Meet Our Team: Carrie Lupoli
In this blog series, we are interviewing members of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.
Why did you want to become an educator?
When I was a little girl, the ONLY imaginative play I did was as a waitress or as a teacher. It’s funny because those are really the only two jobs I have ever had. I just always knew I wanted to be a teacher. Both my parents are educators and I used to spend so much time in their schools, helping my dad grade papers and always knowing a school building was where I chose to be. I became a special education teacher because by the time I got into college, I knew I wanted to be prepared to make the largest impact possible, especially with populations of students who I thought didn’t have as much of an opportunity for their voice and needs to be heard. I also believed that with the relentless mindset of a special educator who is trained to always problem solve and never give up on a child, I could be an impactful presence for all students.
Tell us about your background in education.
I started out as a special education teacher and then quickly became a leader and director of special education. Just before turning 30, however, my husband’s job moved us across the world to Singapore, where I was acutely aware of the lack of inclusive services to students with mild to moderate special needs. Although I didn’t have any business experience at the time and certainly didn’t know how to navigate as an entrepreneur in a foreign country, I co-founded an organization that provided the mainstream special needs support to local and international schools around the country. Although I didn’t name it as such at the time, I realize now that what we did was significantly shift mindsets about inclusion and special education. After 7 years of running this organization (and moving to Europe during that last year), I was able to transition the organization to some of my local employees and colleagues to keep the work moving. It’s exciting that now all of the international and local schools have learning support as part of their culture; something that wasn’t the case just 10 years ago! Once moving back to the United States, I trained as a Real Time Teacher Coach and contracted with Teach for America Corps Members to help them improve their practices with the No-Nonsense Nurturer Model before becoming a full-time staff member in 2013.
What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?
My first teaching experience was in Hartford, Connecticut and I was shocked at the disparity in educational opportunity between Hartford and where I lived just 10 miles away. I felt so bad for my students and wanted them to have the access to the types of education, buildings and teachers that my younger brother had, who was the same age as the students I was teaching. I learned so much in that first year but one thing that I realized, that I take with me every day, is the power of relationships and how many students crave to have an adult believe in them and assume the best in them every day. My heart would break for those kids who I found lovely, caring and sweet when some of their teachers had such disempowering beliefs about who they were as people. As a result, kids trusted me and I got to know who they were beyond the stereotypes that so many teachers placed on them.
Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over? Why or why not?
There are so many things I would go back and do differently if I could and during that first year, I remember specifically the moment I became an unintended enabler and lowered my expectations until a powerful moment when a coach pushed my thinking. I had been at a radio station with one of my students, Luis, who wrote an incredible rap song that connected to our interdisciplinary unit. I had contacted the local radio station and they invited us in to have him perform live! On our way home from the interview, I pulled into Luis’ driveway and he said to me, “Drive away real fast and I will run inside because I have a gang after me and I don’t want anything to happen to either of us.”
I sped away quickly that night, a scared 21-year-old white female with no understanding of Luis’ life or what he must be going through. I couldn’t imagine a gang wanting to take my life, and couldn’t wrap my head around how Luis could be dealing with such trauma. That very next day I marched into school and said to my colleagues, “Did you know that Luis has a gang after him? And yet we expect him to go home and do homework? How is that fair? We can’t give him homework anymore.” My colleagues agreed with me and from that moment forward, not only did I lower expectations for Luis, but convinced my entire team to do the same. Instead of realizing that BECAUSE of his circumstances I had to hold high expectations for him so that he could have access, opportunity and options that would benefit him, allow him to succeed and give him a life with hope and prosperity, I lowered the bar for him and others like him.
The silver lining in this is that it didn’t take me long to realize the error of my ways. A year later, when teaching in a resource room, a coach who was observing me could tell that because of my enabling mindset, I was lowering expectations for my students while I was teaching. I had no idea at the time that the experience with Luis was one that set in motion my principles and beliefs and that it permeated so obviously while teaching math in a totally different district!
What is your unique perspective when working with teachers?
I believe that I have a way of explaining concepts and scenarios through stories or analogies that allow teachers a chance to reflect on the rationale for changing a behavior, adjusting a mindset or pushing themselves in new ways. I am a visual thinker, so those kinds of related analogies resonate with me, and I share them in the hopes that they will connect with the people I am coaching as well.
What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?
I have broad experiences in special education and instructional pedagogy. As the co-developer of the instructional work for CT3, I have dug deep into what it takes to ensure students are learning in rigorous, engaging ways. On a different note, I am also a certified health coach and have a passion to (affordably) teach others the essential components of healthy living. Between education and our health, I believe everyone should have access and opportunity to quality experiences in those arenas.
What in your opinion is the most important aspect of school in order to best serve students?
A belief that we have the responsibility to ensure all students are learning…that it is our responsibility. To arrive with a relentless pursuit towards 100%, and that the way we do that is through authentically caring and believing the best in each other while being willing to take feedback, grow and learn.
What is your best advice for a fellow educator?
This job is so intricate that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it, so never get to the point where you believe you are doing all you can do. And do what you say you are going to do, and do it with love.
What’s been your proudest moment working with educators/students (choose one)?
I think there are a lot of things that I could take pride in but I am most proud of the fact that I work relentlessly day in and day out to make educational experiences better for kids…while still being able to, with my husband, raise some pretty amazing children of my own.
To find articles and blogs written by Carrie, click here.