Meet Erik Francis: The Master of All Questions -- A Mission in the Name of His Father

Erik M. Francis is an author, educator, and speaker who specializes in teaching and learning that promotes cognitive rigor and college and career readiness. He is the author of Now That’s a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning published by ASCD. He is also the owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development and consultation on increasing student achievement, teacher effectiveness, program compliance, and overall school performance.

Erik works with K-12 schools nationwide on developing learning environments and delivering educational experiences that challenge students to demonstrate higher order thinking and communicate depth of knowledge in detail, insightfully, and in their own unique way. His expertise is in rephrasing academic standards and educational objectives into good questions that prompt students to think deeply and express and share the depth and extent of their learning in different academic and real world contexts. These good questions can be used to set the instructional focus and serve as formative, summative, and authentic assessments for student learning. They also can be used to engage students in active learning experiences such as project-based, problem-based, expeditionary, and service learning. Asking good questions pushes boundaries in new and amazing ways.

Erik’s professional development seminars and workshops have been featured at national, state, and regional education conferences hosted by organizations such as ASCD, Learning Forward, the College Board, the National Association for Gifted Children, the National Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, the New Teacher Center, the Southern Region Education Board, and the Association for Middle Level Education. He has also been a keynote speaker and featured presenter at education conferences addressing topics such as gifted education, school leadership, Title I, English language learners, dropout prevention, charter schools, and social work.

Erik has been an educator for over twenty years, working as a middle and high school teacher, administrator, and an education program specialist in the Title I and English language learner units of the Arizona Department of Education. He received his Master’s in Education Leadership from Northern Arizona University and Master’s of Science in Film and Television Production and Management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Rhetoric and Communication and English from the University at Albany.

Now a drum roll please . . .

Here is what Erik shared with Pushing Boundaries when Rick and Rebecca approached Erik and wanted him to become an affiliate consultant:

“I learned how to push boundaries from my father, Fred Francis. He was a boundary pusher -- someone who refused to let himself surrender to the lot life had given him. If you told him "no," he’d do it. If you told him "it can’t be done," he’d prove you wrong. It was not easy or simple, but my dad stuck to his guns and stayed true to his beliefs -- and he completely transformed how we look at individuals with disabilities today.

My dad was a double amputee who lost his legs in a car accident in 1965 at the age of 20. Many people would have considered this life-changing event a tragedy. Not my father. In fact, it gave him a purpose in life. He sought to change the attitudes of society and the practices of a system that did not treat individuals with disabilities equitably. He showed people he could get married, be a great husband and father, and have a family. He proved through his own actions that he was not a disabled man but a man with a disability who was capable of receiving an education, earning multiple degrees, working effectively and successfully within an organization, and rise through the ranks to a managerial position in his career. He amazed people how he could play basketball and hit a three-pointer or a layup, belt a baseball a country mile, or wheel 26 miles in a bike marathon -- all in his wheelchair. He turned this motivation into a mission -- to change society’s attitudes and systems’ practices toward all individuals who are disabled. He fought to ensure those who were physically and mentally disabled received high quality education in the least restrictive environment. He convinced major industries that individuals with disabilities were an untapped population of employees and workers who could bring great benefits and solve numerous problems for organizations.

My father was a boundary pusher not only because he did not accept the attitudes of society or the practices of a system that neither recognized nor respected individuals with disabilities. He was a boundary pusher because he was motivated to challenge people to think differently about the world around them. He was also a boundary pusher because he made it his mission to change how things were done.

That is what I try to do as a boundary pusher in the name of my greatest role model-- my dad. I am motivated to challenge students and teachers to think differently about education. Teaching and learning is not just about preparing students to be “college and career ready”. It’s about guiding students to recognize their strengths and skills and realize they can develop their innate “gifts” into talents they can transfer and use. I am also motivated to extend teaching and learning from being presented viewed as an activity, a task, or even a chore or obligation to be completed. Teaching and learning should be an experience that prompts students to think deeply about the texts and topics. It should also encourage students to express and share their learning in their own unique way.

Pushing boundaries is not easy or even embraced, but we are going to do it and do it loudly! Many people become uncomfortable and even defensive if the status quo is challenged and the boat is rocked. However, that’s what boundary pushers do, and if you remain motivated and committed to your mission, you will make that change -- just like my father did because our students are counting on us!

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