3 Assertiveness Techniques To Improve Your Classroom Presence

3 Assertiveness Techniques To Improve Your Classroom Presence

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Being assertive in the classroom can have a huge impact on both your whole class management and your ability to manage behaviour incidents. The secret is to be intentional about your body language, your tone of voice and exactly how you word your instructions.

In this episode, we show you how to do just that. We give you 3 techniques you can start using today to look and sound more confident in your classroom. The result? Teaching feels easier, your lessons are more productive and your relationships with students improve.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:17  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management behaviour, your special needs, homeschool strategy, and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear their latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Welcome to Episode One of the school behaviour secrets podcast. Yes, you'll be able to tell your grandkids that you are here on day one. when it all started. I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:07  

Hi there. Before we go any further, we've got a really exciting competition to tell you about where you can win over 100 pounds worth of behaviour goodies. I'll let you know about that later in the programme. So do keep listening. 

Simon Currigan  1:20  

And I just like to explain what you can expect from this podcast, we're going to bring you practical evidence based tips, tricks and strategies to support with behaviour in school that could be about the behaviour of individual students or of whole classes. Or it might be something about how behaviour functions at the whole school level something about policy or strategy for example? 

Emma Shackleton  1:42  

Yeah, so if you're a teacher or teaching assistant, a learning mentor or a counsellor, a school leader, or you work for a support service, there's going to be something in here for you. 

Simon Currigan  1:53  

So Emma, can you tell us about the format's? 

Emma Shackleton  1:55  

Okay, so some weeks it will be like this one, and you'll hear a conversation between Simon and I, on some aspects of emotions and behaviour in school. Other weeks, you'll get to hear an interview with a thought leader from around the world. And on other weeks, you'll hear his talk with real practitioners in real schools, all in perfect bite sized episodes. The idea being that you get to hear the latest in evidence based strategies and psychology, and then how schools just like yours, are implementing those ideas at the chalk face with real kids. We're going to join the dots between theory and practice. And that's going to have a powerful impact in your classroom and school. 

Simon Currigan  2:37  

But don't worry, this is not CPD in your car. No one needs a CPD in their car, you're going to keep everything light and conversational. So if you're driving or using light machinery, don't worry, hopefully this isn't going to lull you to sleep and cause a serious incident. every single week on a Tuesday we're going to release a brand new episode. If you like what you hear, and you don't want to miss out on future episodes, open your podcast app now, whether you're using Apple podcasts or Google podcasts, or Stitcher or Spotify or whatever, and hit the subscribe button, and then your podcast app will automatically download new episodes when they're released. so you never miss a thing. Right? That's the introduction over let's jump into the meat of this behaviour sandwich. And today we're going to look at three ways you can use to immediately sound more assertive in the classroom. 

Emma Shackleton  3:30  

So Simon, what do we mean by being assertive? 

Simon Currigan  3:35  

Okay, so the Oxford English Dictionary talks about having a confident or forceful personality. So there's something about strength in there really. I think when we're talking about teaching in the classroom, or working in schools, what we mean is speaking and acting in a way that makes it more likely that our students are going to follow our requests. Is this a silver bullet? No. But what it will do is stack the deck in our favour when we're speaking to students, what I always do is imagine like a line from zero to 100. going from left to right, on the left hand side, we've got 0%. On the right hand side, we've got 100% in percentage terms here we're talking about aggression. So 100% will be someone who's using aggressive language shouting, attacking body language. On the left hand side of that line at 0%. We've got someone who's using passive or defensive body language. Now I always imagine assertiveness kind of fits around the 65 70% mark. So we go above neutral in terms of strength. We're borrowing something of that forcefulness from the sort of aggressive side but we're not tipping over into aggression. We're being strong and confident. But amor, when is it a good time to be assertive? Yeah, so definitely not all of the time. And because then you just be like a big old bossy boots and that'll be a bit of a nightmare. So really, assertiveness is a tool that you bring out for

Emma Shackleton  5:00  

Specific occasions and I can think of a couple of key times when you want to ramp up your assertiveness. So one would be if you're dealing with behaviour incidents, and the other would be if you're speaking to a large group. So for example, if you're addressing the whole class, you need everybody to stop and listen, or you're leading a line and you want to take everybody somewhere. Those are the times when you need to be assertive with your voice and with your body language. 

Simon Currigan  5:28  

What's the advantage? 

Emma Shackleton  5:30  

Well, being assertive helps kids to feel like you are in control. And that makes them feel safe. It's quite scary for kids, if they think that there's nobody in charge. So assertiveness communicates to the class that you are the boss you are in control, then you are in charge for behaviour incidents, it really does stack the deck in your favour. It's not a silver bullet. So it doesn't work all of the time. But when you use an assertive tone, and assertive body language, you're communicating to the pupils, and all of the onlookers, which is key that you are in charge of this situation and you are in control. What does the science say about this though? Does assertiveness actually make a difference?

