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Dear Tom, Assertiveness

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by mmm chocolate, Oct 24, 2011.

  1. Hi!

    I'm now in my fourth year of teaching, but I don't feel that I've got behaviour sorted yet. I spent my first two years in quite a tough, large secondary school where there wasn't really much support from SMT for dealing with poor behaviour and so I didn't make a very good start. I'm now at a small middle school where the SMT are much more supportive. I am endeavouring to follow the behaviour policy to the letter: making my expectations clear, giving warnings and sanctions when these warnings are not heeded, but I am still coming up against lots of low level disruption, which is preventing me from delivering my lessons. I think that a large part of the problem is that I am not assertive enough. I am generally a quiet person, but not necessarily shy. I don't have confidence issues about getting up and speaking in front of a class or doing a presentation in a staff meeting, but I don't particularly go out of my way to make myself the centre of attention in social situations. I have been doing some coaching with an SMT colleague and it has been mentionned that I should try to become more assertive in the classroom to help with behaviour. Do you have any tips regarding this? Something I find difficult is what to actually say to a student when I have kept them back to "tell them off"/ discuss their behaviour. I was a very conscientious child and never got into trouble, so I have no idea what to say, how to say it and what works! Anyway, I fear that I can come across as passive-agressive, or just passive, rather than assertive. What would you suggest? Thanks for reading and apologies for the lack of formatting: my phone won't let me sort it out.
  2. Tom_Bennett

    Tom_Bennett Occasional commenter

    Hi M-Choc
    You're right to focus on assertiveness, because if the kids feel that you're either too passive or too aggressive, then you'll come across as weak or unpleasant, and neither is a good look on someone who's supposed to be running a room.
    I think the quickest way you can convey this with the children is by doing exactly what you say you will every time, and never giving up or letting someone off. 50% of your behaviour management is done OUTSIDE the classroom, in phone calls, detentions and conversations/ meetings. There is rarely a need to be a grizzly bear in the classroom- oh, it might get their attention for a second, or briefly intimidate the kids, but what is far more important is what you do afterwards.
    I have seen some teachers who would make Caspar the Friendly Ghost look terrifying, but who could also run a room like Stalin, because they simply said what they meant, and meant what they said. You only have to tell a student, 'You've got a detention,' no fuss, no menace. Then expect them to attend; be there yourself of course. If they don't attend, you keep your cool, and escalate. And that's it- it's as simple as that. The structural approach to behaviour management is one of the easiest ways to convey presence and authority. If you've just arrived at a school with good structural support (and you've seen the social carnage that ensues when that doesn't happen) then you might not be used to using it: so use it. Call for back up if a child needs to be removed; enlist line management and senior staff if/ when pupils act up in a way that escapes your strategies. Soon, the kids will realise that you are part of the school body, and not alone. And that's when most poor behaviour starts to wither. But don't be afraid of getting others involved; you won't look bad if you do; you'll BE bad if you don't!
    In fact, your quietness can be one of your strengths; because if you can start to convey authority without being a big mouth, then it will be even more effective- you're the one who speaks softly and carries a big stick. I'd be far more inclined to follow the instructions of a man or woman who had the confidence to keep their temper and tone even and low. Think Hannibal Lecter; cool, calm, collected and in control. Don't eat them.
    As for what to say to the kids in detention, let me borrow from my man Chilli Palmer when I recommend that you say as little as possible- if that. You don't persuade kids to be good by talking it out with them; they mostly know they misbehaved. What they need in detention time is some healing silence. Make them sit for a bit with nothing to do; lines are fine, because the point of a detention is that they shouldn't want to come back. THEN, at the end, you can have 'the chat', but keep it simple: 'What you did was wrong; here's what it was; here's what will happen if you're dumb enough to do it again. Do you understand? Do you have anything to say?'
    It doesn't have to be An Evening With David Frost. The detention is a punishment for them, and a chance for you to tell them what they did wrong. Keep it simple, and just say to them what you know they should be doing. Nothing fancy. If you want a positive approach (aren't they all?) then you can start by saying, 'You have lots of potential, and I know you can do well, but you really let me and yourself down today...' that kind of thing. No need to go nuclear, no need to wheedle. Just say it like you see it.
    Good luck
    Read more from Tom here on his personal blog, or follow him on Twitter here.
  3. Thank you for your very detailed response. Something I struggle with is when it feels like the whole class have lost focus, I've counted down with a visual hand signal, instructed the class to be silent, but nobody takes a blind bit of notice. It's then I start to panic a bit! When there's just one or two I can get them back on track or follow through with a sanction when necessary. However when it feels like them vs me I don't know where to start. I don't use whole class punishments, as that is not fair on the ones that haven't been disruptive. I often use names on the board, followed by a tick and a written warning or two ticks and keeping them back at break (this is logged with their form teacher too) if they ignore the warnings. This is on the advice of a colleague. I don't feel that it has been especially successful because when the majority of the class are talking over me I can't possibly write down all thier names on the board and so my consistency suffers. With some pupils I fear they project a sense of pride if they have their name on the board. Anyway, I'm tying myself in knots over it! Is it possible to turn things around when both I and my pupils have got into bad habits?!
  4. Hi

