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Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout


reviewed by Andrea Hyde - April 22, 2013

coverTitle: Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout
Author(s): Barbara Larrivee
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475801106, Pages: 216, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com


In her recently published book, Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout, Barbara Larrivee offers the following “Fivefold Teacher Stress Reduction Plan” located on p. 181 as a one-page epilogue:


First, have an instant stress-buffer in your repertoire, such as deep-breathing, emitting a genuine smile, or visualizing being successful.

Second, develop the habit of a daily ritual to create, preserve, and restore a positive state of mind.

Third, embark on or maintain a lifestyle mindfulness practice (for example, meditation, yoga, tai chi).

Fourth, keep challenging your self-defeating beliefs and their accompanying stress-producing self talk by confronting them and replacing them with ones that are more life-enhancing.

Fifth, in your classroom strive to be reflective, authentic, and mindful to nurture and sustain the relationships you have with your students.


You might see a list like this on any number of health-related blogs, in popular magazines, and in “self help” books. (I’ve seen several lists like this on Google’s “How To of the Day”.) The value of Larivee’s book is that she has derived this particular list of stress busters from a generous amount of research on the physiological, psychological, emotional and cognitive effects of stress in general, and through a focused body of research on workplace stress and teacher stress in particular.  She has also summarized important findings from studies on teachers who have used the preventative and coping techniques she suggests.  In fact, Larivee provides more science than anyone but the harshest skeptic could want. But there are still those who think of such practices as hokey or new-agey. Perhaps Larivee is aware of this and that is why she leaves her five-item for the end of the book.1


Those of us who study and write about the strategies described in this book understand and are grateful as well to “hard science” for legitimizing our interests, scholarship and practices. And slowly growing in number are professional development conferences and webinars that offer the same or similar strategies2.


The book begins with an introduction to stress and applied studies of stress (Chapter One); moves into a research-based argument for why the job characteristics of teaching are so stressful (Chapter Two); and makes suggestions for creating and using school-based social supports as a preventative for teacher burnout (Chapter Three). Readers who are familiar with the work of Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal will be reminded of the peer evaluation methods in The Courage to Teach (1998) and the activities involved in the Circle of Trust Approach engaged by the Center’s retreat and program participants.


Chapters Four and Five are devoted to a condensed recap of the role of emotion in education.  Most readers will remember the popular books and workbook on Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (1996). Consistent with other chapters, Larivee provides scientific studies on emotions and the brain, specifically on the destructive action of strong and persistent negative emotions. Quite simply, negative emotions increase stress levels, make maladaptive stress responses more likely and thwart the body’s ability to cope with it. Chapter Four makes that case for teaching as “emotional labor.” Supported by the entire collection of research throughout the book, Larivee makes an irrefutable argument that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations because of work environment factors such as isolation, responsibility for children, and a unforgiving daily pace for performance including making decisions, solving problems and focusing on the unique needs of very different kinds of students. Workers in other professions can mentally and emotionally distance themselves from their work periodically or regularly. However, when teacher depersonalize their jobs in “an attempt to limit the depletion of their emotional energy,” they end up “treating their students as objects rather than individuals” (p. 21).


None of this would surprise most of Larivee’s readers, who I would suspect would be teachers and teacher educators. Nor would they be surprised that job satisfaction for educators is at an all time low and that over half of teachers surveyed report being under great stress, or that both teachers and principals agree that most challenges come from factors outside of the school including shrinking budgets (MetLife, 2013). However, Larivee’s point is that even in an ideal teaching environment, teachers may be more prone to stress because of how much they care (and how they are taught to care) about the work that they do and the hard, emotional and ethical work that teaching involves. Yet, information on brain science (outside of bits on student learning and motivation), emotional regulation, the damages of stress and skills for coping with it receives scant, if any, attention in teacher preparation or professional development.  And actually, schools of education are reducing or eliminating psychology courses from teacher education sequences to align with state professional teaching standards that are more intensely focused on student assessment and away from the education that pre-service teachers receive.


While stress and coping get the most attention in this book, Larivee spends some time in Chapter One, sharing information from research on burnout, “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that results from chronic job stress and frustration” (p. 8), and is forthright in indicating that, though certain personality characteristics predispose people to burnout (e.g., type A personalities or introverts, pp. 12-13) new and inexperienced teachers are both most likely to experience burnout and most likely to leave the profession because of it (p. 16).  This has become something like common knowledge, which concerns multiple stakeholders for various reasons. I am concerned that burnout drives caring and otherwise competent teachers away from a profession that sorely needs them. Another, perhaps larger, problem is for those who stay; burnout not only wrecks a teacher’s health, it reduces her enthusiasm for teaching and learning, makes her less competent, and reduces the quality of relationships that she has with her students. This last part, quality teacher-student (or adult-child) relationships, is slowing being recognized as the most important focus of education; even the thing most closely linked to more positive student attitudes toward school, greater potential for student learning and a positive classroom/school climate. All of these have been suggested as necessary to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline for poor, minority, special education and queer students (Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline, 2012).


