Community//

“5 Things That Should Be Done to Improve the Education System.” with Penny Bauder & Dr. Ria Schmidt

Educators need to change their instructional strategies to meet the needs of the students of today. Between student demographics and our changing world, lecture, note-taking, and worksheets are no longer effective in preparing students for college or career. As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

Educators need to change their instructional strategies to meet the needs of the students of today. Between student demographics and our changing world, lecture, note-taking, and worksheets are no longer effective in preparing students for college or career.


As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Ria Schmidt.

Dr. Schmidt is an educator with more than twenty-five years in education, both private and public schools. She has been certified in four states as a teacher, administrator or both.

Dr. Schmidt has spent most of her life recreating/reinventing her career due to moves for her husband. Sometimes it was difficult but it has also been rewarding. She has been involved in education across the United States, and experienced different strategies, terminology, and legal requirements. In short, she has learned a lot!

For the past seven years, Dr. Schmidt has worked as an independent contractor coaching administrators and teachers in research-based best practice for instruction, curriculum, student teaming, and the importance of strong instructional leadership to move teachers forward.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

To make a long story short, I have always wanted to be a teacher which is surprising because I was not a good student. I was ELL before there was ELL! (I was born in the Netherlands.) Over time, I became a teacher, building principal, assistant superintendent, and earned my Masters and Ph.D. in Educational Administration. As my husband moved up in his career, we moved a lot which cause me to have to find education positions in multiple states. I finally found a career that I can work from anywhere — consultant.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had many interesting experiences as a building principal. My first year as a middle school principal, I was called up to one of the eighth grade classrooms at the end of the day. The students had been studying WWII and were offered the opportunity to bring in artifacts from relatives from the war. They were instructed to put the artifacts in their lockers after that class. At the end of the day, one of the students handcuffed another student to a desk with WWII handcuffs and he did not have the key. We ended up having to call the police department to come with keys to free the student. It took the police officer a few minutes to stop laughing before he used the key on the handcuffs. What that taught me is that you always have to have a sense of humor when working with students.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently working on extending my consultant work to include blogs, book reviews, and virtual professional development. Education has changed a lot over the past thirty years due to technology and student demographics, which makes it much more complex. There are many resources, articles and professional books available on the Internet but finding the quality pieces takes time. In addition, there are opportunities for professional development on instruction but they may occur at a time when administrators and teachers are busy with students or their own children. The common theme is time. Providing these reviews, webinars, and blog topics that can be accessed at times that work for each individual, makes it easier to learn in one place.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I have been in the education field for over twenty-five years, earned my Masters and Doctorate degrees, and had the opportunity to have many positions in districts in a number of different states. In the last seven years, I have been able to consult/coach all over the country with administrators and teachers around research-based best practice instructional practices. I have learned so much from these amazing educators.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

Overall I would rate it poor to average but there are pockets of quality around the country. For the most part, I think the education has failed to change with the ever-changing nation and the people in it. I often walk into schools where it is the traditional education — teacher lectures and students take notes. We can do better for our students.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

Here are five areas that are going great or getting better:

  • Educators tend to use research and data more now than we used to for making decisions.
  • Educators have made teacher evaluation a process we continue to try to improve.
  • Social emotional learning (SEL) has become a priority in many districts.
  • Many principals are realizing their priority is instructional leadership.
  • Educators are focusing more on the skills and knowledge that are needed in our technological world.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

Five key areas that should be prioritized:

  • Educators need to build trusting relationships with their students. Schools have more identified ELL, SPED, and at-risk students than ever before. Educators need to know who their students are, what their lives are like outside of school, and what interests/motivates them. This will aid educators as they try to fill or bridge the gaps in their learning.
  • Educators need to change their instructional strategies to meet the needs of the students of today. Between student demographics and our changing world, lecture, note-taking, and worksheets are no longer effective in preparing students for college or career.
  • With a focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) educators need to find ways to help students improve on those conative skills, including self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills which are critical for college and career.
  • There needs to be more rigor in the curriculum. When I walk classrooms, anecdotally most tasks and activities are at the retrieval and comprehension levels of cognition. Educators need to raise the rigor to the analysis and knowledge utilization levels of cognition. Again, this prepares them for the next level of education and/or the demands of the workforce.
  • Homework for students should be meaningful or not given at all. In addition, it should only be given when students are ready to work independently on a skill or knowledge. There is still a feeling that work must go home with students even if it is just busywork.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

