Many teenage girls find it difficult to express themselves, whether that is answering questions in class or speaking up with their friends. It can become a habit for them to avoid saying what they think and feel. In other words, assertive communication. This can lead to tensions in their friendships and family relationships, as other people don’t know what they are thinking, and so can make assumptions. Often resulting in upset and difficulties in relationships. All stemming from girls not expressing what they think and feel.
Lack of confidence for speaking up in class can hold back students’ progress at school too, as girls may avoid asking questions to improve their understanding, or be reticent to answer a question when called on in class.
To address this issue we need to support and empower girls to develop skills for expressing themselves, so they feel more able to share their thoughts, ideas and feelings. This benefits them in their relationships with friends or family, and supports their progress at school.
Empowering girls to develop their skills in expressing themselves is also invaluable for preparing them for their future careers. Being able to articulate thoughts and feelings clearly is an important workplace skill.
The Teacher resources for building girls’ confidence includes a module focused on this topic “Expressing themselves”.
Understanding assertive communication
One of the key aspects of expressing ourselves clearly is learning to communicate assertively.
When girls engage start learning about assertive communication many of them feel awkward and uncomfortable to start off with, but they are also intrigued by the idea that they can learn new skills for expressing themselves.
As is the case throughout the Teacher resources for building girls’ confidence a growth mindset approach is encouraged, empowering girls to believe that they can develop new skills and that what matters is the effort they put in and strategies they use.
Students learn the differences between assertive communication, compared to passive and aggressive communication. Understanding this enables students to recognise different types of communication they experience from other people; this can help them choose how they respond.
The resources enable students to develop their skills for speaking assertively, and practise them. Central to assertive communication is treating others as equals; both giving respect and expecting to be respected back. For more insights for this, activity 4 in Five teenage confidence building activities for the classroom provides an activity for encouraging assertive communication with your students.
Eye contact = awkward….
One of the activities in the “Expressing themselves” module invites student to practise looking each other in the eye when they are discussing a topic.
When I ran live Building Confidence workshops in schools several years ago (before introducing the online resources that are now available) I found that unsurprisingly teen girls found it awkward – and funny – when practising eye contact with each other. Cue embarrassed giggles! But by practising it, they experienced how differently it felt when someone was maintaining eye contact with them – how they felt listened to and important, compared to when someone wasn’t looking them in the eye, when they sensed disinterest.
Of course, practising this is key. And not going overboard with it too.
During the live workshops I ran, as the session progressed, I noted that everyone was making an effort to look me in the eye when answering a question or contributing to our discussion.
Impact of learning these skills
After running this Building Confidence workshop, I received feedback that several teachers were noticing that a number of girls had become more assertive about answering questions in class.
The teacher who had co-ordinated my visit also shared that the school had recently run a project-based workshop for the whole year group. The microphone had suddenly been handed to one of the girls who’d attended the Building Confidence workshop. The teacher was surprised as this particular girl would previously have avoided speaking in front of her classmates. But not this time! The student took the microphone, and then talked in front of the whole year about what her team had done during the preceding workshop activity.
When the teacher had praised the student afterwards on how well she’d done, the student had smiled and admitted she’d taken what she’d learnt about assertive communication from the Building Confidence workshop and was really proud of herself. Excellent work!
“Expressing ourselves” is one of the six modules in the Teacher resources for building girls’ confidence programme. The modules cover topics that are important to teen girls, to empower them to build their confidence. The other five modules are:
- Role models
- Building body confidence
- How we talk to ourselves
In the activities across all modules, students are encouraged to reflect on their progress, develop their skills, challenge their current thinking and develop new attitudes.
Feedback from students after they enjoyed building confidence sessions
“I’ve learnt that you can do anything when you put your mind to it”
“You are your own person, so you shouldn’t compare yourself to others”
“Changing my thought process from thinking negatively to thinking assertively and positively”
Note: Confident Teens no longer offers live workshops at schools, but the popular Building Confidence 2 hour workshop which was delivered at dozens of schools has now been created as online resources, enabling teachers to run this workshop themselves. See Teacher resources for building girls’ confidence for all details.