Students affected by unrest in class

Student talking to class. Illustration photo: Shane Colvin / Faculty of Educational Sciences, UiO

60% of students are disturbed by unrest in the classroom

Norwegian Students report that unrest in school is a widespread problem and that teachers have problems handling it. It is however not as bad as it is in the US.


– What teachers and school management are going to do about unrest in the classroom has received precious little attention, says Professor at the Department of Special Education at the University of Oslo, Magnar Ødegård. He recently defended his thesis on the topic: “Unrest in the school”.

The doctoral thesis is part of a major research project on unrest in the school, under the auspices of Professor Liv Duesund.

Ødegård’s study compares how disruptive behaviour is handled at schools in Norway and in the United States. 544 students in Norway and 609 students in the United States have answered questions about unrest at their school. Ødegård wanted to see if there was a difference in pupils ‘experience of disruptive behaviour in Norwegian schools compared with students’ perceptions in USA. The students who participated in the survey were between 15 and 17 years old.

There is extremely little research being made on unrest in Norwegian classrooms. The matter is to a very limited extent mentioned in parliamentary reports or other political documents.

– In many cases, it’s up to individuals to trust their intuition, experience and to exercise professional discretion. Is this sound? The researcher rhetorically asks.

Alarming that so many are disturbed

Ødegård found that 58% of the Norwegian students and 66% of the American students had been disturbed in the classroom the week before they were interviewed.

– That the majority of both Norwegian and American youngsters are regularly disturbed in the classroom is alarming, Ødegård points out.

The researcher additionally observed that American students reported of frequent disruptive behaviour, while Norwegian students reported the behaviour more as disturbing.

Of the Norwegian students, 49% states that the behaviour is “very disturbing”. The scale went from 1-3, where 1 is “a little bit disturbing”, 2 is “somewhat disturbing” and 3 is “very disturbing”.

Teachers struggle to handle unrest in school

The researcher points out that the findings in his doctoral dissertation indicate that teachers in Norwegian and American schools have major challenges with disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

– Are teachers in Norwegian schools to succeed in providing all pupils with the right to a physical and psychosocial school environment that promotes health, well-being and learning, they need help.

– My findings prove that disruptive behaviour is not just something that happens occasionally, but is an everyday phenomenon. This behaviour is not a local problem in restricted to certain schools, but may appear to be a general challenge across schools and education systems.

One of the biggest challenges in school

Ødegård believes that it is important to do something about unrest in schools, and proposes both preventive and other strategies that help teachers there and then. Having clear rules for how to behave in class and clear expectations of what types of behaviour that is acceptable in the classroom can be helpful.

The university teacher thinks there is a clear call from teachers for help them to cope with the problem of unrest in school.

– In addition to disturbing teaching, unrest is also one of the main reasons for teachers to quit during the first four years after graduation.

-That my research indicates that turmoil in school is one of the biggest challenges in Norwegian schools should be a warning to our politicians. An increased focus on this problem and how it can be handled could be a useful element in educating teachers and other educators, Ødegård concludes.


  • A Comparative Study of Disruptive Behavior Between Schools in Norway and the United States.
  • A conceptual and empirical exploration of disruptive behavior in schools. Doktorgradavhandling ved Det Utdanningsvitenskapelige fakultet, Universitetet i Oslo. 2017.


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