Rick Wormeli

Rick Wormeli

One of the first Nationally Board Certified teachers in America, Rick brings innovation, energy, validity, and high standards to his presentations and his instructional practice, which includes 30 years teaching math, science, English, physical education, health, and history, and coaching teachers. Rick's work has been reported in numerous media, including ABC's Good Morning America, Hardball with Chris Matthews, National Geographic, and Good Housekeeping magazines, What Matters Most: Teaching for the 21st Century, and The Washington Post.

With his substantive presentations, sense of humor, and unconventional approaches, he's been asked to present to teachers and administrators in all 50 states, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Australia, the Middle East, and at the White House. He is a seasoned veteran of many webcasts, and he is Disney's American Teacher Awards 1996 Outstanding English Teacher of the Nation. He won the 2008 James P. Garvin award from the New England League of Middle Schools for Teaching Excellence, Service, and Leadership, and he has been a consultant for National Public Radio, USA Today, Court TV, and the Smithsonian Institution's Natural Partners Program and their search for the Giant Squid.

He lives in Herndon, Virginia with his wife and two children, one in high school, one in college, where he is currently working on his first young adult fiction novel.

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Getting Serious About Closing the Achievement Gap

Getting Serious About Closing the Achievement Gap

Nurturing conditions where ALL students succeed

Too many schools continue to struggle with closing the achievement gap. The No Child Left Behind legislation was supposed to change all of this, though today we still have too many students left behind. Lawmakers continue to churn out legislation to address the problem, but results remain dismal and disappointing. Parents, educators, and lawmakers are frustrated. Still the gap exists.

I gained some keen insight early in my career about what works in helping students to learn. Working in schools where a significant number of students came from low socio-economic backgrounds gave me ample opportunity to experiment with what works in reaching low-performing, difficult-to-reach, and difficult-to-teach students.

In fact, my first experience as a teacher in a large urban school district was in an inner city school where both achievement and discipline were a challenge. Everything I learned in that experience empowered me to be successful in subsequent years to help ALL students succeed academically and behaviorally.

Years later, after becoming an assistant principal, I used the same background and tools to support a staff struggling with poor achievement and mounting discipline problems. If the truth be told, most assistant principals aspire to lead a school where achievement and discipline are not a problem. I did not have this luxury in my first school as a principal. Within three years, however, our school was recognized and written up in the local paper as one of the top 10 performing schools in our district of more than 130 schools. The simple conditions we nurtured as a staff had a huge impact.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, the first condition for success is to ask the right question. There are lots of strategies and programs that work. Sometimes educators grab a highly touted program or implement a "sure fire" strategy out of desperation. Most programs and strategies work, but asking the right question is important. "Does this work?" is a poor way of judging whether or not to implement a strategy.

John Hattie's research on what works indicates that almost any program or strategy principals and teachers implement will work. A better way to judge the worth of a strategy or program is to ask how well it works. Does it contribute significantly to a year's growth? Hattie's research identifies those things that contribute significantly to a student's year's growth.

I was elected Teacher of the Year for two consecutive years in two different schools. If I had to point to one condition that helped me succeed as a teacher it would be positive relationships with my students. Positive relationships are also an important condition for closing the achievement gap. Relationships drive learning.

Teachers who develop positive relationships with students are better able to help students learn. Students simply respond better to teachers where strong and positive relationships exist. How does one create positive relationship? Trust is the foundation. In his book, Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships, Ken Blanchard explains how trust and a positive relationship are necessary for training "killer" whales. It is no less true for students.

In my first year as a principal, I knew that our school would never close the achievement gap without addressing the discipline gap. I moved quickly to provide the staff with the necessary positive tools and motivated them to become discipline gurus. To close the achievement gap it is important that another key condition be in place, a well-discipline atmosphere where learning is the norm. We learned and used positive and proactive strategies that support learning, thus creating a climate for the same.

We cannot close the achievement gap when there is a constant flow of students to the principal's office. To eliminate this revolving door, I put together a collection of strategies to address the problem: "The Teacher Guru: 34 Things a Teacher Can Do in the Classroom before Sending Students to the Office."

We can do better in closing the achievement gap for all learners: poor, affluent, at-risk or difficult-to-teach. It is easy, however, to be misled about the conditions that drive learning today. Because of numerous distractions, principals and teachers often lose sight of what really works. They get lost in the minutiae of political posturing, piles of paper work, and excessive testing that produces a never-ending stack of data. Both data and some testing are important conditions for assessing learning. But there are other more pertinent conditions that educators must embrace to close the achievement gap successfully.

