Jean Maskell talks to two women who benefited from assertiveness training
How did you feel at the end of last term? Absolutely shattered? Sylvia Fletcher and Janice Norman were cheerful and already looking forward to the next term. Their secret? They had both been on a course in assertiveness.
Forget the old prejudices - assertiveness is not about getting your own way but about expressing yourself in honest and appropriate ways.
Janice Norman, head of Lower School at St Luke's Church of England School, Portsmouth, has one word to describe the "Positive Woman" course she attended at the end of last year - "superb". Organised by Hampshire Education Business Partnership, it covered the image of women in education, body language, ways of speaking and how to present a positive image to parents. "It showed how we inhibit ourselves by the way we behave and the roles we take on - it was like holding a mirror up to yourself," she said.
Sylvia Fletcher, headteacher of Copnor Infant School, Portsmouth, was equally enthusiastic. "It was having a special couple of hours on you, set at the right time, to think about your work. It made me think about what I say and how I say it, for example we all say, 'sorry to ask youIbut' instead of saying things more positively."
She found the course length and timing, three two-hour twilight sessions, were just right.
Diana Lamplugh, of The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, says in her book, Beating Aggression (The Bath Press, 1988), that assertiveness training is a sensible communication technique and she cannot imagine why it is not a standard part of work, or even of the school curriculum.
She has a point. Everyone absorbs messages from childhood and conforming to these stereotypes can be com-fortable but women can dam-age their leadership potential by being too deferential.
Janice Norman is already successful, so what did she get out of it as a teacher? "It raised my awareness. I've always been one to get on with things, but it's made me reflect on my own practice and realise that I am a role model, setting a good example in school."
She has passed on some of the things she learnt to colleagues by making suggestions and going over some of the course exercises. Her point about being a role model is an important one - because women teachers and, indeed, girls need to see women managers not just coping, but coping well and being happy.
The "Positive Woman" course explores the image of teachers and how women can learn to project a more positive image. Because this course is designed for women in education it focuses on the budgetary, political and community aspects of managing a school. Many general management courses cover the same territory, but sharing feelings is more difficult for men and women in such settings.
No course can change a teacher overnight or cure deep-rooted problems but those such as "Positive Woman" can offer some very helpful pointers.
Jean Maskell is an assistant education officer with Liverpool education authority
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
Ask the training section of your education authority.
Remember that personal development training may be hidden within other courses for non-teaching staff which may also be suitable for teachers.
Your training agency or Training and Enterprise Council may offer women-into-management courses; look under "Training" in the Yellow Pages.
Libraries or bookshops will also have plenty of books on the subject. The following may be useful: Assertiveness at Work, by Ken Back and Kate Back, published by McGraw-Hill The Secrets of Self-Esteem, by Patricia Cleghorn, Element Books Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, Century Hutchinson