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Eric Tilleman
2014 NAAE Region I Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award Winner

 

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Program growth and student success is something all agriculture teachers work toward. Each day we go in to our classrooms with ideas of how to make our curriculum more effective and increase student participation in FFA, Career Development Events and Supervised Agricultural Experiences. We look for new and innovative ideas that will help our programs thrive.


Eric Tilleman, agriculture teacher at Cascade High School, in Cascade, Montana, has spent the last 10 years of his career developing his own formula for a successful program. With a school enrollment of only 115 students, Tilleman and his co-teacher are able to reach over 60 percent of the student population through their agriculture courses.


Over the course of his career, Tilleman has focused on preparing his students for career and lifetime success by gearing his curriculum toward global agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resource systems. His goal is to keep his courses relevant, using up-to-date issues and events in agriculture. Most recently, he has added an agricultural communications course to the program. The course is designed around the agricultural communications Career Development Event. Tilleman's students are able to receive hands-on experience in journalism and other areas of communication through this course.


"I am a firm believer that a teacher should be able to teach a certain concept and then be able to relate that concept to students through real-world applications," said Tilleman.


Tilleman also uses his agricultural communications course to market his agriculture program. Students enrolled in the course develop a monthly newsletter that is sent to their FFA alumni, supporters and members. The newsletter features current topics and issues in agriculture and is a means to keep local farmers, businesses, and others informed about how the Cascade agriculture program is contributing to the Cascade community.


His students go beyond the paper and pencil assignments of writing articles, though. Each week the students in agricultural communications create a radio news broadcast about upcoming FFA events and other school activities. Students get hands-on broadcasting experience while also promoting the agriculture program. The success of the broadcasting component of the course has provided the Cascade agriculture program with the opportunity to broadcast all the sessions from the Montana State FFA convention.


"I wanted to give my students real-world experience managing a communications system," said Tilleman. "The students learn how to upload their broadcasts to the chapter internet radio station, where their stories and song playlists are available for listeners on smartphones, computers, and tablets over the internet."


Thanks to Tilleman's innovative ideas, the Cascade agriculture program has received a lot of local, state, and national attention. His students regularly speak on the local agriculture radio station, KMON. The Western Ag Reporter, the regional agriculture newspaper for Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho, has also invited Tilleman's students to submit their agriculture issue articles to be published. Cascade has also had five FFA teams compete in the national agricultural communications Career Development Event.


Tilleman has spent his career working toward developing a successful program and his innovative use of communications is the most recent example of how he has done that. Effective marketing has been the key to receiving support from the Cascade community and others around Montana. Once a program is fully supported by its local community, the sky is the limit for its growth and success.


The Outstanding Teacher Award is sponsored by Caterpillar, Inc. and Tractor Supply Company as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about NAAE award programs, click here. To read about all the 2014 NAAE award winners, follow this link.


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