Performing before crowds and teaching students in the classroom have much in common, according to Assistant Professor Francesca Ciotoli who, as an undergraduate college student, trained as an opera singer at the Manhattan School of Music. Today, Dr. Ciotoli draws lessons from the stage and her 20-year career in education to prepare the next generation of teachers at St. Thomas Aquinas College.
“While the transition from performance to education may seem strange, there is a performative aspect to teaching,” she says. “I use my performing skills all the time. After all, engagement is so important for learning.” In addition, she says, three criteria are essential to successful careers in both performance and education: preparation, flexibility, and reflection. “Most of the work is done behind the scenes,” she explains. “Performance takes study and practice. This is exactly what teachers need to do.”
After earning a master’s degree in education at Fordham University, Dr. Ciotoli taught elementary and middle school students in New York City public schools. Over the years, she developed a specialty in learning diversity and curriculum development. She has led workshops and penned many scholarly articles and book chapters on these topics.
Dr. Ciotoli is dedicated to continually learning and progressing in her field and her primary area of study is inclusive education. “While this is often thought of as education pertaining to the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classrooms, I view inclusive education more broadly—as education that is inclusive of all students and education that is centered on the whole child,” she says. Dr. Ciotoli adds that educating today’s children involves a deeper understanding of their complex identities and how their cultural, physiological, psychological, intellectual, and emotional selves impact their learning and development.
Throughout her career, she has shared her expertise with peer educators as a professional development and inclusion consultant at the New York City Department of Education and Montclair State University where she also worked as an assistant professor and adjunct professor. After earning her doctorate in teacher education and development there in 2018, she joined the STAC faculty.
One of the greatest rewards of her career has been the connections she’s made with her students who continually inspire her to grow in her profession. One of them, Heba Abdou, MS ’21, is now a teacher’s assistant for Special Education at St. Dominic’s School. She has fond memories of Dr. Ciotoli and the support she received from her during her college years.
“Dr. Ciotoli was dedicated to her students,” Heba recalls. “She took the time to meet with me one-on-one, and helped me through a difficult experience during student teaching. It takes a passionate professor to convey such a deep understanding and provide an empathetic ear.”
Dr. Ciotoli lives with her husband, two teenage children, and two cats in northern New Jersey. When her son was diagnosed with autism, she became involved with the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education, which supports inclusive education for all students with disabilities.
Although she ultimately chose education as her career path, music remains an important part of her daily life. Dr. Ciotoli loves the works of Giacomo Puccini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and one of her favorite operas is Der Rosenkavalier by German composer Richard Strauss. A devoted hockey fan, she dreams of someday singing the National Anthem at a New York Rangers game.
Master’s in education from Fordham University, Doctorate ’18 in Teacher Education and Development from Montclair University, Member of New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education