Spring 2023



Degree Name


Primary Advisor/Dissertation Chair

Julia Reimer

Secondary Advisor/Reader One

Kevin Ward

Peer-Reviewer/Reader Two

Sam Smith


This study addresses the question: how do universal learning strategies impact teacher burnout at a project-based-learning secondary school? Interventions against teacher burnout frequently emphasize psychological strategies such as mindfulness exercises and cognitive-behavioral therapy despite inconsistent evidence that these practices have a significant impact on measurable burnout. This study presents an alternative and explores the impact of pedagogical practice on teacher burnout. Recent studies suggest that decreased workload and increased teacher/student autonomy lead to decreased levels of burnout; as a result, this study measures the impact of universal learning, a low-workload, high-autonomy pedagogy most prominently studied in the work of political theorist Jacques Rancière. Universal learning suggests that teachers would be more effective if, instead of deferring to expertise, they take a position of “ignorance” and utilize a questions-based approach to support their students in self-led learning. In 2022-23, 10 educators at a project-based-learning secondary school participated in a mixed-methods study in which they practiced universal learning strategies and recorded their experience of burnout over the course of nine weeks. Though the study found no quantitative correlation between pedagogical strategy and burnout, closing interviews suggested that universal learning is a beneficial intervention for educators with higher burnout scores. The interviews suggested that reactive teaching strategies that focus on in-the-moment practices (such as internet searches and seeking out expert colleagues) correspond to higher burnout scores, while teaching practices that emphasize student-led learning, open-ended questions, and prep work correspond to lower burnout scores. Though frequent use of universal learning strategies were not linked to low burnout scores, teachers with higher burnout scores found universal learning strategies to be more useful than their less-burned out colleagues; these educators explicitly discussed the efficacy of universal learning strategies as an intervention against increased burnout. The study also discusses limitations, implications for teachers, and recommendations for further research with regard to universal learning and its relationship with burnout.

Research Methodology

Case Study, Field Study, Interview


Curriculum, Interdisciplinary Teaching, Learning Styles, Special Education








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