Can MOOCs Improve Teacher PD?

School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Anant Agarwal argues that massively open online courses matter and they should be viewed as next-generation textbooks. Educational leaders should take what we already know about MOOCs and use that information to drive change. For instance, research shows the people who benefit most from MOOCs are people who are already employed and who have multiple degrees. In my industry, we call these folks unionized teachers. There are approximately three million of them in the United States. Educational leaders should pilot test using MOOCs as PD modules and pair them with screening tools that identify teachers who are innovative, and proactive risk takers. Then, when districts want to implement new technology or pedagogical initiatives, they have a ready pool of talent are willing to try new things.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed nearly four hundred articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher professional development programs (the full list is available at The researchers examined forty research studies that represented high quality empirical research. The focus and purpose of these studies addressed five areas of concern: (a) Design of professional development; (b) Effectiveness of professional development; (c) Technology to support professional development; (d) Online communication and professional development; and (e) Research methods. These best practices deserve greater examination and experimentation.

MOOCs offer educational leaders an opportunity to cost-effectively pilot test staff training programs. Further, they produce robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This information can be analyzed to fine-tune the rollout of costly programs like 1:1 implementations. While for-profit entities shop their online education wares to low-income students in need of credit recovery, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at


Phoning Parents Part 2

Hello Everyone. I am, Dr. Scott Petri, your instructor for Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. Welcome to the second lecture on improving teacher and parent communication. Thank you to the great people at Match Education for this great book Phoning Parents by Michael Goldstein. It’s cheaper than a Venti at Starbucks. Go get it.

This video will explain the six types of phone calls the book advocates making. If you read the study by Matt Kraft on the website, you know making proactive calls to parents created stronger teacher-student relationships, improved parental involvement, and increased student motivation.

The book recommends making this systemic behavior, investing 30 minutes a day in making parent phone calls. These calls should be no longer than 5 minutes each, which means you can make 6 calls per day, 36 calls a week. If you have 180 students, it will take 5 weeks to call every parent.

The six reasons for making these phone calls are: Shows courtesy and respect to both student and parent; You know parent got the message because you hear them saying uh-huh and what? Phone call communication is 1 to 1; Provide parents with more detailed information about their child’s progress and behavior than progress reports or dailies; Teacher can provide specific advice to the parent; and Increases student interest and investment in learning.

The Praise Call
Teacher describes a positive choice or goal met by the child
Breaks the negative cycle for struggling students
Praise must be specific and detailed
Focus on effort, choices, and accomplishments

The Correction Call
Describes something the student needs to improve
Helps student and parent understand what improvement looks like
Discuss and decide next steps for beginning the process of improvement

The Check In Call
See how student is doing with classwork and homework
Speak to student before parent
You didn’t finish your work in class today, what was the problem?
Recap purpose of call with parent

Text Messaging
Can be praise or reminders
Don’t use texting for corrections or concerns – call instead
Be careful not to automate, or you risk losing the personal bond in the relationship
Services like, or Remind 101 can help personalize batch messages.

Texting is the most popular form of communicating for teenagers. 87% of high school seniors text every day, whereas only 61% of them use Facebook daily. This may not be the medium of choice for parents, so ask what they prefer.

The Summit
An emergency in-person meeting with student and parent present
Create a plan to help student
Be warm, but unapologetic about your high expectations
Make parent your partner

I hope you will consider investing some time in making proactive phone calls to increase your students’ engagement this year. Be sure to check out the additional resources and supplementary videos I’ve put on the blog under the tag phoning parents.


The Developmental Relationships Framework

My wonderful Principal, Suzanne Blake, was emphatic that I include the 40 Developmental Assets when I told her I would be teaching Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. She had many stories about opening up a brand new middle school that embraced this work. She raved about how easy it was to establish a school culture when all of the teachers were on the same page about the importance of increasing the assets of their students.  Since, then I have read much of the literature from the Search Institute and wholeheartedly agree that this framework deserves inclusion in this course.

The teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out (Reichert & Hawley, 2014).  More importantly, we believe that the characteristics described in successful teacher student relationships can be developed. Teachers who effectively establish positive relationships with their students are characterized by: reaching out, often beyond standard classroom protocols, to locate and meet particular student needs; locating and responding to students’ individual interests and talents; sharing common interests and talents; sharing common characteristics, such as ethnicity, faith, and learning approaches; being willing, when appropriate, to disclose personal experiences; being willing to accommodate a measure of opposition; and being willing to reveal some degree of personal vulnerability.

The goal of the course is to give teachers a caring and collaborative environment to practice new skills that they wish to incorporate in their class.  Toward that goal, how do we help teachers develop growth mindsets about improving their relationships with students? For more information and resources go to:


Kahoot – A Kahool Ed Tech Freebie has been an end of the school year treat for my students preparing for their comprehensive final exam. I discovered this website in my Edsurge newsletter and experimented with it while doing a Vietnam War unit with my students. To my delight, they loved it.

Students use an internet enabled device to enter a PIN and register their response. This is great for my class which only has 30 iPads, but usually 38 students.  A number of other bloggers have published more comprehensive reviews: new features, engaging assessment, and formative freebie.

I do not use Kahoot as part of my formal assessment program, but consider it an excellent checking for understanding tool. I have found that if you allow students more than 20 seconds to answer a question, they start checking around to see what their friends are answering. I give progressive amounts of extra-credit points to people on the leaderboard and everyone else who plays. It is fun to watch students react to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Kahoot will easily download all the data to an excel spreadsheet. If you ask your students to make their nickname their last name and first initial, then it is easy to sort the names in the spreadsheet and copy into your gradebook.

Here is a short video that showcases how Kahoot will increase the student engagement in your class.  Try it out. Have some fun. Lord knows we need more of that in public education these days.


Use of Student Surveys for Teacher Evaluations

As support seems to be slipping for value added models and biased classroom observations, educational leaders may be well advised to consider incorporating student surveys into teacher evaluations.  Eduwonk has an interesting post and paper available on this topic.

I am posting a short promo video that explains how to analyze student survey data. As a small school principal, I analyzed over 3,000 teacher evaluations.  The video is to promote an upcoming MOOC on improving teacher-student relationships that will start on on September 22, 2014.