    I have struggled with this too and still do sometimes as I am doing supply teaching. I would not hesitate to give a class punishment, something that has worked for me is to tell them up front that if we are delayed in our learning by chatter then I will keep them back at break for the time they have wasted. Then if they do chat I start writing up on the board how much time it is or hold up fingers for how many seconds and if it gets to 30 they stay back. They soon start shushing each other. You can explain at the beginning of the lesson that your expectation is that when you are talking they do not talk or interrupt. I was also advised by my NQT supervisor not to start talking until they are all quiet, even if I have to wait ages! Hard to do but it does work.
    It does feel like a tidal wave sometimes and you have to try to get the ones in the middle to come over to your side, they carry the whole lot with them then.

    Also don't forget the positives, they say at least four times as much praise as punishment, hard I know when it feels like they are all being bad but try to find good stuff, especially about the work and effort. I always find when I worry about the behaviour I don't feel like we are getting on with the work, so I try to refocus on that instead of the behaviour

    Hope this helps a bit
  5. This is something I'm working on at the moment too. Not easy but paying off already because I'm trying really hard to consistently follow advice. All of the above is great advice and I also found this website really useful. http://www.behavioradvisor.com/AssertiveDiscipline.html.

    Good luck, you can do it, it is your right and the right of the good children in your class to have a secure, structured classroom where lots of learning takes place.
  6. http://www.behavioradvisor.com/AssertiveDiscipline.html can't make it clickable or do paragraphs grrr so just to make it more visible.
  7. I had a really troublesome class that I felt I had tried everything with. Eventually I had had enough so I stopped mid lesson one day, asked them to pack up and get ready for a chat.
    I explained that I was here to do a job and that they were preventing me from doing my job, so I was prepared to offer an out and out bribe. I explained the Marble Jar concept and negotiated rewards. The class chose to have music of thier choice played over speakers during the last lesson of the week, if they had got the right amount of marbles in the preceding lessons. They gave me a list of songs, I made a playlist. I bought some marbles and some jars and away we went. I explicitly listed appropriate, marble winning behaviours. To begin with I never took marbles away. When a child, a group or the whole class did something good I loudly prasied them and extravagantly placed marbles in thier jar. I kept on loudly and explcitly re-iterating that I was in-fact bribing them etc and eventually we were able to do away with the jar, the rewards and of course, the bribes because, as I said to them...they'd shown me they DID in fact know how to behave, and so now there were no excuses. It took a whole term and now they are my best and favourite class.
    Treat each class differently, find what motivates them and get kids on-side to an agreed program. They will police each other soon enough, so that they can enjoy the rewards. There'll always be one or two bad eggs but they are easier to deal with than whole class mutiny!
    Good luck
  8. Dobbinstar

