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.