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Teacher Morale, TikTok + the Subbing Superintendent

How to (Finally) Crack the Code on Teacher Morale, AASA NCE Session with EAB + Georgeanne Warnock (Terrell ISD Superintendent)

EAB recently launched research around teacher morale and noted that working in schools just keeps getting harder – not only for leaders, but for our teachers too. In fact, many districts have noted that they’ve had to pause their strategic work because of shortages and concerns with staffing.

The challenges are immense in that the pool of teachers is shrinking with a decline in enrollment in teacher prep programs. Districts are challenged to increase salaries, for which there are no additional funds, and the climate for teaching is challenging. EAB’s national survey found that “Teacher morale is at an all-time low. Nearly a third of teachers indicated they had low morale and two-thirds of teachers agreed their morale levels are lower today than five years ago.” One of the key reasons for that low morale is that teachers do not feel they are able to be successful in their jobs today.

And this isn’t just a happiness issue. The research supports that morale is bad for students and bad for districts. EAB noted that morale interferes with instructional quality and student engagement and impedes effective classroom management. Districts are also seeing more cases of teacher fatigue and growing resignations.

Districts know that morale is an issue and try their best to help, but current efforts to improve morale have fallen short. Short-term fixes like appreciation efforts and wellness activities like yoga classes are not effective given the degree of challenges teachers are facing.

EAB’s research found that morale initiatives fall into three archetypes and that the ‘doctor’ archetype was most likely to improve morale but also least common in public education.

This session was co-hosted by an incredible Texas superintendent, Georgeanne Warnock. Dr. Warnock shared that as the year started, her team was all-in on supporting teachers. They delivered Sonic drinks to each classroom, shared messages of gratitude and found other ways to show appreciation. Georgeanne shared that during one of her Teacher Advisory Panel meetings, a sweet teacher shared that while she loved the kind gestures, that the reality was there were 3 people with doctorate degrees delivering drinks while she and her colleagues were doubled up with classes and losing conference periods because the staffing shortages were so immense. Dr. Warnock jumped into action and sent many of her central office administration onto campuses to fill in. And she decided to start subbing as well. At the same time, she had been on TikTok as a parent to keep tabs on her own children and began to see the #teachersoftiktok videos and recognized that there was a void of leaders on the platform. She took on the handle of the @subbingsupt and posted her very first video before she subbed her first day.

The things Dr. Warnock learned while subbing were invaluable. She asked the teachers where the ice machine was and they chuckled and shared that it was broken. She asked how long it had been broken and they said three years. She asked how to make copies and learned that there were limits on copy paper. And she saw first-hand the challenges of student behavior. Dr. Warnock shared that “I heard all of this, but I didn’t really get it until I was back in the classroom.”

EAB shared that many leaders focus on surprise and delight. But they noted that what matters most is removing friction. If you want to make people happy, make their lives less difficult. Dr. Warnock did just that. And she did it in a pretty simple way. She sent out a survey and simply asked these 3 questions:

  • If a classroom fairy could bring you anything to make your life better, what would it be?
  • What would make your job easier?
  • What could we take off your plate?

She asked. She listened. And she responded. And her teachers noticed.

There is no magic wand on how to fix teacher morale, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Warnock has unlocked some magic in Terrell ISD. Thank you EAB and Dr. Warnock for this incredible session! And to catch a glimpse of Dr. Warnock in action – watch this video from her @subbingsupt TikTok account!

Dr. Jill Siler is the Deputy Executive Director for the Texas Association of School Administrators. She served as the superintendent of a school district in North Texas for nearly 10 years before transitioning to TASA this past fall. Jill was an AASA NCE Blogger in 2020 and you can follow her at @jillmsiler or at jillmsiler.com.

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