- General

Leadership Influence On Disruptive Behavior

Grade 5 Teacher in Portsmouth Public Schools

A review of the current literature demonstrates that school leaders’ competencies are important to decreasing students’ disruptive classroom behavior. The lack of transformational leadership in schools is central to the problem of reducing disruptive classroom behaviors. In addition to these school discipline issues, American classrooms are frequently plagued by other, minor kinds of misbehavior that disrupt the flow of classroom activities and interfere with learning. Approximately one-half of all classroom time is taken up with activities other than instruction, and discipline problems are responsible for a significant portion of this lost instructional time (Cotton, 1990).

The difference between transactional and transformational leaders is similar to the differences between managers and leaders (Bass, 1990). Bass redefined transformational leaders as ideal influencers, stimulators, enthusiastic agents of change, confidence builders, and promoters of solving problems in innovative ways, inspirational motivators, and intelligent individuals. These transformational leadership competencies are needed to support the schools’ turn around and address disruptive behavior. Usova (2001) reports that disruptive student behavior is one shared by both educators and the public, and that not only are teachers concerned with disruptive behavior in the school, but the general public is also concerned. Therefore, teaching children in some classrooms today demands more diversified skills than ever before. Teachers’ attitudes as leaders in the classroom environment can be instrumental in the shaping of the child’s behavior.

Rather than being able to facilitate the academic and social development of students, teachers devote a great deal of time and energy to the amelioration of such disruptive behaviors. Consequently, instructional time and academic achievement are affected. If this disruptive behavior is not addressed it can become deviant behaviors, and the adolescents displaying these behaviors are labeled as being at risk. In recent years, stress has been cited as an important factor in high rates of turnover and absenteeism among teachers.

Likewise, interventions that focus exclusively on delinquents and thereby increase contact with other delinquents often backfire, because they increase contact with peers who are likely to worsen rather than improve the behavior of the students. Disruptive student behavior describes student-initiated acts that range from tardiness to violence against classmates or staff members. However, all disruptions, regardless of perceived seriousness, subtract from already limited academic learning time, and in that respect, they create a serious problem for educators and students.

Classroom Environment

Disruptive students demand more attention from the teacher, thus making it more difficult for the teacher to manage the rest of the class. Despite the problems that students with behavior problems pose, there is little done to the way that these students are dealt with in the United States. Disciplinary policy is usually a composite of local school board policy and teacher and principal implementation. The feeling of being on the outside of the loop often propagates more disruptive behavior and affects a disruptive child’s motivation to excel academically in a school setting.

Impact at Home

Many studies indicate that a single factor or a single defining situation does not cause children to have disruptive behavior. Rather, multiple factors contribute to and shape disruptive behavior over the course of development. Some factors relate to characteristics within the child, but many others relate to factors within the social environment (e.g., family, peers, school, neighborhood, and community contexts) that enable, shape, and maintain aggression, antisocial behavior, and related disruptive behavior problems. Comer’s (1988) research found that “failure to bridge the social and cultural gap between home and school lies at the root of poor academic achievement” (p. 43). Comer further stated that “typical schools with their hierarchical and authoritarian structure cannot give underdeveloped or differently developed children the skills or experiences to fulfill the school’s expectations” (p. 46). Often, mistrust develops between teachers and parents. Thus, plans call for schools to win the respect of parents and develop relationships to increase their involvement.

Recommendations for Schools

The problem with disruptive behavior is so pervasive that the first recommendations for schools is to implement a leadership training program for teachers, administrators, and parents to help deal with the problem. However, it is recommended that schools create this change slowly, beginning with an information dissemination program. Empowering teachers and principals with information such as the results of the current study will provide them with the motivation necessary to implement broad changes. Specifically, the importance of high quality leadership demonstrated in this study should be a primary motivating force for increased attention to leadership quality. Increasing awareness of the importance of leadership, first among teachers and school administrators, and subsequently among parents, will provide the motivation necessary for efforts aimed at enhancing the quality of leadership. Once awareness has increased, real change in student behavior (i.e. reduction of disruptive behavior) will be possible both in the school and at home. This would consequently have many positive effects for the formerly disruptive students, for other students in the classroom, as well as for parents and teachers who are currently dealing with disruptive behavior.


Bass, B. M. (1990). Handbook of leadership: Theory, research, & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Comer, J. P. (1988) Educating poor minority children. Scientific American, 259, 42-48.

Usova, G. M. (2001). Reducing discipline problems in the elementary schools: Approaches and suggestions. Washington, DC: Office of Education.