Q&A: In Support of Teachers

Great schools start with great teachers, says Dr. Georgeanne Warnock, Superintendent of Terrell Independent School District. Her message: Now, more than ever, teachers need to feel valued and appreciated.

As Superintendent of Terrell ISD, Dr. Georgeanne Warnock is on the front lines of the challenges facing students and teachers, in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, 30 miles east of Dallas, Texas.

She’s a passionate advocate for finding new ways to recruit and retain teachers, who are facing unprecedented pressures from a variety of sources. Under her leadership, Terrell is moving to a four-day school week, specifically targeting teacher retention. Dr. Warnock is also a social media sensation, with more than 40,000 followers on TikTok, who receive regular updates on her time on campus.

Delivering better learner outcomes begins with making teachers feel like their value and worth is appreciated, Dr. Warnock says.

What have you been learning about retaining teachers?

There’s a great quote by an author named Doris Santoro, and I’ll paraphrase, that demoralization is really what we’re seeing. Burnout is the extreme of demoralization.

When we talk about teachers leaving the profession, it’s not dissatisfaction. Lots of teachers really love the work that they get to do with kids. But when we think about demoralization, it’s when there’s a separation or a misalignment from the values that brought teachers into the profession and what they’re really living every day. There’s a real separation between what drove teachers to come into the profession and what their daily experience looks like today.

In that context, what’s working? How do you revive that spirit?

I think it is some of the little things that we’ve seen. First, what circumstances do we need to set up in the classroom to help make the teacher successful? What do we need to do more of? Really respecting and uplifting the professionalism of teachers and giving them the autonomous space to function in a standardized system. Then really being intentional about gratitude and how we call back the values of the profession. That is really important right now. In the latest survey from the Charles E. Butt Foundation, teachers expressed [they felt] an incredible lack of gratitude and value. There was about a 20 percent drop in every category. Only 5 percent of teachers feel valued by our elected officials.

How can design support those goals?
Having space where teachers feel uplifted, inspired to come and work — modern spaces that a community has supported and said, “we value our students, we value our staff, and we want you to be in a beautiful space and a healthy space.”

We have heard from our staff that they want more connections coming out of the pandemic. I think facilities that inspire connectivity and collaboration definitely contribute to keeping staff present.

There’s a real separation between what drove teachers to come into the profession and what their daily experience looks like today.

How do you incorporate those spaces into a campus?
We redesigned some of our teacher lounges. It’s little things. We wanted to intentionally design break rooms and break areas that invite teachers to come and just have a reset, or they’re able to check out.

They can have a decent cup of coffee and some peace. We’ve done some lounge refreshes with minor updates just to make it a space that says, “we value you, and you can take a breath here.”

What are the goals of the four-day class schedule?

The only reason we’re doing that is to recruit and retain teachers. We hope to see a deeper pool of certified and highly qualified applicants to hire from, and then we hope to see improved student outcomes because we’ve been able to recruit and retain excellent staff.

What role does social media play in the larger communication goals?

Now, more than ever, it’s important to realize that for a lot of our families the only place to get information is on social media. So, we’re making sure that we are really sharing out the positive messages and offering virtual opportunities for people to connect with us.

What do you like about social media?

Personally, I started helping to cover classes in our district during the pandemic. We started chronicling that on TikTok, and it gained a little following. It’s been good to be a voice.

Why are you making the extra effort to teach classes?

It’s been incredible learning for me as a superintendent. Figuring out little things like the ice machine isn’t working or we don’t have a good system for copier paper. The little things, but also big things, like this assignment isn’t working well. I’m seeing it play out firsthand, and it gives it a different lens.

I think I always learn more about what’s going on every time I’m at a campus talking to teachers or talking to kids. “What don’t you like? What do we need to improve?” It’s hard to lead if you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t. And the best way to do that is to hear from the people that you’re serving.