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11 Posts authored by: Olivia Thomas

Communities of Practice (CoP) is a professional networking and sharing site for agricultural educators. You can find discussions, resources, blogs and tools related to more than 30 agricultural education community topics. As with any community, you get the most out of the community by participating. We want everyone to participate no matter if you’ve been teaching one year or 50, you have something of value to share.


To provide the best possible Communities of Practice experience we would like feedback from our NAAE Members and Communities of Practice users about your experience with the platform.


Please take a few moments to answer the questions in this survey. Every response helps us improve the Communities of Practice experience, and better serve you.


Questions may be directed to Olivia Thomas at


Take the survey here!

Being an Ag Teacher is more often a calling than a career. It’s a lot of hard work, time and devotion. Ag teachers are rarely, if ever, in the spotlight because they are the ones shining that spotlight on their students. So, recognition in any way is always welcome, but especially when it comes on a national stage. Krista Pontius, of Greenwood Middle/High School in Millerstown, Perry County, Pennsylvania was one of the finalists in the 'Live with Kelly and Ryan' ‘Top Teacher Search’, and on May 7th she was announced the winner. However, that is only where the story starts.


“I was in my classroom [when I found out]. I actually wasn’t watching it because I don’t have a television in my classroom.” Krista says about the day in question. “To be honest, there was a news reporter scheduled to be there and I was trying really hard to keep my students on task because I knew that he wanted to take classroom photos.”


She was teaching a class on how to measure trees and one of the students needed a pencil, so she went to her desk to get one and saw a text message from her husband. Quickly, about 60 more arrived and the celebration began almost immediately.


Minutes after it was announced that she'd won, the fire alarm rang. The school emptied and standing on the soccer field Pontius found the entire school cheering ‘KP’. They then started chanting ‘SOLD’ and she sang her signature song ‘Sold: Grundy County Auction’ to the entire student body.


“It was overwhelming and humbling to say the least, especially when I looked down on the soccer field and saw my colleagues, who I have such respect for, cheering for me. It was very hard to hold back the tears.” She remembers. Since then, it has been a constant whirlwind of interviews, businesses showing up at the school to give her gifts, and EVERYONE wanting to share their congratulations.


“It is kind of funny,” Pontius remarks, “because the producer from 'Live with Kelly & Ryan' called me the next day to see if I was going to be in the paper. I politely explained to her that I didn’t think that she [understood] the kind of ruckus something like this would cause in a small town.” 


All across Perry County there are billboards going up with congratulations, numerous papers have included articles about the event, such as the National FFA, PennLive, ABC, and various agriculture magazines. She has also received a request to be the Keynote Speaker at the Arkansas Career and Tech Ed conference this summer.


And of course, there are the prizes to be put to use. Greenwood is a small school, so Pontius is excited to able to share the money with every classroom teacher in the district which comes out to about $175 per classroom teacher. Though she realizes that it’s not a large amount of money, she says that at least everyone will be able to get a little something for their classrooms next year. 


“The Greenwood Wildcats will always be my favorite team and agricultural education will always be my passion.” Pontius remarks. “Although I don’t think that I’ve ever done anything special to deserve a title such as ‘Top Teacher’, I am thrilled that this recognition has brought positive attention to education, especially during a year which has been so full of roadblocks and challenges.”


It is very important to Pontius to share this achievement, because, as she says: “this isn’t about me, it’s about our entire school.  As educators we know that we are only as successful as the students, parents, community, and colleagues who support our endeavors each and every day.” Proving that, as ever, she is dedicated to shining that spotlight on others.

Adaptation is often the norm for Ag Teachers. Every day is a new adventure, every activity turns out differently for every class, and every lesson plan is more guide than firm timeline. And all over the country Ag Teachers band together to lend a hand or an ear, but most frequently, an idea.


From the NAAE’s Communities of Practice to the Ag Ed Discussion Lab on Facebook, our members are asking questions and posting resources every day. This community and the sense of togetherness it inspires is what pushes our profession forward every day. Every post reaches thousands of teachers, meaning that every post helps countless students and in turn, those students go out and become leaders, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and agriculturalists.


Below we have accumulated just a small portion of what our membership has been posting this last month:


  • Dustin Gosser posted a PowerPoint for a United States Horticultural Imports and Exports lecture on our Communities of Practice, here
  • Kaitlyn Bartling provided a Kahoot for her lesson in Fencing 101. Click here to find out more!
  • Loghan Hallett post some Nutrition Deficiencies Poster Directions on our Communities of Practice page. You can lean more here!
  • Francisca Pena posted an equine video and several work sheets in the Ag Ed Discussion Lab this month. Click here for more information!
  • Kendall Davis Rogers posted a video on YouTube to help Ag Teacher teach a small engine lesson. Click here to watch her video. 
  • Ashley Mychal Puckett Wagoner is very active in the Ag Ed Discussion lab and has posted a small power lesson and a Veterinary Science Surgical Instruments for at home students this month. Click here to view her page!
  • Riley Hintzsche is one of the Admin in the Discussion Lab and has made many different helpful and informational posts, including his recent Officer Retreat: Diversity activity. You can view it here.


For more resources for lesson planning, professional development, and support you can follow the links below!

Although April seems a little early to be looking forward to December, the NAAE Award and Scholarship season means our membership begins anticipating winter in spring. Every year ag teachers from across the country begin preparing their applications, gathering photos, and in Allison Meadows case, figuring out how to create a video.