Charles Beaman, a former middle school teacher, vice principal, and principal was elected teacher of the year two consecutive years in two different schools that served large populations of at-risk students. His doctoral research provided insight into reaching all students at the middle school level.

Published September 2017.

Author: Charles Beaman
Number of views (13112)/Comments (0)/
Marlena Gross-Taylor

Marlena Gross-Taylor

Marlena Gross-Taylor is the founder of #EduGladiators as well as a district EdLeader for Maury County Schools, Tennessee, with a proven track record of improving educational and operational performance through vision, strategic planning, leadership, and team building. A Nashville transplant originally from southern Louisiana, Marlena's educational experience spans several states allowing her to have served K-12 students in both rural and urban districts. She has been recognized as a middle school master teacher and innovative administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Because of her sound knowledge of both elementary and secondary education, Marlena has broad-based experience creating and implementing dynamic interactive programs to attain district goals while leveraging her flexibility, resourcefulness, and organizational and interpersonal skills to foster learning through a positive, encouraging environment.

Marlena's professional development expertise has garnered both state and national attention. She has also leveraged her past experience in corporate management to include corporate training and leadership coaching in her repertoire of consulting services focused on culture, engagement, and increased productivity. Marlena is a seasoned presenter keynoting conferences and delivering dynamic professional development sessions.

As a proud Louisiana State University alumni, she is committed to excellence and believes all students can achieve. Follow Marlena on Twitter @mgrosstaylor or visit her websites marlenagrosstaylor.com & edugladiators.com.

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Vernita Mayfield

Vernita Mayfield

Dr. Vernita Mayfield is an internationally recognized speaker and consultant on research proven instructional and leadership practices, culturally responsive practices, and innovative school improvement. Prior to founding her consulting firm, Leadervation Learning, Vernita served as a classroom teacher, middle and high school principal, an executive director of schools and successfully managed school improvement grant programs in two state education agencies. While Vernita’s research and experience is grounded in increasing academic success for culturally and linguistically diverse students, she is equally adept in helping schools design innovative approaches for addressing the diverse needs of all students. As the former host of an internet radio program, Vernita interviewed trailblazing people and organizations on the forefront of innovation. The lessons learned from CEO’s of innovative organizations helped her design a research based framework of innovation for schools. Vernita brings a high level of energy, wit, and active participant engagement to her delivery of research proven strategies and has presented at numerous national and international conferences as a keynote and featured speaker.

Vernita holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, an Ed.S. in Educational Administration, and a MBA in Business Administration.

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Crystal LaVoulle

Crystal LaVoulle

Dr. Crystal LaVoulle believes that learning is a lifelong endeavor and educators must continuously strive to increase their knowledge and understanding along with the students they teach. As the Executive Director of the LaVoulle Group, an international educational consulting, Dr. LaVoulle is an international consultant, committed to educating the world's children through Intelligent Leadership. Leading educators in critical examination of quantitative and qualitative data, Dr. LaVoulle addresses school climate and teacher retention issues through Collaborative Conversations©, a support program for school leaders. Her professional workshop series, Chronicles of Teacher Effectiveness©, offers classroom teachers needed support with instructional strategies and assessment. Innovative projects like Read, Write, Rhyme Institute©, bring educators and entertainers together to engage in intellectual discourse about art and education.

Dr. LaVoulle is an active member of the educational community, contributing to K-12 and post-secondary research and presenting at the AMLE Annual Conference, National Title I; National Youth At-Risk; Georgia Read, Write, Now; and the Georgia Council of Teachers of English conferences. Earning a doctorate in reading, language and literacy from Georgia State University, a Master of Public Administration in Policy and Education from the University of West Georgia and received her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University at Stony Brook. Dr. LaVoulle has 20 years of educational experience working with a diverse range of middle, high school, and post-secondary teachers and students.

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Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne


  • Professional educator since 1972—from high school teacher, principal, and central office administrator to educational consultant
  • Provides training in how to work effectively with individuals from all economic classes
  • Has trained hundreds of thousands of professionals since 1996
  • Has certified more than 7,000 trainers in A Framework for Understanding Poverty (see book of same name below)
  • Mission: to positively impact the education and lives of individuals in poverty throughout the world
  • Ph.D., educational leadership and policy studies, Loyola University, IL; M.A., English literature, Western Michigan University; B.A., Goshen College, IN


  • Expert on poverty and mindsets of economic classes
  • Accessible, engaging style using humor, stories, and mental models
  • Message relevant to business leaders, educators, and community and social service workers
  • Helps find creative and practical solutions to challenges of working across socioeconomic lines and building sustainable communities
  • Speaks extensively, with engagements including Australia Conference on Thinking and Learning; European League for Middle School Education; United Kingdom Department for Children, Families, and Schools; China and U.S. Conference on Educational Leadership; PBS; Harvard's Summer Institute for Principals; SCERT (Delhi, India); Tasmania Teacher Training; New Zealand; Slovakia; School Leadership Center of Trinidad and Tobago; National Conference of State Legislatures (U.S.); Annual Conference of Southwest Foundations; New York Superintendents Association; and Chief Officers of State School Departments (U.S.)


  • A Framework for Understanding Poverty, foundational work, 1996; 5th revised edition, 2013
    • Has sold more than 1.5 million copies
    • Teaches the hidden rules and mindsets of economic class
    • Teaches specific, resource-based strategies for overcoming poverty's obstacles
  • From Understanding Poverty to Developing Human Capacity, 2012
  • School Improvement: 9 Systemic Processes to Raise Achievement (co-author), 2010
  • Research-Based Strategies: Narrowing the Achievement Gap for Under-Resourced Students, 2009
    • Two handy charts provide easy access to more than 50 research-based strategies
  • Under-Resourced Learners: 8 Strategies to Boost Student Achievement, 2008
    • Assesses student resources to determine best strategies and interventions
    • More proven, practical strategies that can be used immediately
  • Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities (co-author), 2001, 2006
    • Has led to a model for building sustainable communities
  • Has writtten or co-authored more than a dozen books surrounding issues of poverty in areas of education, social services, business, communities, churches, relationships, and leadership

Business Owner

  • Founded aha! Process, Inc. (formerly RFT Publishing) in 1995; current CEO
  • Employs 25 full- or part-time staff; has a team of 50 consultant presenters
  • Has published more than 125 books and video/DVD products; offers 45 workshops

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Janet Vernon

Janet Vernon

Janet Vernon has served middle schools, teachers and students in many ways. In her various roles, including as an school principal, Janet has mentored other school leaders, supervised and supported faculty and staff, provided a climate and culture for school improvement, developed rigorous performance goals, and trained staff to use student achievement data to increase student success and create standards-based classrooms. She has also been an Executive Director of Secondary Schools, an Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, and has served AMLE as a board member as well as the board president.

Listen to a podcast interview of Janet Vernon:

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Mark Springer

Mark Springer

After earning degrees from Haverford College and the University of Chicago, Mr. Springer taught for 35 years at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Early in his career, Mr. Springer developed and taught interdisciplinary humanities, creative writing, and American studies courses. He also co-directed the school’s gifted program for six years before creating, along with co-teacher Ed Silcox, the award-winning Watershed Program, which he taught for 12 years. In 1998, Mr. Springer pushed his student-centered philosophy even further by creating the Soundings Program, an integrative and democratic curriculum for eighth graders. He implemented this curriculum until retiring from the classroom in 2010.

Mr. Springer now serves as a consultant for schools across the United States and around the world. His audiences include private and international schools, as well as public school districts in the US, and he has presented workshops at annual conferences such as AMLE, ELMLE, and SRB. In addition, Mr. Springer has served as a faculty member with several professional development institutes, including five years with AMLE's Institutes for Middle Level Leadership, and 15 years with the Maine Association of Middle Level Educators' MLEI. In addition to other honors, Mr. Springer received AMLE's first Distinguished Educator Award in 2004.

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Ruthie Smith Stevenson

Ruthie Smith Stevenson

Ruthie Smith Stevenson, Ph.D., is a professor and coordinator of the doctoral program in educational leadership K–12, at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. She is a member of the Mississippi Board of Examiners (NCATE), an AMLE Institutes for Middle Level Leadership faculty member, and president of the Beta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma. She has been a junior high school teacher, assistant principal, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, executive director of middle school programs, and director of school improvement services for Mid South Middle Start. She has presented at AMLE, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas middle level conferences, and Fordham Principals' Institute. She was nominated in 2010 and 2011 by the School of Education as Distinguished Professor at Mississippi College.

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Howard Ormond

Howard Ormond

Dr. Howard Ormond provides outstanding services to schools, school divisions, administrators, students, and parents about the effect of a positive learning environment and the role they play in making school a success for all students. He provides motivational insight about the importance of positive attitudes, behaviors, and communication with each other to help middle level teachers and staff grow so they can help students.

He is currently involved with the Effective School-wide Discipline Program in the state of Virginia and serves as a coach to administrators in the state. He has been a keynote and featured speaker at many conferences.

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