Students who bully have poor relations with their teachers

Research: Results of a recent study conducted by Professor Sigrun K. Ertesvåg indicate that students who bully perceive poor teacher support and monitoring from their teachers, compared to students who do not engage in bullying.

Lærer som står midt i et klasserom og snakker med elevene.

The study conducted in the CIESL-project (Classroom interaction for enhanced student learning) shows that good classroom interaction is important in efforts to stop bullying in schools. Teachers should focus on creating a good classroom environment with good teacher-student relationships.

The aim of this study was to assess students who bully and their perception of the emotional support, monitoring and instructional support offered by their teachers. Although research on bullying has increased over the past few decades, research on students who bully and their perceptions of their teachers’ support and monitoring is scarce. Teachers are assumed to have a key role in combating bullying; therefore, the quality of the relationship between teachers and students who bully is highly relevant.

First study into bullying behaviour and classroom interaction

This is the first study that has looked into how students who bully others experience three aspects of the teacher's classrooms interaction; emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support. 85 classes from 10 different schools participated in the survey. In total, 1571 5.–10. grade students answered questions about their relationships to their teachers.

The study indicates that students engaging in bullying have weaker relations with their teachers compared to fellow students who don't bully. The result was the same even when scientists took into consideration that relationships between students and teachers might vary between classes.

Students who bully others report that they get less instructional and emotional support from their teacher, compared to students who don't bully. However, this study did not discover any differences between students who bully and students who do not bully, and their experience of the teacher's classroom organization.

The importance of good relationships between teachers and students to prevent bullying

– These findings are not unexpected but are, however, of concern, says project leader of the CIESL-project, Professor Sigrun K. Ertesvåg.

Every year, approximately 35 000 students in elementary and secondary school bully others. The teachers are those who are closest to the students, and they should be able to identify and stop bullying. Without a healthy relationship with the students, this might be difficult for the teacher.

– A teacher needs to have a close relationship with the students to be able to stop bullying. If there is a weak relationship between the two, the measurements directed towards the individual student and on a class and school level, might be ineffective, says Ertesvåg.

The study shows the value of high quality classroom interaction in the effort to stop school bullying, and that teachers must aim to create a good classroom environment with good student relationships.

– Every student should feel that teachers acknowledge them and respect them. When students bully others, it is the behaviour we want to do away with, not the student, says Sigrun K. Ertesvåg at the Centre for Learning Environment at the University of Stavanger, Norway.

How is knowledge about classroom interaction put into practice by teachers?

This survey is just a small part of the CIESL project. The aim of the project is to develop knowledge about how teachers use theory based knowledge about classroom interaction in their teaching.

– We have high knowledge about effective teacher-student interaction, but we know little about how teachers actually use this knowledge in the classroom, says Professor Sigrun K. Ertesvåg.

Classroom interaction is about relations and good learning environments. High quality classroom interaction can, among other things, contribute to positive attitudes, a clearer focus and less bullying.

An exhaustive research project with a complex design

The research design for the CIESL-project is complex and takes many different elements into account. For example, teachers' interaction with students is observed and videotaped to map out how Norwegian teachers lead their classes, and how this develops throughout the school year.

The same teachers will partake in a survey, and keep a log where they reflect upon their teaching. In addition to this, teachers and principles will participate in group interviews.

Students and teachers from 14 different lower secondary schools in the Norwegian counties Rogaland, Telemark and Møre and Romsdal are participating in the project.

These schools participate in a government initiated initiative “Ungdomstrinn i utvikling” Developing lower secondary schools. In addition, CIESL has a comparison group consisting of ten schools. The researchers are now collecting a second set of data. The CIESL project will last until 2018.



Ertesvåg, S. K. (2016). Students who bully and their perceptions of teacher support and monitoring. British Educational Research Journal, Volume 42, Issue 5, October 2016. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3240

Text: Marit O. Øvregård
Translation: Åse Lill Byrkjedal Ur and Nina Lewin
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