

Micro-script model

The key thing to remember is that people are not their behaviour. There are moments when their behaviour will be poor and it’s that we should attack- not the person.

Behaviours should be shifted into the past tense as often as possible- not dwelling on poor choices but presuming they are in the past.

‘Limit your formal one-to-one interventions for poor behaviour in class to 30 seconds each time. Get in, deliver the message, ‘anchor’ their behaviour with an example of the student’s previous good behaviour and get out.’

A script takes away the need for improvisation- where things can go wrong.

In fact, I’ve spoken just today with one of my team who is going to help me write a script for dealing with difficult staff as it’s adult behaviour that can be just as bad as that of our students! She deals with it impeccably because she’s built up a range of statements that she can draw upon in such situations so that the behaviour doesn’t escalate. With this one and the script for my students- the job will be to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse- because these situations are all about nuance in language and tone and careful choices must be made. For full-time teachers (or those with plenty of hours), Paul advises trying out the script with the classes you are more confident with- your less challenging students (rather than running straight in with the most difficult behaviour in your most challenging class). I’ll have to practise on the one class I’ve got and will develop a script further.

Recommended reading

Why some teachers have fewer inappropriate behaviour issues than others.

‘Using low intrusion teacher behaviours not only supports learning, but also ensures that the vast majority of students don’t end up on ‘punishment road’. Read more in this book from Bill Gribble.

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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