The engagement is better than it has ever been but it could be better. Ways to increase this engagement:

  • Add STEM activities/tasks that are engaging and fun to the classroom.
  • Continue to offer after school activities/clubs that focus on STEM.
  • Provide STEM lesson plans to teachers in the classroom and to after school caregivers.
  • Hold career fairs/instruction that includes careers in STEM.
  • Offer internships or job shadowing.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

Engaging girls and women in STEM subjects is important so they can feel confident to pursue careers in STEM areas which have been dominated by men in the past.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I would answer this similarly to the answer I gave above. The engagement is better than it has ever been but it could be better. Ways to increase this engagement:

  • Add STEM activities/tasks that are engaging and fun to the classroom.
  • Continue to offer after school activities/clubs that focus on STEM.
  • Provide STEM lesson plans to teachers in the classroom and to after school caregivers.
  • Hold career fairs/instruction that includes careers in STEM.
  • Offer internships or job shadowing for girls and women.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

I am in favor of a focus on STEAM. Students learn in different ways and have talents in different areas. We need to give them opportunities to shine in an area in which they have talent and interest. I currently work with an urban school that provides dance as an option for physical education. Their students who are not interested in team sports love the opportunity to be active in another way.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Five things to improve and reform our education system:

  • Plan instruction around the standards for each content area. The current standards require educators to reach a higher level of rigor and the state assessments are based on those standards. For the last two years, I worked with a school on breaking down the standards and creating lessons based on those standards. After the first year their student achievement results increased by double digits.
  • Educators facilitate learning through the use of student teams. This is a trifecta of benefits — teaches student SEL skills, takes lecture out of the picture, and students help each other through sharing thinking and coaching each other. During classroom observation, I have witnessed second grade student having rigorous conversations about a topic and monitoring their own learning while the teacher observes and verifies student learning.
  • Implement standards-based/referenced grading rather than traditional grading. Traditional grades have little true meaning because the criteria differ from teacher to teacher. Often effort, late work, and homework (practice) are factored into the grade, so they are not good indicators of what students know and are able to do. An example of this is a middle school I taught in had a student with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism). He was extremely gifted in math but continually received Cs and Ds on his report card. These grades were more a reflection of effort, late work, etc. than what he truly knew or could do in math. In a standards-based system, there are other ways to communicate those non-academic skills.
  • Principals would focus mainly on instructional leadership rather than management or discipline. There have been many research studies that indicate how important instructional leadership is in the success of a school (i.e., How Leadership Influences Student Learning by the Wallace Foundation.)
  • Educators would communicate expectations of every task and/or activity to students. Students should know what it takes to master/meet a standard. The schools I work with create criteria for meeting the standard. They give them to students so the students know when they have shown evidence to verify their learning.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote has changed over time but currently is this:

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think. ~ Albert Einstein

This quote guides my work with educators. Students can find the facts in a heartbeat utilizing the technology of today. We need to teach them to think about how the facts are relevant to them in their lives and how to use them to grow and enrich their lives.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Sir Ken Robinson. He is a visionary and keeps creativity at the forefront of discussions about what education needs to include and encourage.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RiaASchmidtPhD/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Twitter: @SchmidtEducate

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ria-schmidt-61a3a3191

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“How to improve the educational system.” With Penny Bauder & Dr. Lillian Lowery

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

“You are the Author of your Own Story.” With Penny Bauder & Dr. Amy Rauch

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

Lessons From Inspirational Women In STEM: “Here Are 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The United States Education System”, with Dr. Lauren Anne St. John

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.