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Supporting Shy Students – A National Study of Teaching Practices: Shyness in Norwegian Elementary Schools – School Leaders in Action (Ph.D Project)

The purpose of this study is to investigate how school leaders in three Norwegian Elementary schools support and facilitate teachers work with children who are perceived as shy.

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Photo: Colourbox


The PhD study is part of a larger research project at the Department of Special Needs Education “Supporting shy student: A national study of teaching practices” led by associate professor Geir Nyborg. This research aims to identify beneficial teaching practices that are utilized towards shy students in Norwegian elementary schools, and to what extent these practices are employed by elementary school teachers in Norway. Although there is an overall lack of consistent terminology in the studies of shyness (Coplan & Rubin, 2010) terms, such as, social withdrawal, social inhibition and shyness are used to illustrate individuals who can experience wariness and anxiousness in novel situations or situations of perceived social evaluation (Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). Shy children want to engage in social interactions, but are hindered by fear and anxiety. Displayed and experienced shyness can have several consequences for the individual student, both in school and in life. Shy students can be perceived by teachers as less engaged and with weaker academic skills, which in turn can lead to less adapted educational practices (Hughes & Coplan, 2010). Research indicates that early childhood shyness also have implications for later difficulties, especially internalizing issues: lower self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness, and fewer positive coping strategies, and peer relation difficulties (Coplan & Armer, 2007; Coplan & Prakash, 2003; Findlay, Coplan, & Bowker, 2009; Hymel, Rubin, Rowden, & LeMare, 1990).

This short account of shyness suggests that the phenomenon is an important area of research in special needs education in itself. Recent research on shyness has stressed early intervention research for shy children in order to decrease negative outcomes, particularly internalizing problems (Rubin, Coplan, & Bowker, 2009). Considering shy students are often neglected in school (Lund, 2004), coupled with the fact that there is a lack of qualitative studies in Norway researching shyness and teaching practices in elementary school, my PhD study aims to close this gap, by obtaining in-depth knowledge on how to support shy students. I access this focus from a school leadership group’s perspective, due to school leader direct and indirect influence on student learning and development, and teacher’s development and autonomy.


The intent of my part of the study is threefold:

  • To explore, describe and explain the activities of school leaders in Norwegian elementary schools related to supporting teachers working with students displaying shy behavior
  • To explore and describe what needs teachers have for support and resources from the school leaders when working with students they perceive as shy
  • Explore and describe the multi-agency work between the school and agencies outside of school in their work with students who display shy behavior.

Overall research questions

  • How do school leaders in Norwegian elementary schools facilitate teachers’ work with children who are perceived as shy?
  • What are their motives?


I define my study as a qualitative, instrumental and collective case study. The participants are teachers and school leaders (principals, deans, social teachers) within three different schools. They are selected based on the main project previous interviews with teachers. The school leaders at the respective schools are contacted if teachers tentatively agree to participate in my sub-project. The main data-collection method is semi-structured in-depth interviews with each individual. In addition, school documents and school visits are conducted. The collection within each school is finalized by a group conversation with all participants within each school.  


Coplan, R. J., & Armer, M. (2007). A “Multitude” of Solitude: A Closer Look at Social Withdrawal and Nonsocial Play in Early Childhood. Child Development Perspectives, 1(1), 26-32. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2007.00006.x

Coplan, R. J., & Prakash, K. (2003). Spending time with teacher: Characteristics of preschoolers who frequently elicit versus initiate interactions with teachers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18(1), 143-158. doi:10.1016/S0885-2006(03)00009-7

Coplan, R. J., & Rubin, J. H. (2010). Soscial Withdrawal and Shyness in Childhood. In K. H. Rubin & R. J. Coplan (Eds.), The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal (pp. 3-20). New York: The Guilford Press.

Findlay, L. C., Coplan, R. J., & Bowker, A. (2009). Keeping it all inside: Shyness, internalizing coping strategies and socio-emotional adjustment in middle childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 33(1), 47-54. doi:10.1177/0165025408098017

Hughes, K., & Coplan, R. J. (2010). Exploring processes linking shyness and academic achievement in childhood. School Psychology Quarterly, 25(4), 213-222. doi:10.1037/a0022070

Hymel, S., Rubin, K. H., Rowden, L., & LeMare, L. (1990). Children's Peer Relationships: Longitudinal Prediction of Internalizing and Externaliziing Problems from Middle to Late Childhood. Child Development, 61(6), 2004-2021. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb03582.x

Lund, I. (2004). Det stille atferdsproblemet. Innagerende atferd i barnehage og skole. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.

Rubin, K. H., & Asendorpf, J. B. (1993). Social Withdrawal, Inhibition, and Shyness in Childhood. In K. H. Rubin & J. B. Asendorpf (Eds.), Social Withdrawal, Inhibition, and Shyness in Childhood (pp. 3-17). New York: Psychology Press.

Rubin, K. H., Coplan, R. J., & Bowker, J. C. (2009). Social Withdrawal in Childhood. Annual review of psychology, 60, 141-171. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163642

Published Mar. 18, 2019 11:30 AM - Last modified June 24, 2022 1:24 PM


Stine Solberg, PhD-student