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3 Posts authored by: Ken Couture

It's convention season for agricultural educators. First comes the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis and then NAAE Convention in Atlanta. I am certainly looking forward to both events as they provide unique opportunities for each of us. For me, the NAAE convention has four main themes. First, it is an opportunity to recognize excellence in our profession through our awards program. As a rule, we educators tend to shun recognition for ourselves but it is very satisfying to be recognized by one's peers. Second, it provides a great opportunity to network with fellow agricultural educators. While our programs are tremendously diverse, we all share similar challenges and successes. You don't want to miss our Mystery Speaker and Networking Reception on Tuesday night! Third, it provides outstanding professional development opportunities. There are over 90 professional development sessions scheduled, most taught by our fellow educators. And finally, it brings us together to do the important work of our professional organization through committees, regional meetings and election of a new president and president-elect. I know that our convention will succeed in providing all of these for those who attend.


I believe it is important to keep moving our association forward. This year the board began work on a new strategic plan for the NAAE and we will be addressing it through our committee structure. As I have written about in past articles, I believe that the Common Core will require us to take a fresh look at how we teach agricultural education. I believe that we can and will show that agricultural education is the very best model for student success, no matter what the measure might be. Data collection continues to be a challenge for us. The Teach Ag Campaign has collected data from teacher educators over the past summer. The Ag Career Network is a step in the right direction but it will only give us valid data if WE get students, FFA members or not, to utilize it.


Finally, It has been a tremendous honor to serve as a board member and president of the NAAE. I have served with dedicated people on the board and our staff does an amazing job running our association. I want to thank each of them for their friendship and guidance during my tenure on the Board. I will serve as the NAAE representative on The Council for the next two years. I will do my best to represent agricultural educators and keep you and the board informed about Council initiatives. We have much to be proud of as an association and much work before us as we continue to adapt to the changing educational and demographic landscapes. I hope to see you in Atlanta!

  For many of us, the new school year has already begun and for the remainder it will begin very soon. As we begin this new year, I firmly believe that agricultural education and CTE in general, provide real world relevance to many academic subjects. I often say that I teach applied chemistry and biology through aquaculture and natural resources instruction. The question I need to be asking myself is "Is that enough?"  As I participated in professional development this past June on the Common Core Standards, I have to honestly answer, NO!


This issue focuses on improving core academic instruction and using data to show that our programs are contributing to student attainment of these core standards. The Common Core Standards are going to demand far more of us as teachers and of our students. There is a huge focus on technical reading and math skills. My message is that we all need to be math teachers and English/language arts teachers if we want to have an agricultural education program. As I see it, the danger for our programs is that if a student has not achieved proficiency on these standards, they will not be in our agricultural education classroom. They will be in a remedial math, language arts or science class.


So, what are our options? Option 1 is to ignore the Common Core, which I believe is not sustainable for a successful program. Option 2 is to embrace the Common Core Standards and purposefully focus on our strengths. That is, we formalize how we integrate mathematics and reading/language arts into our teaching as often as possible. Again, we have the advantage of being able to make these math and language arts skills meaningful and relevant to our students in the context of agricultural education. We also need to collect data on our student's progress and show that students in Agricultural Education perform better than students who don't take our classes. That is the bottom line as administrators determine the future of our programs. Don't forget that the Common Core Science Standards are just around the corner as well.


As I say all this, I fully realize that I did not get certified as a mathematics teacher or an English teacher. I feel some anxiety about evaluating student work, especially in language arts. However, I have decided to take advantage of professional development to help me be a better agricultural education/math/language arts/science teacher. In my experience, ag teachers are life-long learners who love to share their passion for the agricultural industry with their students.


In summary, I believe that the Common Core Standards are here to stay. Their nearly universal adoption across the country speaks to this momentum. If we are going to have strong agricultural education programs, we need to lead the way in demonstrating our willingness to adapt. We must do everything we can to focus instruction to help students become proficient on the Common Core Standards as well as the technical skills associated with agricultural education. I wish you all a great school year!

Purposeful Advocacy

Posted by Ken Couture Jun 18, 2012

I have long been a fan of the FFA Washington Leadership Conference (WLC) held each summer in our nation's capitol. I even had the good fortune to attend what was then called the Washington Conference Program in the summer of 1975. Boy, that sounds like a long time ago! It was my first time flying on a commercial aircraft and my first trip to Washington, D.C. I have probably attended 8 times in the past 15 years. I know many of you make it an annual pilgrimage despite the rising costs over the years.


I have applauded the changes made to WLC to focus on service leadership and global engagement but I have to say I was taken aback when I read that this year the schedule would not include time for Congressional visits. According to the WLC information, fewer than ten percent of participants were able to get an appointment and then actually see their Congressman or Senators. At first I was upset with this change but then I reflected on how National FFA has continuously modified WLC to meet new opportunities and initiatives. WLC participants were encouraged to try to make visits during their sightseeing time or before the start of WLC.


Then I thought, "What does this change says about us?" I have always accompanied my students to WLC and we have never had a problem scheduling a visit with our Representative and in fact, meeting with him. We did so just last year, in fact. So, why have there been several years of low Congressional visits for WLC participants? I have to believe that many of us, as and teachers and FFA advisors, are not teaching or modeling to our students much about advocacy.


We all know that advocacy is about building relationships at all levels of government. I can't think of a better way for students and FFA members to learn about advocacy than through the process of scheduling and meeting with their Congressman. Particularly when they have taken the time and paid the expense of coming to Washington. Even if their Congressman is not available, meeting with that Congressman's education and/or agriculture staffer is an important step in learning how things get done on Capitol Hill. In many cases, a relationship with a staffer is every bit as important as seeing their elected official because of the important role they perform.


We need to do a much better job of incorporating advocacy into our curriculum and FFA chapters. In this time of budget cutting at all levels, it has never been more important to build and maintain those advocacy relationships. There are many resources available on the NAAE website. Click on the Advocacy tab and then Advocacy Tools (or click the link to go straight there). The FFA LEARN site has a section called "Today's Challenges; Today's Leaders" which includes lesson plans on advocacy. Partner with Farm Bureau and tap into their resources and expertise.

As you reflect on this past school year and begin formulating changes you want to make for the next, I challenge you to carve out some time to purposefully teach about advocacy. We owe it to our students and our communities.

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