- About This Module
- Why Teach Assertiveness?
- What Is Assertiveness?
- The Assertiveness Performance-Based Observation
- The Six Instructional Criteria
Part 1: Defining Assertiveness
Part 2: Understanding Your Ability to Be Assertive
Part 3: Understanding Yourself
Part 4: Embedding Opportunities for Students to Practice Assertiveness
Part 5: The College and Career Competency Framework
About This Module
This professional learning module supports educators in understanding how to support students in developing assertiveness, an interpersonal competency within the College and Career Competency (CCC) Framework, developed by Drs. Amy Gaumer Erickson and Patricia Noonan.
The Overview describes assertiveness and its components, the research and impacts of teaching assertiveness, and the need for embedding competency instruction across school contexts. A performance-based observation tool is included to help you assess students’ ability to be assertive.
Parts 1–3 of this module contain instructional activities that help students understand key concepts and practice being assertive. Each part includes a learning target with numerous activities that support the learning target. The Reflect and Apply portion will deepen your knowledge of assertiveness concepts. Part 4 offers suggestions for embedding assertiveness practice opportunities in any classroom. Finally, Part 5 will build your knowledge of the College and Career Competency Framework and provide guidance for adoption and implementation of assertiveness instruction schoolwide.
As you review Parts 1–5 of the module, record your ideas, thoughts, and actions in the Educator Workbook. This workbook contains activities, reflective questions, instructional tools, and assessments that we will refer to throughout the module. After completion of the module, submit your Educator Workbook to earn 9 Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
As you explore the activities, consider how you will deliver assertiveness instruction to your students. The “Teach Students Handouts” are located on page 9 of the Educator Workbook. Think about how you will deliver the instructional activities, noting any adaptations to meet the needs of your students.
Why Teach Assertiveness?
Teaching assertiveness to students:
- enables them to express their wants, needs, and thoughts while respecting others;
- promotes the ability to manage conflicts with more productive solutions;
- reduces adolescent anxiety and helps them avoid drug use and unhealthy sexual behavior;
- reduces the likelihood of sexual coercion or assault;
- prepares them to advocate for themselves;
- helps them resist peer pressure; and
- empowers students to seek future educational and career opportunities.
Adolescents who lack assertiveness are:
- more likely to become withdrawn and isolated;
- more likely to experience depression and anxiety;
- more likely to be bullied or bully, responding to both situations with anxiety and anger;
- more likely to respond with aggression to difficult situations (especially males); and
- more likely to experience unemployment or underemployment.
Sources: Bandura, 1973; Brenner et al., 2003; Buell & Snyder, 1981; Grove et al., 2011; Hall, 2006; Hecht et al., 1993; Huey, 1983; Huey & Rank, 1984; Lane et al., 2006; Lee et al., 1979; Paglia & Room, 1999; Polansky et al., 1999; Rowe et al., 2015; Schmid et al., 2015; Thompson, et al., 1996; Tschann et al., 2010; Wolfe et al., 2012
Watch this 3-minute overview video created for educators, which describes what assertiveness is and why we should teach it. As you watch, complete the guided notes page found on page 2 of your Educator Workbook.
When educators provide explicit instruction and practice opportunities in several classrooms, they report that students experience:
- improved communication,
- increased ability to seek assistance and support,
- increased ability to express themselves,
- improved confidence in their own abilities,
- improved self-regulation, and
- improved teamwork/group work (Noonan & Gaumer Erickson, 2019).
What Is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is an interpersonal competency that is defined as “the ability to express your beliefs, wants, or feelings in a self-assured and direct manner while respecting others” (Noonan & Gaumer Erickson, 2018, p. 105). Consider the definition. What are “beliefs, wants, or feelings”? What does “in a self-assured and direct manner” entail? What does “while respecting others” mean? Why would this benefit our students academically as well as in personal interactions?
Assertiveness has two components, and both must be included for communication to be considered assertive. Students should receive instruction as well as ongoing, embedded opportunities to practice each component to improve their ability to be assertive.
The first component is even when it is difficult, express your wants, needs, and thoughts; basically, that means that even in difficult situations, we can communicate our perspective to others. We all have times when we don’t feel comfortable expressing ourselves. Whether it is conveying something that we want, expressing a need we may have, or sharing a difference of opinion. When we practice the first component, we take accountability for expressing ourselves—even when it is difficult—and in doing so, we learn to advocate for ourselves. We can practice Component 1 by reflecting on how we currently express our wants, needs, and thoughts and identifying body language, tone of voice, and words that reflect a more assertive way of communicating. We can also practice the first component by reflecting on our emotional reactions in various situations and how those reactions can have positive and negative impacts depending on how we express ourselves. We will learn more about the different types of communication and how to respectfully express our emotions later in the module.