Simon Currigan  6:18  

 There's a guy called Morgan Wright. And he did 18 years with the FBI and the CIA. And what he did, he ran a couple of interesting studies that are relevant to what we're talking about today. So one of the studies he ran, took 300 criminal cases were the outcomes were known. So they they knew at this point whether the person being interviewed did the crime, or they didn't do the crime. And he brought in members of the public and he split them into three groups. Now one of those groups could only hear the audio of the conversation between the officer and the suspects so they could hear what the suspect was being accused or they could hear the suspects alibi, another group, were only allowed to see the video. So they watched a video on screen, but the audio had been taken away. So they're only clues about what was happening in the interview was the suspects body language. And then there was another group that were allowed to hear the audio and watch the video. Now what happened was really, really interesting. The people that could hear what the person was accused of, and their, you know, their defence, they only managed to predict whether the suspect was guilty or not 55% of the time, that's no better than a coin toss. But the people who are allowed to watch the video did better. Now they didn't even know what the person was accused of. But just by watching the body language, they could predict 65% of the time whether the person was guilty or not put those two groups together, you know, the group that can hear the audio and the video, they got it right about 85% of the time. And what Wright says is that truthful and confident people have presence, they have the look of authority. And that look begins with how they dress and how they carry themselves. So we did another study. And this time, he was working with prisoners who had shot or attacked police officers in the past. Now, this is a slightly different context. Hopefully, you aren't being shot or attacked in your classroom. But you'll see the carry over in a moment, the prisoners were asked to evaluate how easy it would be to take down a guard based only on how they dressed and how they looked. And again, in his words, as an officer, you invite trouble if you slouch, avoid eye contact, use vague, imprecise language, and you're generally sloppy in your attire. So there are all sorts of nonverbal cues that we send about whether we should be taken seriously or not whether we've got authority. 

Emma Shackleton  8:39  

So that's really interesting, then about how much of our communication is actually not via the words that we speak. It's the way that we say them is the way that we hold our bodies. It's that magical quality called presence, isn't it. And remember, in the classroom, you're being watched much of the time so children are looking at you to take their cues, or the adults might be looking at you to take their cue as well. So the trick here is about being really intentional about how you stand and how you speak. If you're interested in finding out more about this look up Amy Cuddy. She's done a series of TED Talks, where she talks about a power stance. And if you imagine it's a bit like a Wonder Woman stands so feet firmly planted nice and straight, hands on hips. Now, I'm not suggesting that you would stand in the classroom in a Wonder Woman type stands. But what that stands does is communicate and strength, confidence, assertiveness, it communicates that to the class but the clever thing about this as well is when you pretend that you feel confident and assertive, you actually give biofeedback to yourself. So your brain picks up cues that says, we've got this you're confident you're assertive, you're in control of the situation. So the great thing about assertiveness is some people are naturally inclined to be assertive. But those that aren't can learn the skill. And they can practice and they can fake it until they make it. So nobody can tell the difference between somebody who is pretending to be assertive. And somebody who actually feels assertive. So anybody can do this trick. Most of us don't really think about the way that we're standing or the way that we look to the class. So it's about being reflective, and thinking, are there any small tweaks that we can make, which give us more presence in the classroom? 

Simon Currigan  10:35  

Yeah, this isn't about trying to change who you are, this is about trying to make you the best possible use. So like, like, like, say, if you stand like a Power Ranger naturally, then you've got an advantage in the classroom. If you if you stand to like five pillows that have been shoved into a beanbag, you're going to have a harder time convincing the class that you're assertive and in control. If you look at the way actors do this, they don't leave it to chance. They're really, really deliberate about how they stand and how they speak. They're not even choosing the words they say, but they, they hold their body in a very deliberate way to send specific messages about their character. So we're going to move on to our first method for looking and sounding more assertive. 

Emma Shackleton  11:17  

Okay, so our first tip, then, really, is to make sure that you differentiate your praise voice from your conversational voice from your instruction voice. And the trick here is to use a lower tone. 

