One of the great skills possessed by ag teachers is their ability to see the hidden talents and abilities of their students. One of the greatest challenges that ag teachers face is how to convince the students that those things exist and how to extract it from them. It's hard to keep from getting frustrated when students and ag programs don't live up to their potential, and even harder to learn what to do when you just can't make it happen on your own.
The paragraph above describes how I felt last year when I took over the ag program at South. It's potential for growth was clearly visible and the students had the ability to be super stars. The problem was learning how to to make these things become a reality. I needed to learn how to help develop star quality.
I knew from the moment that I started at South that the FFA members had some serious potential. The officer team had tons of enthusiasm and passion for FFA, but they had never been given the opportunity to develop it to become leaders. While they were excited to participate in more activities at the chapter and state level, it was hard for them to work with me at times. They were very attached to their previous advisor, and it make it difficult for us to gel as a team. Getting them to develop open lines of communication and more responsibility as officers was extremely difficult. The more I asked for them to communicate with me and do things for the chapter, the more they resisted and stayed silent. As such, by the end of the year we had a total communication breakdown and I was at loss at what to do to fix it.
I decided to ask for help. After consulting our FFA Alumni, state FFA leaders, and some fellow ag teachers, I came up with a plan to hold a chapter officer leadership training day during the summer. They helped me plan a day of activities to foster communication and leadership, and New Jersey's National FFA Officer Candidate, Lauren Fillebrown, offered to come and facilitate. The day was a total success. Lauren is one of the most enthusiastic, upbeat, and positive people I have ever met, and she had the officer team pumped up and excited from the moment they walked in. We all participated in her fun and engaging workshops together, and then shared a lunch of pizza and our favorite snacks. We were able to lay out the POA, establish committees, and put together a list of fundraisers. We also came up with a chapter theme and t-shirt design. Every single one of us left the room that day feeling confident and excited for the year ahead. They were starting to shine like the stars I knew they were.
Posing with their favorite stars George Strait (above) and New Jersey National FFA Officer Candidate Lauren Fillebrown (below)
The next challenge was to keep them shining. This ended up being easy. After our chapter officer training opened up the lines of communication, the officers contacted me at least once a week with ideas for the chapter. They made a plan to attend NJFFA's LEAD/Chapter Officer Leadership Training (COLT) Conference in October to continue to develop their leadership and teamwork skills. To help raise money, they organized a car wash for the first weekend of school. At our fair, they put tags on the stalls of their animals to show that they were exhibited by FFA members. They also assisted our FFA Alumni with a fundraiser and took pictures of members showing their animals for our chapter scrapbook.
Showing off a star quality SAE project at the Hunterdon County Fair
Then it was back to school. The officers had a meeting the second day of school to lay out fundraisers, and got them approved by the principal. They also submitted their registration for LEAD/COLT and got the necessary paperwork in. Their car wash was a total success, and they exceeded their fundraising goal. The officers also scheduled practices for the Fall CDE teams, organized a community service project, and met with the FFA Alumni to ask them for assistance with upcoming events. The officer team had finally recognized their star quality!
Shining like stars at our FFA Car Wash!
This year is off to a blazing start and I think the FFA chapter and officer team will finally get to become the stars that they deserve to be. There is still hard work to be done, and at times they will need to be reminded that they can shine, but the spark is there. To remind them of this, the FFA Star Chart was created. It hangs on the wall of our ag classroom and has the members' names and a list of chapter events on it. For each activity that they participate in, they get a star. Stars lead to rewards and the opportunity to show off their hard work. The joy that they get from it and putting their stars next to their names is priceless. It also serves as a physical, visual reminder of the fact they are indeed super stars and gives them a sense of pride.
The FFA Star Chart
Although it's tough to remember this at times, know that you as an ag teacher have the ability to help your students recognize their potential and ability to shine. It can be tough to make this happen, but the rewards of seeing students develop into the stars we know they can be is worth it. Have a great start to the school year and remember, you are all super stars for doing what you do!