Part 1: Defining Assertiveness
- Teach Students: 1a. Defining Assertiveness
- Teach Students: 1b. Am I Assertive?
- Teach Students: 1c. Personal Example of Being Assertive
- Teach Students: 1d. Understanding Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive Behaviors
- Teach Students: 1e. Rating Behaviors
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
Part 1: Defining Assertiveness
Learning Target: Students define assertiveness; differentiate between passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors; and provide examples of why learning to be assertive is important.
Students need to understand what assertiveness is, the difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication styles, and why being assertive is important in their lives. Activities included in Part 1 are designed to help students meet this learning target.
To begin, students need to understand that assertiveness can be learned; it’s not an innate skill. The first component—even when it is difficult, express my wants, needs, and thoughts—helps students learn to promote their individuality. Students practice expressing themselves in situations when it is difficult to speak up. As we explore this component, you will learn ways to support students in expressing their individual wants, needs, and thoughts.
Teach Students: 1a. Defining Assertiveness
Show students the assertiveness poster and define assertiveness 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). Next, divide students into small groups and ask them to discuss key vocabulary within the definition. Ask students to write their responses to each prompt for “Teach Students: 1a. Defining Assertiveness” on the handout (Handout 1a. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook). Once students have completed the activity, review the answers as a group, providing guidance where necessary. This activity was demonstrated in the classroom video shown earlier.
- What are “beliefs, wants, or feelings”? What are some examples of each?
- What does “in a self-assured and direct manner” entail? What are some examples of times when you have difficulty expressing yourself in this way?
- What does “respecting others” mean and look like? What are some examples of respecting others? Conversely, what are some examples of being disrespectful to others?
Show students the video of McKenzie, a high school senior, defining assertiveness in her own words and explaining the components.
After showing the video, ask students to think about the following questions:
- How did McKenzie explain assertiveness?
- How would you explain assertiveness to a friend or parent?
- How did learning assertiveness help McKenzie?
- How could learning assertiveness help you?
Ask students to write their responses to each prompt for “Teach Students: 1a. Defining Assertiveness” on the handout (Handout 1a. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook). Once students have completed the activity, review the answers as a group, providing guidance where necessary.
Now that students know more about assertiveness, they need to identify how they typically respond and communicate in various situations. Students need to understand that we all struggle with communicating assertively and that our difficulty can vary depending on who we are interacting with; for example, it may be easy for us to be assertive when we are with our friends but much more difficult to express ourselves when we need to communicate with our teacher or boss. When students identify how they typically respond in a situation, they can use this knowledge to help them determine areas of strength and challenges to being assertive.
Teach Students: 1b. Am I Assertive?
Ask each student to identify a time in the last few months that they were angry with someone—it could be a friend, teacher, parent, or anyone else in their life. Next, have them briefly summarize the disagreement on the “Teach Students: 1b. Am I Assertive?” handout (Handout 1b. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook), then determine how they did (or did not) address the two components, as well as generate ideas for what they could have done differently to ensure the other person understood their perspective.
Emphasize to students that we all have times when communicating assertively is difficult and that each person may have different times in which being assertive is difficult. Explain that the purpose of working on our assertiveness is that it will help us express ourselves better, build better relationships over time, and allow us to feel more connected to the people around us.
Additionally, when we have boundaries, assertiveness helps us stick to them and speak up for ourselves and others when needed in an understandable way.
1b. Reflect and Apply: Think about your own ability to be assertive and how you typically respond in different situations. Use the guiding questions to help you determine which component of assertiveness is your strength and which component is more challenging for you.
- In what types of situations are you less likely to express yourself?
- Reflect on your current relationships. Whose perspective do you have the most trouble understanding?
- How often do you leave a situation wishing you had communicated differently?
Jot down your answers to these questions on page 3 of the Educator Workbook.
Another way to help students understand what assertiveness is and why it is important is to provide a personal example of a time when you communicated assertively or an example of a time when the outcome may have been different had you communicated assertively. When we provide students with personal examples of how we use assertiveness in our lives, it helps them recognize how and why assertiveness can help them.
Teach Students: 1c. Personal Example of Being Assertive
Show students the Assertiveness poster and review the two components. Then provide students with an example from your own life where you responded to a situation assertively or wished you had. As you share your example with the students, remember to discuss how you addressed both components. Emphasize that if you do one of the components but not the other, it is not assertiveness. You must do both components simultaneously to be assertive.