Simon Currigan  11:32  

Why? Well, it's because a lower tone is associated, rightly or wrongly with sort of authority. with gravity with seriousness, if you think about newscasters, they use a very sort of lower register, even female newscasters who would naturally speak in a slightly higher register. They drop their voice, especially for serious bulletins. We think about politicians, there's some really interesting studies about the impact of voice on political candidates, and how they actually influence election outcomes. This has been looked at in a number of studies. So one experiment was conducted in the United States that looked at how men and women prefer to vote for male and female candidates, and they found that you're more likely to vote for someone with a lower pitched voice. And interestingly, this preference is stronger for female candidates, and among older, well educated and politically engaged voters. If you think about famous politicians, they tend to have a deep voice. And if you look at female politicians as well, recently, we've had Theresa May think about Margaret Thatcher, they do tend to speak in a lower register. Research also shows that men with lower pitched voices are perceived as more attractive, physically stronger, and more dominant for women. higher pitched voices are perceived as more attractive. But interestingly, women with lower pitched voices were perceived as more authoritative and dominant. So the pitch of voice we use sends all sorts of messages. Voice pitch also sends information about the emotional state of view, or whether you intend to or not. So in other studies, they found that higher pitched voices were associated with negative emotions, such as panic, fear, or stress. 

Emma Shackleton  13:14  

Yeah, definitely. And that fits in doesn't it because when we feel a little bit anxious, or a little bit panicky, we do tend to speed up, we talk faster, we talk higher, we might even talk louder as well. So it's all about giving the illusion that we feel calm and in control, even when sometimes we might not. But we can practice coming across to other people as if we are confident and in control. And when we're giving praise or instructions, or if we need to correct behaviour. If we use the same tone all the time, then our words and our voice don't marry up. And that can be really confusing. And the message that we're trying to give gets lost in translation. So it's really important that we use a different voice when we want a different outcome.

Simon Currigan  14:06  

At this point, I just want to take a moment to tell you about our competition where you could get your hands on over 130 pounds worth of school behaviour goodies. We've got a stack of books by authors like Paul Dix, Tom Bennett, Stuart Shanker, Lee Canter and Carol Dweck up for grabs. pull us a three month subscription to our exclusive inner circle online programme packed with hours and hours of video training about all aspects of managing behaviour in school. To win these prizes. All you have to do is leave an honest review and rating for a show on Apple podcasts and grab a screenshot on your phone and email it to me at Simon at beacon school. support.co.uk entries are limited to one per person, and no purchase is necessary. It's completely free to enter but I must have received your email before February the 28th 2021. Remember, we can only accept screenshots from Apple podcasts will draw the winner at random at the start of March 2021. You can find more details at beacon score support.co.uk slash podcast competition dot php. So what have you got to lose rate review us and send me your screenshot today. And you'll be in with a chance of winning that fantastic prize pot. And now it's back to the podcast.

Emma Shackleton  15:33  

So the second tip here to master sounding assertive, as well as using a lower tone, what we need to do is speak more slowly, we actually need to use less words, nothing sounds less assertive than somebody rushing bumbling over their words, changing their mind using too many words. When you do that you sound panicked, you sound nervous, you sound like actually, you don't know what the outcome is that you want. So it's confusing for the pupils to know what exactly you want them to do. So unless there is a real emergency, there is always time in a stressful situation for you to take a deep breath. And think about what you're going to say next. I know that sounds really obvious, but day to day. In a classroom, we are dealing with many, many, many decisions from moment to moment. And it's easy to get swept along, we do have to work at a fast pace. But if there's something going wrong, or there's an incident, always take a moment stop, take a deep breath, that will calm your nervous system down and help you to steady your voice. And it will give you a moment to think about what you're going to say. And then what comes out of your mouth is likely to be much more coherent. And it will have the impact that you desire. So take a breath, open up the airways, lower the tone, steady your voice, think about what you're going to say. And then try to reduce it down to the minimum number of words that you need. If you're giving instructions, and you ramble on and you talk too much, kids just lose interest, or they get lost in the details. But then they don't know actually what you want. So if you're finding that your classes are not getting started with work quickly, asking lots of questions about what needs to be done, just go back and review the delivery of your instruction and just check Are you keeping it short to just the actionable words that you need. So tell them what they need to do. And that is, and don't forget, if you've got children in your class with additional needs, maybe you've got kids with ADHD or autism, for example, they are going to find it even more difficult to process language, particularly if you're using too many words. So as one instruction can take up to seven seconds for some children to process, and what we tend to do when we feel rushed, or when we feel anxious, or we're trying to get through everything that we need to do, we tend to fire out instructions like a machine gun, and you know, just scatter those instructions around. Some kids can keep up with that, and that's fine. But for others, it's going to be too confusing. So lower your tone, speak slower, use less words. 

