NC NTSP Connect: May 2016

Dear Colleagues:

This has been an amazing year for the NC New Teacher Support Program.  As districts wrap up state and local assessment activities, professional development opportunities, continue with year-round school programming, or send well wishes to students as they approach a much needed break, our work with you will enthusiastically continue throughout the summer.  Our Instructional Coach teams are excited to collaborate with our district partners to plan for upcoming professional learning for beginning teachers as pre-planning and fall semester come again soon. 

Our entire team will be working hard throughout the summer to advance our coaching practices based on research and data, to enhance regional professional development sessions to meet the needs of districts and teachers based on evaluations and feedback, and to plan for our upcoming Fall Institute.  We will send a save-the-date announcement for Fall Institute very soon and are working closely on details to best meet the needs of our partners.

We are so excited about the growth of our program, reaching more beginning teachers in North Carolina next year.  We appreciate hearing from each partnering district how the NC New Teacher Support Program makes a difference in teacher retention, effectiveness, and student learning.  With our new partners next year, we are thrilled that more students in North Carolina will be impacted positively because of our collaborative work with you.

Lateral Entry teachers who are still in their first year of teaching still have time to apply for the NC INSPIRE program before online summer classes begin at UNCC and WCU.  The INSPIRE program is an opportunity for funding a Master of Arts in Teaching.  INSPIRE fellows also benefit from the services of participation in the NC New Teacher Support Program.  All applicants must be approved to register for online classes at UNCC or WCU by the start of the summer semester.  For more details, visit

We look forward to 2016-17 and are excited about the important work to do to make a difference in the schools of North Carolina!

All the Best,

Bryan S. Zugelder



Jennifer Beck, WCU Region Instructional Coach

Jennifer Beck works with the NC NTSP as an Instructional Coach in the WCU Region. Before she joined the NC NTSP, Jennifer taught self-contained special education students at East Burke High School. In 2006 Jennifer took on the roll of Instructional Coach for the Burke County Public Schools. As an Instructional Coach she served as mentor and coach for beginning teachers in the four Burke County High Schools, leading numerous professional development workshops at the local, regional, and state levels. Jennifer has also served as an Exceptional Children’s Program Specialist and Teacher of the D/HH for Caldwell County Schools. During her tenure in Caldwell County, she served as Department Chair, District Coordinator for the CIRCLES Project through UNC Charlotte and as the LEA Transition Coordinator.

Jennifer earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Sociology from Catawba College, and Master’s degrees in Special Education and School Administration from Appalachian State University. In 2008, the Appalachian State University Special Education Faculty inducted her into the ASU Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi.

Jennifer holds certifications in Wilson Reading and MotheRead, and is a Parents as Teachers Educator and Thinking Maps Trainer.  She and her husband Carl live in Valdese, NC. They have two adult sons, Tucker and Hayden.



Recent Event Spotlight: UNCG

On April 12, UNCG Region Instructional Coaches delivered a half-day of professional development for the teachers they serve in the Alamance-Burlington School System. The focus of the PD session was on Differentiated Learning.

During the three-hour session, participants collaborated with teachers in similar content areas to explore how they might design a tiered activity that centered on student readiness. In other activities, beginning teachers shared strategies they used to connect with student learning profiles and interests. In reflecting on the session, one participant said, “I liked being able to collaborate and talk with other teachers in my content area.”

The UNCG Region also delivered a half-day session to the teachers in Rockingham County Schools on Wednesday April 20. The session was centered around Time Management and, due to the time of year, Review Activities. The teachers were able to share various strategies for time management and make a plan for tools that will be incorporated in their classroom. Some teachers are already making plans for next school year!

The teachers then split into groups by content and shared review activities that they are currently using in their classrooms. The teachers thoroughly enjoyed sharing engaging Review Games and getting to collaborate with one another.  The most popular activity that teachers are eager to try is Quizizz – an online site that allows teachers to create interactive quizzes. We look forward to seeing increased engagement through the use of these great activities!




As we moved into the final stretch of the year, the UNC Charlotte Region of the NC NTSP had the pleasure of leading several professional development sessions that encouraged beginning teachers to reflect on the school year.  For one activity, we asked them to complete the statement, “Teaching is like…”  As teachers began to write and share, we were reminded once again of what thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and creative professionals teach in our schools and how lucky we are to work with them.  