The second component is even when it is difficult, respect what others want, need, and think. This means that we acknowledge and value the opinions, necessities, and thoughts of others. When we practice the second component, we learn to respect and empathize with others even though their wants, needs, and thoughts may differ from ours. For example, we can practice respecting others’ wants, needs, and thoughts by reflecting on how they might feel in a situation. We can also practice the second component by showing others that we understand by actively listening to them and paraphrasing what they say.
Watch as a teacher guides students to examine the definition of assertiveness.
The Assertiveness Performance-Based Observation
How can we determine how well each student can communicate assertively? The Assertiveness Performance-Based Observation (Gaumer Erickson & Noonan, 2021), found on page 10 of the Technical Guide, assesses how well students demonstrate skills that build assertiveness. It is appropriate for students of any age and can show growth over time when combined with explicit instruction and practice. This observation tool can also be used at purposeful intervals to monitor the development of each student. Based on observations across time or in specific situations, the educator rates each student’s assertiveness behaviors on a scale. The Technical Guide provides additional information on this assessment.
Reflect and Apply: Now that you know a little more about assertiveness and why it is essential, as well as how to measure it, take a few minutes to reflect and consider the below questions (found in the Educator Workbook on page 3):
- What are your reasons for wanting to teach assertiveness?
- What changes do you want to see within your students resulting from teaching assertiveness?
The Six Instructional Criteria
These six instructional criteria (Gaumer Erickson et al., 2017) are the steps for guiding students’ development of assertiveness. These criteria represent the way we teach any content, such as helping students learn a new math concept or develop a skill they need to master. Therefore, these criteria should be applied when teaching assertiveness.
Instructional Criterion 1 is facilitating students’ understanding of the competency. For example, if you were introducing a unit on the Civil War in a social studies class or on chemical reactions in a science class, you would start by helping the students understand each topic. Similarly, students need to understand what assertiveness means. You can help students better understand assertiveness by breaking down the definition and facilitating a discussion of key vocabulary within the definition (e.g., express your beliefs, wants, or feelings, self-assured, direct manner, respecting others; Noonan & Gaumer Erickson, 2018, p. 105). When students can define assertiveness in their own words accurately, you have facilitated their understanding of assertiveness.
Instructional Criterion 2 is helping students understand how the competency applies to them personally. For example, how will learning assertiveness help students advocate for themselves or learn to express their emotions respectfully? Students need to understand and believe that learning assertiveness can help them achieve their goals. One way you can assist students in understanding how assertiveness applies to them is to connect practicing assertiveness with improving their relationships.
Instructional Criterion 3 is helping students identify their strengths and challenges related to assertiveness. We all have areas in our lives where we feel comfortable expressing ourselves and areas that challenge us. Students are no different. Helping them identify times and specific situations when they lacked assertiveness will increase the likelihood that they improve their ability to be assertive and express their wants and needs while respecting others’ wants and needs.
Instructional Criterion 4 is providing students with opportunities to practice assertiveness. Students need ongoing opportunities to practice both components of assertiveness as well as strategies that support the development of each component. For example, a student who wants to become more assertive when working with others may set a goal to increase the number of times they express themselves during group work. Although the student is struggling with Component 1 (even when it is difficult, express my wants, thoughts, and needs) they can also practice addressing Component 2 (even when it is difficult, respect the wants, thoughts, and needs of others) during group work by monitoring how well they accept the ideas and perspectives of others in the group.
Instructional Criterion 5 requires that we provide students with feedback while working on their assertiveness. As you notice students starting to express themselves or acknowledge the different perspectives of others, provide them with specific feedback that includes what they are doing well and where they might improve.
Instructional Criterion Six requires providing students with opportunities to reflect on their development of assertiveness, including reflecting on each component. For example, students can consistently reflect on how well they are expressing their wants, needs, and thoughts by reflecting on how often they have expressed themselves during group work or asked for help on an assignment. Students also need to reflect on times when they respectfully acknowledged the ideas and opinions of others.
Let’s listen to educators describe how they provided assertiveness instruction and its impact on students. Choose at least two educator reflection videos to review.