Sanée Bell

Leading and Learning with Purpose

A fundamental core value that I hold as a leader is that it is people, not programs that improve schools. I consider it my primary responsibility to hire well and to build the professional capital of those who are working under my leadership. I understand that the success of my school is dependent on my ability to focus on areas that make the greatest difference. Being able to do the most important things well creates the conditions that are necessary to innovate, transform, and sustain change. As a leader, I have found the following activities to be purposeful and important in creating a collaborative culture among the educators in my building:

  • Identifying student learning needs
  • Developing a strong instructional core centered around best practices
  • Providing structure and support that allows teachers to learn from each other
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress

In collaboration with my instructional coaches, I lay out the instructional focus areas for our campus. It is this focus that centers our work and drives all professional learning decisions. Since our work has been focused and intentional, teachers have had the time to grow and develop their professional capital.

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In order to move our work to the next level, I made the decision to introduce the instructional rounds practice to my teachers. I have participated in the instructional rounds process with a team of principals for the past two years, and through this collaboration, I have gained a great deal of insight about instruction and the importance of reflection. Because of my experience with this process, I wanted to create a framework for teachers that would allow them to learn from each other. The goal of the rounds process is to create the opportunity for structured discourse and reflection about our instructional practice. Another goal of the rounds process is to professionalize the role of the educators in the building.

Prior to conducting the rounds, we identify the problem of practice in which to focus our attention before we enter classrooms. The purpose of the instructional round visit is not to be judgmental about one another’s practice, but to learn from colleagues, to gain insights, new understanding, and to identify strong instructional practices. By analyzing our instructional core as a group, we are utilizing the collective expertise and experience of the group to build professional group capital.

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As a team, we review our collective agreements for how we will engage with one another during the classroom visits and during the debriefing process of those visits. Setting the stage for the day is a critical activity and a huge factor in ensuring that the instructional

rounds visit is a time for focused learning. Participating in the instructional rounds process is voluntary. Most of the participants are looking to learn how to improve their practice. After the classroom visits, the team returns to debrief and share the data collected during the rounds process. Discussions about next steps for campus professional learning, as well as personal reflection time about how their own practice will be impacted as a result of participating in the rounds process, are key areas of focus during the debrief session. At the end of the every instructional rounds visit, the feedback from the group is shared with the staff, and the leadership team analyzes the reflection sheets to identify common themes.

The benefit of implementing this work on my campus has been amazing. The collaborative learning that occurred across grade levels strengthened and added value to the professional core of my campus. Teachers are now seeking guidance from their colleagues on how to address instructional issues, and they are engaging in dialogue about professional best practices. They also felt validated about their current progress, and they are highly engaged in their work as professionals. It is unlikely that the rich dialogue and reflection that takes place at the end of the instructional rounds process would have naturally occurred if teachers had not been given the opportunity to observe and learn from each other. Building the professional capital of the teachers on my campus by empowering them to learn and share with each other positively contributed to the collaborative culture of professional learning at my school.

Resources used to move the work forward include:

How have you built the professional capital within your school? I would love to hear your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Building Professional Capital to Impact Student Learning

  1. Chris Bailey says:

    Building professional capacity for our staff is at the crux of how we help students learn in a more efficient and effective environment. Anytime we can get staff out or our silos of learning and into a community of collaboration, the better chance we have to share best practices with our students. The PLC and learning walks/ instructional rounds are really great passive practices for teachers to share ideas and reflect on student learning. I wonder how we can create more opportunities for teachers to team up with each other while teaching (the co-teach model) to offer a richer student experience to learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      Bingo, Chris! My next area of focus is putting structures and systems in place that promote and support an effective co-teach model. I look forward to working with you on this endeavor!


  2. Mark McCord says:

    Hey Sanee!

    Great work here. We have been leaning into this work at MRJH. The most powerful part of this work is the way it honors the expertise we have on our campuses. Kudos to you for building structures and providing the focus to knock down the silos that separate our teachers. The deprivatization of our practice is critical to establish a collegial culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      There is a wealth of collective wisdoms within our schoolhouses. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to leverage that to benefit the whole school.


  3. Michelle Discenza says:

    Thank you for sharing this Sanee. Although I read widely, I had never heard of instructional rounds! I am transitioning from an assistant principal to principal role next week, and this practice aligns perfectly with my values. I look forward to ordering the books and learning more about it! Thank you.


    1. saneebell says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Michelle! Please reach out if I can be of further assistance as you embark on your new journey. Best wishes!!


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