As someone who actively works on most of the five items in Larivee’s Stress Reduction Plan, I can attest to the effectiveness of the exercises that are provided in Chapters Six through Ten; I did each of the exercises as I encountered them. The exercises that helped me the most are in Chapter Eight, Changing the Way You Communicate with Yourself. These practices are connected with research in, and therapeutic applications of, positive psychology (Chapter Ten, especially the work of Martin Seligman) and the development of social emotional learning for teachers and students (see for example, CASEL). As research in neuroscience and positive psychology bears out, the power of the mind to exchange a negative thought for a positive one makes these technologies of practical/reliable value for much more than coping. In the final chapter of the book, Larivee includes work that has associated positive emotions and happiness with “numerous successful life outcomes,” including enhanced creativity and productivity and higher income (p. 173). Larivee suggests a book by Lyubomirsky (2007) that includes specific behaviors (again, research-based strategies) for building happiness. The list begins with “Count Your Blessings” and ends with “Forgive.”  (How many times have we heard this advice? Does anyone else feel happy to have science to legitimize what can otherwise be received as an empty platitude?)


Larivee also consistently points to the evidence of the effectiveness of contemplative, mind-body practices in reducing stress in chapter nine. While all of the practices and strategies that Larivee offers may be called mindful, chapter nine defines mindfulness as “a particular kind of attention encompassing a nonjudgmental awareness, openness, curiosity, and acceptance of internal and external present experiences” (p. 134). Most scholars and practitioners of mindfulness in education will owe their definitions of mindfulness to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and derive much of their support for the effectiveness of mindfulness in reducing stress from his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which includes meditation, body scan exercises and hatha yoga, and which is now in too many places to count (but see http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=41268 and read Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Larivee does a responsible job of summarizing the ever expanding research on mindfulness and she provides just the right amount of information about, and presents four easy techniques for, meditating. However, I was disappointed that only one page was devoted to movement-based mindfulness practices (pp. 149-150), specifically tai chi, qi gong and yoga. Though each is a collection of practices with rich and varying traditions, and though moving the body (exercise) is undisputed as necessary for physical and mental health, movement received the shortest treatment of the entire book. But as a yoga practitioner and teacher and someone who has devoted scholarship to the use of yoga in schools, I am unapologetically biased.


I was encouraged to read evidence (mostly in Chapter Six) confirming what I had already thought: that teachers are remarkably resilient when they feel that they are well supported. Yet, as teachers are positioned as selfish, incompetent or lazy and feeling the weight of externally mandated, high-stakes accountability, they will need every bit of this five-point plan. To be clear, in advocating for teachers to take care of themselves, I do not excuse structural constraints, downward pressures, discourses of shame and blame and poisonous organizational cultures in contributing to high teacher stress in the first place. Nor does Larivee.


This book is a call to look inward for both aid and reinforcement in the resistance to corporate school reform that advances a rhetoric of teacher-bashing as just another part of brush-clearing for private advancement into the education “industry.” This is not a call to turn away from social, economic or policy reform. I am hopeful that the information and practices in Cultivating Teacher Renewal will reach teachers, who have a hard time engaging in self care because they receive too many messages that all of their efforts must be student-directed; I will continue to do my best to encourage teachers to try some of theses exercises. I will also work within my capacity as a teacher-educator to align these research-based, and humanizing, practices with state standards for teacher education, and with PK-12 standards for Social Emotional Learning, Universal Design and Health and Physical Education. I encourage my colleagues to do the same.


Notes


1. Recently, my husband explained to his community college students that he had given me a journal for recording my affirmations (See Expressing Gratitude on p.175). After describing to them how I write positive statement about what I have and what I wish to have more of in my life, they declared flatly that I was “weird”.

2. See, for example, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society http://www.contemplativemind.org/webinars


References


Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, Senate, 112th Cong. 2 (2012). Available from http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?comm=judiciary&type=live&filename=judiciary121212p.  


Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence: A new vision for educators. Port Chester, N.Y.: National Professional Resources.


Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Random House.


Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.


Markow, D., Macia, L. & Lee, H. (2013). The MetLife survey of the American teacher: Challenges for school leadership. Rochester, NY: Harris Interactive.


Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life,1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.







Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 22, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17102, Date Accessed: 12/2/2021 2:21:59 PM

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About the Author
  • Andrea Hyde
    Western Illinois University
    E-mail Author
    ANDREA HYDE is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the social foundations of education, including philosophy of education and qualitative research. Andrea’s scholarship and current research projects focus on yoga in education and mindfully democratic schools. She consults for the nonprofit, Yoga in Schools, which provides yoga education programs and teacher professional development for k-12 schools on a district-wide scale.
 
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