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Book Review – Teacher Burnout Turnaround, Strategies for Empowered Educators By Patricia A. Jennings

Michelle Skowbo

Book Review – Teacher Burnout Turnaround, Strategies for Empowered
By Patricia A. Jennings

Patricia A Jennings Teacher Burnout Turnaround: Strategies for Empowered Educators Copyrighted Material

By Siyi Gao and Kara Mac Donald
Teaching has always been a stressful profession, but the extended year of teaching online due to
COVID-19 brought new and unexpected challenges. Now predominantly back in the face-to-face
classroom, we do not find ourselves in a return to the previous normal. The post-COVID-19
situation has generated additional and new challenges and stressors. Teachers often have a hard
time maintaining motivation, engagement with instructional practice and relationships with
students. With an increased level of teacher shortage and minimal funding for schools, there may
be even less time for professional development and self-care. This recently published text in
2021 is highly relevant for teachers who feel overworked, stressed out and less engaged in the
field, as the author shows readers, as teachers, how they can grasp the power to empower
themselves as educators.
The author shares her interest in teacher burnout and the purpose of the book to serve as a guide
for teachers to leverage resources to invoke change through the use of systems and design
thinking. She also shares a reflection of her own experience where she started out her career in a
Montessori school where there was a student-centered instructional approach and a lot of
flexibility and creativity possible for teachers. This context made teaching easier. Then, when
she moved to the public-school system as a classroom teacher, she noticed the big difference: the
schedule was very rigid, controlled by class bells and little flexibility. It was stressful. She didn’t
fully understand why it was so stressful, so she returned for further postgraduate work to learn
more about human development. She did a snapshot of a mindfulness intervention for educators

that she developed and the associated research and closes the chapter with an explanation of
three parts of the book and their focus.
Part I: Addressing Teachers Stress and Burnout
Chapter one, “How Did We Get Here? Where Can We Go?”, begins by looking back at how the
foundation of the current school structure came to be. She retraces the origins of the current
educational system to the Industrial Revolution, where there was a need to teach and train
children and adults on a large scale to become part of the industrial labor force, which in ways
resembles the rigid structure of factory production. The classroom became and often still is one
where students learn passively with little explicit connection between the learning goals and life
application. Understanding the foundations not only the continuation of former antiquated
practice but also the unaccessed learning potential among learners, the author considers how the
education system can change, and she highlights that it cannot be a top-down initiative, but must
be driven bottom-up. Moreover, she clearly states that despite the benefits of a ground-up
approach, it is not the sole responsibility of teachers to be responsible for change. There are other
stakeholders. She sees the burnout crisis, of teaching with little no pay raises, long work hours
and the need to juggle multiple roles, as an opportunity for teachers to direct how education
evolves in ways that support their needs.
Chapter two examines the “Stress Matrix” and explores the multifactor sources across the
instructional classroom and educational system to identify how they impact educators and how to
mitigate such challenges and pressures. The goal is to highlight how the power in many cases is
in the hands of frontline teachers. The chapter first explores challenges for teachers, students,
and the interaction between them, as well as demands and stress initiated at the classroom,
school, district, and community levels. With the challenges described, the author presents a
review of national studies and policies documenting and/or addressing a decline in U.S. student
performance, with commentary on the impact of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Again, with
additional hurdles presented, the author offers an in-depth discussion of educator connection,
community involvement, a “prosocial” classroom model, and teacher stressors. The chapter
closes with the author’s personal account on her chosen field and how she understands
collective interaction as leverage for professional positive re-engagement.
Chapter three explores “Building Inner Resilience” and the need for teachers to have social and
emotional competence to create and sustain supportive relationships and deal with classroom
demands, while also teaching such competencies to students. Class size is often near 30 students,
with continual changing personal and instructional interactions that have the teacher in a constant
state of observation and managing social and learning collaboration, disengagement in the
lesson, and mitigating potential or actual conflicts. Any tension that can build within the teacher
is potentially transferred to students, and any unease among one or a few students can be
perceived and become contagious to other students. Therefore, a social and emotional awareness
and means to alleviate and manage contextual stress and stressors is critical. The author shares an
example from a teacher in her own classroom describing how our fight or flight system
influences such situations. The author shares how with awareness and attentive practice,
individuals (i.e. teachers) can better manage stress, making them more resilient to not take things

