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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing Behaviour for Learning. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Welcome to week four of our course. One of the essential building blocks of great behavior management is finding an assertive voice in the classroom. Many teachers mistake an assertive voice for something that’s hostile and aggressive. But assertiveness is much more sophisticated than that. Some people fall into the trap of being passive and pleading with their students to behave well. The assertive voice is more urgent, more focused. Try using some assertive sentence stems to get you in the habit of that assertive voice. Try something simple. The phrase, I need you too, is a great way to stop barking out instructions, or demanding too much too soon of your students. I need you to– in five minutes I will see.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds You should be– you must be– are much gentler ways to get what you want from your students without falling into the passive or hostile trap. In a moment you’re going to be given a task to do. I want to think back in your teaching experience, to people that you’ve seen and observed. They may be teachers that taught you. They may be teachers that you’ve had the privilege of observing. And I want you to make a column chart. Three columns, the first hostile, the second passive, and the third assertive. I want to know what hostile teachers say when they’re trying to manage the behavior of students? Similarly, what do passive teachers actually say? What are the words they use?

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds And then finally, can you give me some more assertive sentence stems that we can start to use, that would allow you to try and find that assertive voice?

Hostile, passive and assertive teachers

Finding your assertive voice is not about being hostile and upsetting people.

Video Summary

Being assertive is not about being passive and pleading by letting others have their own way; it’s about stating your needs in a clear, focused and concise way that retains your integrity and the integrity of those you teach or work alongside.

To help you be more assertive you need to examine your everyday vocabulary. The words you use are paramount in giving you the confidence to interact with others so that your relationships remain intact and productive. Learning and using ‘sentence stems’ is important. For example:

'I need you to pop your chewing gum in the bin.' 

The words, ‘I need you to…‘, give the listener the impression that it is a necessity that the action is carried out. The phrase isn’t delivered in a passive or hostile way, but simply stated with authority and expectation that it will happen. Another example might be:

'When you see me at break time we can discuss your assignment.'

The words, ‘When you see me…‘ presuppose that the listener will be there for the discussion. Presupposing is a very useful way to establish your needs and create a relationship that is mutually supportive, yet challenging.


To help you see how different teachers use language, create a 3-column table with the headings, ‘Hostile’, ‘Passive’ and ‘Assertive’.

Note down in the columns what other teachers say when they are dealing with inappropriate behaviour or are stating their needs.

You could also work with colleagues and observe each other purely to note down the words that each of you use in your interactions with students.


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This video is from the free online course:

Managing Behaviour for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre