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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Erik Francis

Erik Francis

Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S. is an author, educator, and speaker who specializes in teaching and learning that promotes cognitive rigor and postsecondary (college and career) readiness. He is the author of Now THAT'S a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning (ASCD). He is also the owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing academic professional development and consultation to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities on how to develop rigorous teaching learning environments and deliver inquiry-driven educational experiences that engage and encourage students to demonstrate higher order thinking and communicate depth of knowledge.

Erik has been an educator for more than 20 years, working as a middle and high school teacher, a site administrator, and an education program specialist in the Title I Unit and Office of English Language Acquisition Service in the Arizona Department of Education. He received his Master in Education Leadership degree from Northern Arizona University and his Master of Science degree in Film and Television Production and Management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Rhetoric and Communication and English from the University at Albany. Erik lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and two daughters.

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Dru Tomlin

Dru Tomlin

Dru Tomlin is the principal of Heritage Middle School in Westerville, Ohio and is proud and passionate to serve his students, staff, and families every day. Dru was formerly the director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education, and in that role, demonstrated a commitment to educational improvement and a passion for teaching, learning, and middle school. He began his work in the middle grades as a young adolescent at Lynnhaven Junior High School in Virginia Beach, trying to fit in with other kids while also playing tuba in the marching and concert bands. In 1994, Dru began his formal career in education as an English teacher at Harrisonburg High School in Virginia and then, in 1998, he discovered the joys of middle school in Georgia as a language arts, reading, and social studies teacher and then as a school administrator. He has also been a school system staff development trainer and a faculty member for AMLE's Leadership Institute, believing firmly in the power of professional learning. For his work, Dru has been recognized as a school system Teacher of the Year and as Georgia's Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. He holds a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning and a M.S. in Educational Leadership from Georgia State University, a B.A. in English/Secondary Education from James Madison University, and a Certificate of Perfect Attendance from Lynnhaven Junior High School.

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Rick Herrig

Rick Herrig

Rick Herrig is a tireless advocate for quality educational practices. An educator for more than 33 years, Rick has served education as a teacher, principal, college adjunct instructor, and now as an educational consultant. His educational career includes both US and international experience. He has served as the Executive Director for the Iowa Association for Middle Level Education (IAMLE) and as North Region Trustee (2 terms) for the National Middle School Association and has spoken at numerous state, regional, provincial, and national conferences and forums. A certified national trainer with the Center for Teacher Effectiveness, he has led workshops and/or served as a school consultant in 14 US states, Canada, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His message about the importance of helping each student reach academic success through the development of effective teaching practices has transformed schools.

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Tara Brown

Tara Brown

Tara Brown is an award-winning educator, coach, author, and international speaker. She holds a Masters degree in Administration and Supervision and is a nationally certified personal trainer. Her professional journey has taken her from rural Florida to gang territory in California and to one of the largest high schools in Tennessee with over 40 countries represented. She worked extensively with under-resourced students from hard core gang members to hard core rednecks. Her international engagements have included Dubai and Beirut, training both educators and students. Tara received the Pioneer Award and ‘Teacher of the Year’ Award in 2006 for her work in developing a groundbreaking leadership development program in Nashville, TN. Known as the ‘Connection Coach’, Tara strongly believes that forming powerful connections between students and staff is a major key to academic success. She also is known for her ability to connect with educators on all levels with her humor, passion, and ability to ‘keep it real’ in trainings and keynotes. Tara is committed to providing cutting edge research-based presentations in a way that will inspire, engage, and educate. Whether your organization needs a long arm around their shoulder or a swift kick with her size 11s, she’ll make sure they enjoy the process, get the most out of it and leave ‘em wanting more.

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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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Sue Vansant

Sue Vansant is a 27-year veteran of education, having taught at both the middle and high school levels. She is a former National Board Certified Teacher in English-Language Arts, however, Sue has taught every academic subject. Sue’s expertise is engaging instructional strategies and best practices that work with middle grades students. For more than 10 years, she has conducted workshops on a variety of topics for schools and school systems in Georgia and across the United States. Her approach to educational workshops is serious and candy-coated with lots of humor. Her workshops are truly exciting.

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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.

Listen to a podcast interview of Judith Baenen:

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Debbie Silver

Debbie Silver

Debbie Silver is truly a "teacher's teacher"! She is an award-winning educator with 30 years experience as a classroom teacher, staff development instructor, and university professor. Her numerous recognitions include being named the 1990 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year and the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus from the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University.

Debbie is one of the most popular keynoters and in-service presenters in the United States. Audiences everywhere respond to Debbie's use of humor and sensitivity to remind them how important teachers are in the lives of children. Her insights into student and teacher behavior are extraordinary. Through research-based theory, poignant stories, and hilarious characterizations she connects with the souls of all who are involved in education.

Dr. Silver has been an invited author for several educational journals and has given keynotes at state, national, and international conferences in 49 states, throughout Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, and Asia. She has been a featured teacher for the PBS OnLine Teacher Chat and several online teacher courses.

Listen to a podcast interview of Debbie Silver:

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David Shepard

David Shepard

A native of rural North Carolina and a product of public education in four states, Dave Shepard brings experience, common sense, and practicality to any educational gathering. He has dealt with middle and high school students for all of his 40 years in education. His experience includes teaching, coaching, curriculum and program design, and administration. Since his retirement in 1999, he has devoted his time and energy to helping schools become more efficient and effective for all teachers and students.

Dave currently manages his own educational consulting firm, "The Middle Matters and More," in Lexington, Kentucky. He works actively with SREB, AMLE, KMSA, and many state departments of education.

Known primarily as a practitioner, he has presented at more than 40 state and national conferences. He has assisted school districts in 47 states and two foreign countries in developing and refining their educational programs by providing quality professional development and teacher in-services. Dave has been recognized as Coach of The Year, Principal of The Year and most recently received his highest honor, The President's Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Kentucky Middle School Association.

He has authored or co-authored articles for the NAESP web page, NASSP's Principal Leadership publication, The Committee for Children, and the Virginia Journal of Education. He most recently co-authored a book with Sherrel Bergmann and Judy Brough for Eye on Education publishers about improving parental support in schools. The programs Dave delivers are characterized by a high-energy format, a simple yet practical style, a down to earth sense of humor, and an easy-going manner. These elements make the programs both informative and digestible.

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