personally, overreact, or catastrophize situations. It starts with self-awareness (i.e. in touch with
our values, triggers, and motivators), and then, self-management through regulating our
immediate reactions (i.e. impulse responses). Questions are presented for teachers to work
through to gain self-awareness and better self-regulate in stressful situations. Additionally,
social-emotional empathy and understanding are also essential for teachers to build inner
resilience, matched with creating and sustaining meaningful relationships that energize and
develop a support network and community with safety of expression. Yet ultimately, the author
shares the most significant skill is the ability to make responsible and constructive decisions that
support their needs.
Part II: Preparing for Transformative Change
Chapter four argues for “Changing the Way We Think about School”, where the author opens
the chapter with an account of a high school graduate she met on a plane to visit the university
where she works, and the young adult shared that he felt immediate enrollment in a bachelor
degree would be a mistake as he didn’t get know what he wants to study and was eyeing a gap
year. The author shares she understood the young adult’s struggle in making an important
decision.The author then begins by the evolutionary development of early humans, as foragers.
The point of account was a zero-sum game (i.e. You win, or you lose.). In doing so, the author
presents how to shift paradigms of thinking, describing why linear approaches to dynamic and
fluid problems are ineffective and how to avoid negative feedback cycles, and identify and
implement positive processes while finding a sense of balance in managing all demands.
Chapter five introduces the five mind traps and how they are applied in complex educational
settings. Berger (2019) defined mind traps as “part cognitive bias, part neurological quirk, and
part adaptive response to a simple world that doesn’t exist anymore” (p. 8). The author shares
that people tend to fall into five major mind traps – simple stories, rightness, agreement, control,
and ego when they are stressed. For example, the author explains that a simple story mind trap,
which is formed by combining pieces of memory stored in people’s mind that leads to stereotype
and confirmation bias, can be overcome by practicing mind flexibility. A rightness trap can be
overcome by exploring the holistic situation and distinguishing personal beliefs and facts before
jumping into decisions. An agreement trap, a wrong belief that disagreements will cause
polarization and compromise can solve disagreements, can be overcome by sharing ideas,
challenging each other, recognizing different perspectives, piloting experiments, and learning
together from mistakes. A control trap can be avoided by focusing on the direction of change
instead of specific targets (Berger, 2019). Lastly, an ego mind trap occurs when we have a solid
and unchanging self, an inflexible and fixed mindset, and a wrong evaluation of ourselves. To
shift the self-system, the author suggests that we cultivate hypo-egoic mindsets, such as
developing and experiencing humility, being open minded, and welcoming changes in our belief
Chapter six explains “design thinking” and how it can be used in classrooms as a
transformational tool to identify learner needs and design learner experience accordingly. Design
thinking is defined by five distinct stages, including empathizing and building empathy with the
user, identifying design challenges, brainstorming ideas, building a prototype, and experimenting

with solutions, all supported by deep reflection. The author provides an example of teachers'
experiments with more extended working periods to show how design thinking works. To
develop empathy for students, the author suggests avoiding falling into mind traps of
categorizing or stereotyping the students and suggests creating an empathy map to understand
the stakeholder needs (Gray, 2017). Jennings suggests starting with complicated challenges and
proposing a timeline with action steps for reaching the goal and outcomes. Before taking action,
it would be essential for stakeholders to brainstorm ideas before identifying a preferred solution.
Overall, design thinking is not a linear process and requires repetition and reflection, which may
lead to revisiting earlier stages before concluding with possible solutions.
Part III: Empowering Teachers
Chapter seven highlights the importance of empowering teachers to “take the lead” through
distributed leadership, both horizontally and vertically. A teacher leadership model can cultivate
teacher leadership and empower teachers to lead school transformation. The author compares
distributed leadership with professional learning communities and concludes that distributed
leadership can better support teacher transformation and increase learner achievement. The
author also walks through a model of teacher leadership which includes four dimensions of
growth through mentorship and coaching. Among the four dimensions of growth - growth as a
teacher, researcher, leader and person, the teacher leadership model places personal growth in the
center of the developmental cycle. At the end, the author also shows that teachers’ desire for self-
improvement improves other competencies, advance educator development and student learning.
Chapter eight provides guidance on how teachers reconceptualize themselves as lifelong learners
and knowledge workers. The chapter highlights four stages and ten tenets of collaborative
professionalism and states the importance of increasing teacher awareness of students, teaching
practices, and learning context. The author first indicates the role of teacher identity in affecting
teachers’ personal and professional life. Then, the author shares how teachers as knowledge
workers can benefit from collaborating with colleagues to build knowledge and boost learning
effectiveness. Professional collaboration and collaborative professionalism are different in that
the former emphasizes on how educators collaborate within the profession, whereas the latter
focuses on teachers working with stakeholders to make transformative learning and teaching
happen. Lastly, the author suggests that teachers should empower themselves and collaborate on
leading educational changes.
Chapter nine investigates how student empowerment contributes to learner achievements and the
educational reform process. The author shares the steps to empower students, including building
a safe, supportive, and caring learning community through Social and Emotional Learning
(SEL). The author identifies student motivation as the biggest challenge in education and
introduces methods to enhance learner engagement. These methods include the self-
determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985) and the Genius Hour, also known as the 20%
project. Moreover, the author illustrates how design thinking, collaborative learning, and project-
based learning can support students to be autonomous learners and reduce teachers’ stress and
burdens. In addition, the author provides ways to cultivate students’ global awareness. Finally,

the author emphasizes a goal to transform students not only to be autonomous learners but also
lifelong learners.
The conclusion reinforces that an oppressive educational system increases teachers’ stress and
prevents them from remaining in the education fields. In addition, the author stresses a critical
need to empower both teachers and students with system and design thinking to lead the
educational changes and transform the learning environment. Lastly, the author encourages
teachers to develop emotional skills to manage stress and become transformational change
With all the challenges teachers have faced in the past several years this is a great book to reflect
on challenges through a new lens for teachers. Although returning to the face-to-face classroom
has improved the instructional environment in many ways, it has also brought new issue to
overcome and we need new ways on how to refresh ourselves and re-engage.


Berger, J.G (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: How to thrive in complexity. Palo Alto,
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Deci., E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985) The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in
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Gray, D. (2017, July 15). Updated empathy map canvas. Retrieved from
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