Assertiveness, one of the three primary dimensions studied under the rubric of teacher socio-communicative style (the others are responsiveness and versatility), refers to an ability to use effective and appropriate communication in making requests and defending one’s position. It involves a willingness to speak up for one’s own beliefs without impinging on the rights of others. In the classroom, assertive teachers demonstrate confidence in speaking and presenting, facilitating class discussions, engaging in effective classroom management, and presenting an overall positive, authoritative image. Teacher assertiveness varies along a continuum from high to low levels of the behavior. When measured in conjunction with responsiveness, a teacher’s level of assertiveness provides an overview of communication effectiveness.
Teacher assertiveness is typically associated with task orientation, thus instructors who are assertive in the classroom tend to demonstrate more authority and control. As a result, students often perceive assertive teachers as being more competent. Their focus is on accomplishing classroom tasks and assignments. Assertive teachers demonstrate excellence in their own work while expecting the same from their students. Some nonverbal indicators associated with teacher assertiveness include increased use of gestures and smiling, greater vocal volume, more frequency of eye contact, and a faster rate of speech. Variables that are associated with the verbal aspects of assertiveness include increased use of humor and immediacy in the classroom. To explain the relationship between teacher assertiveness and immediacy, Thomas et al. (1994) found that students perceive teachers as being more immediate when a combination of both assertive and responsive behaviors is employed in the classroom.
On the initial foundation of research focusing on social style (Lashbrook 1974), instructional communication scholars have identified several factors that answer the question of why teachers vary in their level of assertiveness. Focusing specifically on communication traits and behaviors, teachers with low levels of communication apprehension tend to be more assertive in the classroom. This confidence in speaking allows instructors to display communication behaviors that cause them to be perceived as more outgoing and confident. Additional research has identified a relationship between teacher assertiveness and argumentativeness, with assertive instructors more likely to argue for their position (Myers 1998).
Several studies have provided an understanding of the impact of teacher assertiveness from the student perspective. Students who perceive a teacher to be assertive report increased cognitive, affective, and behavioral learning. In examining the relationship with affinity seeking, assertiveness is positively correlated with a number of strategies. Teven (2001) identified a positive relationship between assertiveness and perceived teacher caring. Overall, students perceive assertive teachers to be more challenging and more deserving of their respect.
Less positive perceptions of assertiveness have been identified as well. Students report that assertive teachers are sometimes viewed as being more open to imposing punishment for student behaviors. Further, they perceive assertive teachers as more willing to inflict guilt for student performance or behaviors. A lack of assertiveness may also produce negative ramifications. Wanzer and McCroskey (1998) found that students view less assertive teachers as engaging in more teacher misbehaviors in the classroom. When focusing on out-of-class communication, students report that they are less likely to engage in self-disclosure or socialize with teachers who exhibit a high level of assertiveness in class.
Despite information on the benefits associated with teacher assertiveness, it is important to examine the concept in conjunction with teacher responsiveness in order to gain an accurate understanding of its potential implications in the classroom.
- Lashbrook, W. B. (1974). Toward the measurement and processing of the social style profile. Eden Prairie, MN: Wilson Learning Corporation.
- Kearney, P. (1984). Perceptual discrepancies in teacher communication style. Communication, 13, 95–109.
- Kearney, P., & McCroskey, J. C. (1980). Relationships among teacher communication style, trait and state communication apprehension, and teacher effectiveness. Communication Yearbook, 4, 533–551.
- Myers, S. A. (1998). Instructor socio-communicative style, argumentativeness, and verbal aggressiveness in the college classroom. Communication Research Reports, 15, 141–150.
- Richmond, V. P. (2002). Socio-communicative style and orientation in instruction. In J. L. Chesebro & J. C. McCroskey (eds.), Communication for teachers. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, pp. 104–115.
- Teven, J. J. (2001). The relationships among teacher characteristics and perceived caring. Communication Education, 50, 159–169.
- Thomas, C. E. (1994). An analysis of teacher socio-communicative style as a predictor of classroom communication behaviors, student liking, motivation, and learning. Doctoral dissertation, West Virginia University.
- Thomas, C. E., Richmond, V. P., & McCroskey, J. C. (1994). The association between immediacy and socio-communicative style. Communication Research Reports, 11, 107–114.
- Wanzer, M. B., & McCroskey, J. C. (1998). Teacher socio-communicative style as a correlate of student affect toward teacher and course material. Communication Education, 47, 43–52.
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