 Teaching is like being on an Olympic balance beam.  It’s a balancing act that takes strength and patience. And it’s hard on your feet.

• Teaching is like a rollercoaster, because it’s full of ups and downs. 

• Teaching is like an HVAC system.  It can be hot or cold!

• Teaching is like North Carolina’s weather.  It is always changing.

• Teaching is like a fun house.  It’s confusing and you might get lost, but you always have a good time.

• Teaching is like a bag of skittles.  You never know what the flavor of the day will be.

• Teaching is like playing a game of Jumanji.

• Teaching is like a holiday when your students pass their exams!

• Teaching is like a theme park.  Some rides you love.  Some rides you are scared of.

• Teaching is like opening a present.

• Teaching is like having your whole family in the kitchen – 2 year olds and spouses included.

• Teaching is like a new beginning each day!



Research Spotlight: Hallmarks of Project-Based Learning

What does project-based learning look like in the classroom?

While the research may reveal various definitions of project-based learning (PBL), a review of the research also reveals that there are certain distinct traits that characterize it in the classroom. In the PBL experience, teachers will “hook” students into possible topics by devising a strong driving question, there are ample opportunities to incorporate 21st century skills, the project is steeped in authentic learning, and there are processes in place to provide feedback and revision.  

In order for project based learning to be effective, there are certain characteristics that must be in place. First, there needs to be an activity that “hooks” the students. Teachers craft an experience that immediately engages students. Students may watch a video about the topic at hand, or they might go on a field trip. The teacher may even arrange for a guest speaker to come into the classroom to discuss the topic that students are about to embark upon. Teachers try to actively engage students from the outset, so that enthusiastic buy-in is there from the beginning.

Once the stage is set for students, then the teacher and students offer up another intriguing piece of the puzzle: a good strong driving question. This question should be crafted in such a way that it captures the essence of the project. Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) note that, "A good driving question captures the heart of the project in clear, compelling language, which gives students a sense of purpose and challenge. The question should be provocative, open-ended, complex, and linked to the core of what you want students to learn. It could be abstract (When is war justified?); concrete (Is our water safe to drink?); or focused on solving a problem (How can we improve this website so that more young people will use it?)" It is this driving question that propels the students in their quest for new knowledge. Once the question has been devised, students begin their inquiry into their topic.

Another component of project-based learning is its emphasis on developing 21st century skills. From the time the project begins, until the time the project ends, students are engaged in skills that are critical to living in the 21st century. PBL encourages students to become critical thinkers. Thomas (2000) writes of PBL that, “investigation is a goal directed process that involves inquiry, knowledge building, and resolution." The development of these critical thinking skills ultimately paves the way for students to become successful academically and professionally. Students also cultivate strong communication and collaboration skills as they discuss ways to complete their project. Brainstorming, being attentive listeners, fruitful conversations, and working in teams are just a few by-products of working in PBL groups. Bell (2015) asserts that, "In the future, children must enter a workforce in which they will be judged on their performance. They will be evaluated not only on their outcomes, but also on their collaborative, negotiating, planning, and organizational skills. By implementing PBL, we are preparing our students to meet the twenty-first century with preparedness and a repertoire of skills they can use successfully. Moreover, PBL projects are often impressive, grand undertakings created and presented with ultimate pride and care." The development of these 21st century skills are crucial elements of project-based learning. While the teacher does not explicitly teach all of these skills, these skills become highlighted through the tasks in which students are engaged.

Authentic learning is another characteristic of project based learning. Authentic learning can be described as learning that is reflective of real-life situations. Much of Dewey and Kilpatrick’s complaints about education was its emphasis on rote memorization of seemingly useless facts. They felt that students should be stimulated with tasks that emulated life. PBL offers a break from the traditional forms of teaching. Thomas (2000) writes, "Projects embody characteristics that give them a feeling of authenticity to students. These characteristics can include the topic, the tasks, the roles that students play, the context within which the work of the project is carried out, the collaborators who work with students on the project, the products that are produced, the audience for the project’s products, or the criteria by which the products or performances are judged."