    Dobbinstar New commenter

    I would reinforce what Tom is saying about quietness and menace as opposed to shouting. Sanctions and rewards are all massively important in the 'war of attrition' but what you seem to be saying is that you need to re-boot your relationship with them in terms of the way in which they percieve you, which can be done, but which I believe requires you to think and act slightly differently.
    Have a look at:
    http://www.teaching-strategies-for-classroom-discipline.com/status.html and then http://www.teaching-strategies-for-classroom-discipline.com/acting-techniques.html to give you an idea of how I view the process of raising your status in the eyes of your pupils.
    Then, if you don't line them up before entering the room, start doing it and insist on silence in the line, re-jig your seating plan in order to separate and isolate the troublemakers and try a silent starter at the beginning of each lesson. Once you achieved silence, it's far easier to return to it later.
    Being proactive and sanctioning or removing those who are defiant at these early stages means that you're less likely to be reacting to their misbehaviour later in the lesson.
  9. lighthouse_keeper

    lighthouse_keeper New commenter

    Hi M-Choc,
    Your post summed up issues I'm having with one of my classes. I'm in my 6th year of teaching and I had the usual teething problems in my NQT year but since then, nothing I couldn't get on top of. Until I moved schools. Now I'm in a new school and 90% of it's going well. But the one class that I am really struggling with is outweighing all of the positives, and I almost can't believe I'm the same teacher - I have control over every other class (and good relationships and a good learning environment, etc etc), then this one class enters the room and everything changes. I cannot stop the low level disruption. I cannot keep on top of it. I can't!
    No-one is throwing themself out of a window, there's no violence, so "great," I think to myself, that's good. But I cannot teach them. I get through honestly about 10minutes worth of content over an hour's lesson. I am constantly stopping to wait for silence, and sometimes I'm waiting for minutes and minutes, to the point where I think "they're never going to shut up" and then I try something else because I'm panicking that someone's going to come in my room assuming there's no teacher because of all the noise. I can't ask anyone else for advice in school because nobody has any strategies for this class, everyone struggles with them - again, "great," I think, "I'm not alone." But in fact, I can't continue to do this for the rest of the year because they've got a GCSE to do in May and I'm lessons and lessons behind where I should be. In my panic to get the material covered, I'm doing all the things I would never do elsewhere - talking over them for instance. There are so many different students talking I'm failing to note them all down, so I'm letting things go unintentionally, I'm overwhelmed, and it's a complete disaster. If I were to be observed, I'd get a 5 for "non-starter." It's so incredibly frustrating when I feel I'm doing an ok job in the other classes!
    Now I know that's a positive, and that I could be having a terrible time with ALL of them, but it's even more frustrating because all my tried and tested methods which work for me with the other 7 classes don't work with this class and I don't know what else to do!
    I feel like putting a set of questions on the board and just sitting at the desk rather than even trying to teach them. They simply don't care and I just can't think of any more ways to try to get through to them. I've done all the seating changes, sanctions, phoning home, having people removed. It works temporarily and then we go back to square one again.
    I'm in exactly the same position. Plus, when I set detentions, they don't turn up, I spend all week chasing them, re-arrange the detention, they don't turn up again. Then they are set a HoD detention for missing my detention, but this is only run once a week, so some of them are booked in for 6 weeks worth within a week of missing detentions with me, and the point is lost. They'll never turn up to all of those, I've lost before I've hardly even started. Argh!
    So, I feel your pain M-Choc, I really do....have you tried any of the advice on here yet? Did it work?
  10. light-house keeper:
    Tell your line manager!
  11. Hi
    Reading your question rang many bells - both from what I see professionally as I support teachers in the classroom and also personally. I could identify with the whole thing of not being sure how to be assertive, espy if it seems to be at odds with how we 'naturally' are (which is far more about our upbringing and how we've learned to be rather than nurture).
    As a behaviour consultant, the most powerful material I've found that helps staff with this dilemna comes from Transactional Analysis. I don't know if you are familiar with it - it's a model of psychology that helps me to better understand what makes me tick, what makes the person in front of me (pupil, colleague, parent) tick - and how to manage the interaction to get the optimum outcomes. I've got quite a few electronic resources on this I'd be more than happy to email to you if it would help.
    The other key idea that teachers find invaluable is contracting. This is a particular take on establishing expectations with classes that really helps to build a teacher's sense of security and therefore increase levels of assertiveness. I'm about to upload some info on this on my website but I can ping it across to you if it would help.
    Hope this helps and if you want any of the materials I've suggested, feel free to drop me a line at steverussell@***.com
  12. Does your school have a good drama teacher? If so, ask if they'll give you a session on more assertive posture and use of your voice. After all, teaching is part performance.

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