Simon Currigan  18:37  

Okay, moving on to tip three. And that is when giving an instruction do not pose it as a question. There are times for questions. I'm not anti questions by any means we need to use questioning well in the classroom. But when we're giving an instruction, when we're asking our students to do something, don't pose as a question, you can imagine the power in a conversation as a tennis ball. So whoever's holding the tennis ball has the power in the conversation. And what we do when we ask a question is we're handing over the power in the conversation, we're handing over that tennis ball to the other person. So if we say, Can everyone stop talking, please the other person then has the power in the conversation. And they can say yes, they can say no, they can say I'll get my people to talk to your people. They can say Why sir, you're going to put on a puppet show. And you can ask, you know, would you mind starting your work? The answer to that might get is no, it's really boring, you know? So try to avoid phrasing instructions as questions because that invites a reply instead, give a instruction that tells someone exactly what to do. So instead of Can everyone stop talking please. The instruction version of that would be every one stop talking. Or instead of Would you mind starting your work? You could say something like it's time to start your work. Can you please look in my direction becomes look in my direction.

Emma Shackleton  20:00  

Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I think when you use a question, when really you need to use a direction, it comes across as if you're not quite sure if the instruction is going to be followed. So what confident people do is they speak as if they already know the outcome, they're so sure that it's going to happen. And a really cool little trick that you can use if you want to be polite, instead of using please use Thank you, and put it at the end of the instruction. So instead of saying, Can everyone stop talking, please, which kind of conveys? I really hope you will stop talking, but I'm not sure if you will. Better than that, to be more assertive is to say, everybody stopped talking. Thank you. And when you say thank you at the end like that, it's called presupposition. You're actually thanking the children for doing something before they've done it. Because you're that confident that they're going to do it. It's a little bit of a Jedi mind trick. And people think often when they've been thanked Oh, I better do it now then. Because she's already said. So it kind of a little bit of a language trick there that can be really helpful. So could I please you can use please sometimes, but when you need to be assertive could say the please. But maintain the politeness by adding the Thank you. But the thank you goes right at the end, like a full stop that conveys this needs to be done. Okay, so let's just remind ourselves of what we've covered in today's episode, we've talked about being firm and assertive, and whether or not that makes a difference, and we've decided that it does, we've recognised that you need to be intentional. So dial up that assertiveness for the specific incidents that you need it for. We've advised that you use a lower tone, speak more slowly and say less. And when you're giving an instruction, avoid posing it as a question. 

If you want to know more about improving your behaviour management, we've got a completely free download that goes with this episode, called the classroom management score sheet. Inside the score sheet, you'll find a list of 37 factors that have an impact on classroom management. And these are not subjective or wishy washy things that you can't act on. Light came when I was a newly qualified teacher, a piece of advice I was given about behaviour management was to improve the ethos of the classroom. Great advice, right? So actionable. And when I got home and thought about this, I was like, What does that even mean? How on earth can I act on that? What can I do to improve the ethos, I don't understand what that means. So the score sheet then is not like that the score sheet is a list of things that you are either clearly doing or not doing. Think of it like a roadmap to improve your presence in the classroom. It's based on 1000s of observations that Simon and I have conducted between us. So you know that it's grounded in sound classroom practice. And if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management, it can help to make your feedback and action points even more clear, and objective. Get it now by going to beacon school support.co.uk, click on the free resources option in the menu, and you'll find it near the top of the page. It's completely free. So go ahead and get that today. We'll also put a link to that in the description that goes with this podcast. 

Simon Currigan  23:37  

Thanks for listening to the show today. Next week, we've got an interview that you don't want to miss, we're going to be speaking to Dr. Stuart Shanker, author of self reg how to help your child and you break the stress cycle. He's also worked as an advisor to the US and Canadian government on Child Development ever and I have worked for years supporting kids in mainstream schools working in pupil referral units, supporting kids who have significant needs in terms of their mental health, in terms of their social and emotional development, then his work has had a huge impact on the way we support those pupils in terms of managing their emotions. And in that conversation, we're going to be digging into the difference between self control and self regulation and what that means for your classroom. So don't miss Episode Two. 

Emma Shackleton  24:26  

And last of all, don't forget to enter our competition. We've got just shy of 100 pounds worth of books about behaviour in schools to give away including running the room by Tom Bennett assertive discipline by Lee canter and take control of the noisy class by Rob plevin. We're also going to throw in a three month subscription of our very own inner circle online training programme containing over 20 videos and resources about successful behaviour management in schools and that alone is worth almost 40 pounds. So if you want to win

All you've got to do is give this podcast an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts, then email over a screenshot to Simon at beacon school support.co.uk. And we'll pick one lucky winner at random one entry per person, no purchase necessary. Get your entries in before February the 28th 2021. And remember, we can only accept screenshots from Apple podcasts. Finally, if you liked what you've heard today, and you don't want to miss that interview, open your podcast app now and smash the subscribe button.

Simon Currigan  25:34  

That's a bit bit too extreme. Maybe not smash it, just poke it or something. And then the next episode, we'll be waiting for you each and every week. Thanks for listening to score behaviour secrets. Have a great week, and we look forward to talking to you again in the next episode. See you next time.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)