When students are engaged in real inquiry, there is buy-in from students. In typical classroom projects, students may find information from articles, books, or maybe the internet. Then they regurgitate the material, with no authentic interpretations of the information that they have gathered.  However, with project-based learning, students, “follow a trail that begins with their own questions, leads to a search for resources and the discovery of answers, and often ultimately leads to generating new questions, testing ideas, and drawing their own conclusions” (Larmer and Mergendoller, 2010 para. 19). These authentic learning tasks unveil new ways of exploring the curriculum at hand, and this learning is guided by the student, not the teacher.

Finally, in project-based learning there will be a process for providing feedback and giving students an opportunity to revise. This simulates authentic learning for students, for feedback is a part real-life. The first iteration of a project is only the beginning, and students have to begin to understand the process of feedback and revision. While the project is the end result, there are multiple opportunities for the teacher to provide feedback on formative assignments throughout the task. Waiting to the end of the assignment to provide feedback is useless.  Guskey (2007) writes, “what matters most with formative assessments is how students and teachers use the results. Unfortunately, many educators today overlook this vital aspect of formative assessment” (p. 32). When teachers take the time to provide in-depth feedback on student’s work, then true learning can begin to take place. Shute (2008) asserts that, “The main goal of formative feedback - whether delivered by a teacher or computer, in the classroom or elsewhere - is to enhance learning, performance, or both, engendering the formation of accurate, targeted conceptualizations and skills” (p. 175). Teachers must be well-versed in how to deliver effective feedback so that students can grow from the experience. Hattie (2012) further describes the atmosphere of classroom that is saturated in feedback:

First, feedback thrives in conditions of error or not knowing—not in environments where we already know and understand. Thus, teachers need to welcome error and misunderstanding in their classrooms. This attitude, of course, invokes trust. Students learn most easily in an environment in which they can get and use feedback about what they don't know without fearing negative reactions from their peers or their teacher.

Second, the simple act of giving feedback won't result in improved student learning—the feedback has to be effective. When teachers listen to their students' learning, they know what worked, what didn't, and what they need to change to foster student growth (p. 4).

Providing feedback during project-based learning is an integral part of the learning process, and it cannot be overlooked, even if these projects do not mimic typical formative assessments that can be found in the traditional classroom structure. Feedback is key to students’ growth, and teachers must become comfortable utilizing feedback in a project-based learning classroom.

While this is not an exhaustive and comprehensive list of the key features of project-based learning, it does highlight some of the significant components that comprise project-based learning. The driving question, 21st century skills, authentic learning and providing feedback and opportunities for revision are relevant pieces to project-based learning.



District Spotlight: Person County Schools

Person County Schools recently held an award ceremony to announce the 2nd Annual Beginning Teacher of Excellence Award.  This award is designed to recognize outstanding beginning teachers in their first year of service to Person County Schools.  The teachers selected for the award must demonstrate maturity, professionalism, growth, and overall strong performance during their first year of teaching in the district. 

Last year’s winner was an NC NTSP participant and 2nd year English teacher, Matthew West. He spoke at the April 27th ceremony and lauded the district’s attempts to reward and retain quality beginning teachers.  Matthew also thanked the NC NTSP and his Instructional Coach, Susan Farrow, saying,  “Susan has been an absolute godsend to me.  Her model for warm-ups and introductory activities helped me reshape my approach to activating strategies.  Being able to bounce ideas off someone who is truly an expert in my content area has been wonderfully helpful.”

The nominees for the 2015-2016 Beginning Teacher of Excellence Award were NC NTSP participants Dawn Suitt, from Northern Middle School; Megan Aldrup-MacDonald, from Person High School; and Karsyn Ellis from Southern Middle School.  In discussing the impact of having a NC NTSP Instructional Coach to guide her first year of teaching, Karsyn Ellis shared the following about her Instructional Coach Pat Conetta, “Pat has helped me manage my students better and has helped me grow so much as a teacher. With his great tips on how to manage my time inside and outside of school, Pat has really helped to simplify my life.”

Dawn Suitt, a 6-8th grade CTE teacher from Northern Middle was this year’s award recipient. Dawn, along with Person County’s Teacher of the Year, was honored at a banquet held in their honor at the Homestead Steak House.  Keana Triplett, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year was the guest speaker at the banquet.