This is an article from the November 2017 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link.
The day has arrived. I knew it would come, but had hoped not so fast; and maybe some days not fast enough. Nonetheless, it is here and I must face reality. There will be sadness for sure, an empty spot in my heart, but it is time to hand the ownership of these kids over to the next individual.
As I sat on a cold stump in the yard, I could not help but realize that just like this chapter on the farm is coming to a close, so is another chapter in my life. My years of service to the NAAE has been a journey that I will forever cherish. As I think about sale day on the farm, there a lot of parallels to my years of service.
I can remember back to when the kids were born. There was a warm streak in December, and thankfully, the mommas decided that would be a great time to go in to labor. The barn had been cleaned, disinfected, and re-bedded in preparation for the new crop of kids.
The process of raising these kids started way earlier in the year. About 7 months ago, I sat down with my children and we talked about which bucks to use on which does. We studied the phenotype and genetic potential of each doe and selected the buck that would enrich the doe's strong points and improve her areas of weakness, all with the goal of producing offspring that would be better than either parent. After we had done all we could, we put the bucks in and left it to fate.
Just like we strategize on which bucks to use on the does, I could not be more proud of the strategical work the NAAE Board of Directors, committee chairs and members, and the NAAE staff do to ensure that the programs and services offered through NAAE best meet the needs of our members across this country. We evaluate all programs and redesign, develop new, and sometimes remove programs and services to best meet the needs of our members. Since I started as a regional secretary, I have seen numerous changes put in to motion for the betterment of our members. Whether it was a new committee structure or revamping our awards program, we are constantly changing to better our organization.
Now here we are, five months later, and the first signs of labor have begun. The first set of twins came late at night. It was an easy delivery, but the mother only wanted to nurse one of the babies. After some time and retrying numerous times, she finally accepted the other kid. You see on our farm, it is our goal to produce more highly-developed kids this year than we did last year.
Just like in the case of this doe, Ellen and the entire staff, dedicate themselves to recruiting and saving every ag teacher in the country. Given the shortage of ag teachers we face, we must do everything in our power to recruit, train, and retain the best ag teachers. Now, once we get the teachers into the classroom, Alissa and her team provide the best professional development possible, so that our ag teachers have the necessary tools to experience success.
Then the second doe began -- this was not such an easy birth because the first kid was backwards. So we had to do what we had to do -- glove up and help with the delivery. After some effort, we were able to free the first kid and the other two came with ease. This doe quickly took all three, and they were up on their feet in no time.
Serving as a leader in NAAE does not come without struggles. When we first made the change in the committee structure, many individuals were quickly frustrated and wanted to change back. I will never forget the meeting where I made the motion to stay with the new structure for three years and then re-evaluate. My heart was pounding in my chest. What if this is not the right decision? What if this hurts the organization instead of helping? But in hindsight, I think it was the right decision. Once we got the new committee structure up and running, it has been amazing to see how the members have taken ownership of their committees and are bringing forth new ideas for the betterment of all.
The third doe went into labor, but unfortunately she delivered a single stillborn baby. However, it was not a total loss. We now had a doe to milk and provide nutrition for any kids that needed extra milk or to be bottle fed.
Sometimes along the way, decisions do not work out like we want. But we have to always be willing to put the loss aside and take away lessons learned. How can we use the present situation to improve all the other circumstances surrounding us? At every board meeting, I am amazed how our staff and board members take a challenge and craft an idea or concept that will help not only the affected party, but everyone in the future.
The fourth doe had a set of twins with ease. The first kid to hit the ground was strong and healthy. You could see he was a fighter. The second kid lacked in the area of desire to live. It is a good thing we have a great team on the farm. My wife and daughter snatched up the baby and took it into the house to warm up and give it a mixture of molasses and coffee. This concoction, which my wife found the recipe for on the internet, was sure to provide the extra boost the baby needed.
This doe reminds me how important it is to have a great team. I feel like we have a staff that builds on each other’s strengths to help further the profession. I am truly humbled to have had the opportunity to work with such a dedicated staff, board of directors, committee chairs, and members. Just like the coffee and molasses mixture provides support to the kid, the sponsors of our organization are invaluable in allowing us to meet the ever-changing needs of our members. Then I am reminded of how helpful the internet is, and I cannot help but think of all the great resources that are out there for teachers on Communities of Practice. I have watched teachers upload numerous documents on mentoring and professional development. Every time I use CoP, I am reminded how talented ag teachers are and how their lessons and ideas are oftentimes life-saving to my lesson plans.
Soon the does had all finished giving birth and the exciting time began. The moms did their jobs and the babies grew. It is always fun to watch the kids run and play in the pasture as they explore the new world around them.
One of my fondest memories of my years of service was spending time in the NAAE booth at National FFA Convention. I had the joy of watching ag teachers bring their students to one of the premier leadership development events. I experienced ag teachers reconnecting with fellow ag teachers and sharing stories. This is what teaching ag is all about -- the connections you make. I am very grateful for every teacher who has played a role in my journey, and I hope each teacher can find traveling partners like I have.
Then came weaning time. This is never fun. The does cry and the babies run the fences looking for their moms. As hard as it is, it is something that must be done. The moms need a break and it is time to move the kids to more solid diets, which will provide the extra nutrients needed for them to grow to their full potential.
Another highlight of my year, was working with student teachers and Teach Ag Ambassadors. It has been so rewarding to see these new professionals grow and develop when they enter their own classrooms. I know they have not been without struggles, but our organization has put a lot of safety nets in place to help them not only survive, but to also flourish.
Now, several months later, the same team who worked so hard to get the babies here and keep them alive are loading them on the truck one-by-one, to sell to a new owner. I cannot help but think about all the joys and struggles that have taken place over the past several months.
In a few short days, I will hand the gavel over to Nick Nelson, who will do an amazing job leading the organization. It has been a true honor to serve each and every member of NAAE. The team we have assembled is second to none. Each and every member of the leadership team serves each day with compassion and humility. I feel like we have made progress as an organization over the past few years. Just like it took a team to raise our goats, I would have accomplished nothing as President without the team we have.
When the gavel falls at the livestock auction and the auctioneer says "sold," it is my sincere wish that the new owner of the goat kids my family sold proclaims, “these goats are better than his crop was last year,” and “the former owners did everything in their power to produce the best kids possible”.
When the final gavel falls at convention and Nick says "meeting adjourned," I hope that our members feel like they are in a better place due to my service to the organization. If that is the case, then I have fulfilled my goals as President of the NAAE.
This is my final observation from my side of the barnyard as your NAAE President.
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