Pupil aggressiveness, teacher authority, and disruptive classroom behaviour

The general aim of Grete Sørensen Vaaland´s thesis was to increase the understanding of pupil aggressiveness, discipline problems, some aspects of their relationships and their relationship with teacher authority. Three studies are included in the thesis, two quantitative studies and one qualitative case study.

The first aim was to conceptualize pupil disobedience to teachers within the field of antisocial behaviour, to develop a scale measuring this concept and to reveal whether reactive and proactive aggressiveness can predict such behaviour. As this disruptive behaviour interferes with the role of the formal leader and the teacher-pupil relationship, it was labelled as disobedience. Results showed relationships between all three independent variables, namely reactive aggressiveness, proactive power-related aggressiveness and proactive affiliation-related aggressiveness, and the dependent variable, disobedience, in both boys and girls. Gender moderated the relationships between aggressiveness and disobedience. The study builds on data from pupil-questionnaires in a large sample from secondary schools, and analyses were conducted through the use of confirmatory factor analyses and structural models.

Next, we studied possible relationships between pupil aggressiveness and perceptual orientation towards weakness in a teacher who is new to pupils. The aim was to explore whether reactive and/or proactive aggressiveness were related to pupils’ perceptual tendency, which could make teachers especially vulnerable in the start-up period of new classes. The construct of perceptual orientation towards weakness was developed within the framework of social information processing. Both reactive and proactive aggressiveness were related to a perceptual orientation towards weakness. For reactive aggressiveness, the beta values were small, although significant for girls. The more alarming finding was the substantial and significant relationship between proactive aggressiveness and a perceptual orientation towards weakness in a new teacher. The study builds on data from pupil-questionnaires in eight secondary schools, and analyses were conducted through the use of confirmatory factor analyses and structural models.

The third paper aimed to investigate approaches that experienced practitioners presented as effective to turn around highly disruptive school classes in which the teacher(s) had lost control and needed external help to re-establish authority. The aim was to reveal concepts and frameworks that could be useful to describe, analyze and discuss approaches to addressing highly disruptive school classes. The instrumental multi-case study included within-case and cross-case analyses. The results showed two main strategies in approaches to highly disruptive classes: one was a cognitive strategy with learning as a powerful tool, while the other was a systems strategy with a power take-over on the part of the teacher. These strategies draw a tentative conceptual framework for approaches to highly disruptive school classes.


Both proactive and reactive aggressiveness are connected to the likelihood of disruptive pupil behaviour in terms of behaviour that the pupil is aware of conflicts with the standards or instructions given by the teacher. Such behaviour interferes with teacher-pupil relationships and may threaten teacher authority. Another threat to teacher authority may stem from the fact that some pupils are prone to signs of weaknesses when they expect to meet a new teacher. Pupils who score highly on proactive aggressiveness report a perceptual orientation towards signs of weakness in new teachers. Reactive aggressiveness is weakly connected to the same perceptual orientation in girls. Turnarounds in highly disruptive classes imply that the teacher re-establishes authority. A framework of two strategies to approaching such classes include a cognitive strategy focusing on learning and training new behaviour, and a systems strategy focusing on redistributing social power in the classroom.

Grete Sørensen Vaaland. Photo: Jeanette Larsen.

Grete Sørensen Vaaland. Photo: Jeanette Larsen.