After sharing your example, give students a few minutes to respond to the questions below:
- In the example provided by your teacher, was Component 1 (Even when it is difficult, express my wants, needs, and thoughts) addressed? Why or why not?
- Was Component 2 (Even when it is difficult, respect the wants, needs, and thoughts of others) addressed? Why or why not?
- How would the outcome of this situation have changed if your teacher had been more or less assertive?
Students should write down their responses on the “Teach Students: 1c. Personal Example of Being Assertive” handout (Handout 1c. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook).
Conclude this activity by dividing students into small groups and asking them to share their responses to the questions with other group members. Finally, ask each group to summarize their discussion and emphasize the need to address both components in order to be assertive.
1c. Reflect and Apply: Listen as Dr. Pattie Noonan shares a personal example of how she reflected on her communication style and used that reflection to determine that Component 2 was challenging for her.
Take a few minutes to think about a personal example you would like to share with your students about a time you were or wish you had been assertive. Be sure to talk about how you addressed or needed to address both components. Your example should be relatable to your students. Then, write your example on page 3 of the Educator Workbook. For students to understand what assertiveness means, they need to understand the concepts of passive and aggressive communication. In this activity, students learn about passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors and understand that each type of behavior has various ways it is communicated. Students also begin to think about why a person might react a certain way in different situations.
Students are asked to identify friends and family members who communicate passively in the instructional activity below and why they might choose to communicate this way. Students are then asked to identify friends and family members who communicate aggressively and why they might choose that method of communication. This activity helps students differentiate between passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors while helping students to gain an understanding of another person’s perspective.
Teach Students: 1d. Understanding Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive Behaviors
Have students review the columns in the table below to determine how passive, assertive, and aggressive communication styles differ. Then, in small groups, have them discuss and answer these questions on the “Teach Students: 1d. Understanding Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive Behaviors” handout (Handout 1d. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook).
- Think of friends or family who often act passively. What behaviors or actions make these people seem passive? Why do you think they might choose to communicate this way? How might this be an inadequate approach to communication?
- Think of friends or family who often act aggressively. What behaviors or actions make them seem aggressive? Why do you think they might choose to communicate this way? How might this be an inadequate approach to communication?
- Why might assertive communication be a better option than passive or aggressive? What could be the benefits?
Adapted and reproduced with permission from the publisher, Jacqueline Spence at Counselling Service in France. For more information, visit http://counsellingservice.eu/tell-the-difference-between-assertive-passive-and-aggressive-behaviour
1d. Reflect and Apply: Watch this video of a middle school teacher who embedded the activity “Teach Students: 1d. Understanding Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive Behaviors” into her curriculum. After watching the video, think about how you might embed this activity in your classroom. When and how will you incorporate the discussion and identification of passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors in your content area? Jot your notes down on page 4 of the Educator Workbook.
Once students are familiar with the difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors, they can begin identifying those different types of behaviors in scenarios. This activity will deepen their understanding of passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors and support them in beginning to think about how they might react in different situations. Students need to be able to recognize passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors in others and understand why a person might be reacting in a certain way to understand their perspective and develop empathy.
Teach Students: 1e. Rating Behaviors
In groups, have students complete the table shown below and on the “Teach Students: 1e. Rating Behaviors” handout (Handout 1e. linked to on page 9 of your Educator Workbook) by drawing a mark to show where they think the listed behaviors fall on a spectrum of passive, assertive, or aggressive and then explaining their response in the last column. The first one has been completed as an example. If time allows, consider having students act out each behavior for the group. After each group is done, have them select a representative to share why they rated each behavior the way they did.
Watch this video of a teacher facilitating this activity.
1e. Reflect and Apply: Think about a recent interaction you took part in or observed. Maybe it was between colleagues, family members, or friends. Reflect on how each person involved in the interaction communicated.
- Did anyone act passively? If so, in what ways did they communicate passively?
- Did anyone act aggressively? If so, in what ways?
- Finally, identify if there was any assertive communication in the interaction you are recalling and identify how the person acted assertively.
Write your thoughts down on page 4 of the Educator Workbook.