“As an ag teacher in Oregon, we lean strongly on the teacher next door and across the state.” Meadows said when asked why she applied for the Region I Ideas Unlimited award last year. “I think it's important to share ideas with each other and to promote our programs. The more people that apply for the award - the more good ideas [we] gain!”


When the application process changed last year to accommodate the pandemic and subsequent quarantine Meadows wasn’t daunted. With some quick googling and a lot of work she was able to create her video much earlier than she thought, and at the 2020 Virtual NAAE Convention we all got to watch as she described her idea for bringing together FFA members and Alumni alike.


“I love when past students donate their old blue corduroy for new members to wear.” Meadows says about her idea. “When I send a Freshman into the closet to find a jacket that fits, they always ask about the name on the jacket and I promptly give them a short bio. For some jackets, I've had to dig far into my memory bank to remember [the] details. I always wondered, ‘Who will share these students' legacies once I'm gone?’ I wanted to put a short bio on the inside pocket of each jacket but quickly realized that a piece of paper can be lost.”


So, she created a "Legacy Patch" to iron on the inside of each jacket. Included on the patch are past officer positions, CDE success/passions, favorite memories, words of encouragement, etc. Before she started the legacy patches, she had a hard time convincing the seniors to leave their beloved blue corduroy behind. However, the legacy patches have done what the name suggests; they’ve encouraged the students to leave a legacy behind. Now, seniors ask to leave their jacket in the closet and ask to fill out a patch. They are proud to leave their jacket knowing that future members will learn about who they were and what they were passionate about. A simple patch of biographical information has transformed how these students view success, tradition,and the FFA chapter history.


When Meadows applied to the Ideas Unlimited award she and the rest of our award winners had no idea how different their experience would be to the award winners of years past.


“[It was] unprecedented...but so cool!” Meadows assured when asked about her experience. “It was a total surprise getting the plaque, goodies, and IU award winner poster in the mail. I felt celebrated within my school building. In fact, our building administration shared my award video with our staff. Because of the nature of the virtual convention, I love that NAAE staff went above and beyond to make the award winners feel celebrated. [I’m] looking forward to celebrating other members in the future!”


The 2021 applications are now open on the NAAE website, and you can find more information on our awards page here. There are many awards and scholarships available and most of them are open now! If you have any questions please contact Sarah Warren.



“Don't hold back because you don't think your idea isn't mind blowing! [Do it!]” Meadows urged. “Do it because everyone needs to share what they're developing in their own towns so that we can [all] better our cohort of ag teachers [together].”

Olivia Thomas

BBC's "Follow the Food"

Posted by Olivia Thomas Mar 17, 2021

In BBC’s new program, “Follow the Food,” renowned botanist James Wong explores how we can feed the world’s ever-growing population, all the way from farm to fork. Especially timely due to COVID-19’s impact on our food chain, the show episodes look at farming, science, technology, and consumer behaviors to determine how we can feed the world without harming our planet.



The program episodes can be streamed free of charge from the BBC Follow the Food website. Further, the website contains articles and deep dives on climate change, vertical/urban farming, regenerative farming, data-driven farming, food security, precision farming, and many other topics. These episodes can be great topic introductions, lesson wrap-ups, and an in-class conversation starter for educators. Since episodes are free of charge, don't require a cable or satellite subscription, and require no login information, they can also be great for distance learning.

It was a year like never before, and a Teach Ag day that showed it. Plans had changed, in person events were canceled, and face masks were the new staple accessory. All of this could have put a damper on Center-Stanton High School’s Teach Ag Celebration that year if not for North Dakota agriculture teacher Nikki Fideldy-Doll and the 2020 Teach Ag Day Host Kit.


On Thursday, September 17, 2020, Nikki and her students walked into a classroom full of Teach Ag Green. Streamers and ornaments covered the ceiling, a banner hung by the door, and place settings and Tagged to Teach Ag Kits littered the tables.


In the midst of it all, Nikki, #TeachAg green from head to toe. From the bow in her hair to the socks on her feet, her mask with its Teach Ag logo, her t-shirt tie-dyed and tagged, and the star of it all; a tutu to match.



All this – sans tutu – and more was delivered to her doorstep in preparation for celebrating the tenth annual National Teach Ag Day. 



The kit included: 

  • promotional flyers and posters for the classroom
  • tagged giveaway items to tag students who should become ag teachers
  • buttons
  • ribbons
  • an interactive notebook
  • printouts
  • activities with materials and instructions for activities
  • and so much more! 

Valued at $150, the selected hosts received the kits at no cost.


“If they do the kits again, you guys listening, drop what you are doing and sign up.” Nikki said on the 25thepisode of “Here by the Owl”, a podcast she hosts with Wahpeton, ND Agriculture Teacher Breanna Bregel. “The kit was amazing!”


When asked about her favorite part of the kit, Nikki said it had to be the door cling and swears she will leave it up on her door until she retires. Her students, however, preferred the prizes included with several of the activities. Much of the swag in the kits can be used year-round, and they all include the items needed to make a Tagged to Teach Ag kit. 


“We did have a lot of fun,” Nikki said in her podcast. “I think it was the best [Teach Ag Day] yet!”


The 2021 Teach Ag Day Host Kits are available online now through Monday, May 3, 2021 at 11:59pm EDT. For more information and to apply for a kit, visit the application survey here.

Lexington, Ky. – The board of directors of the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) is pleased to announce that Alissa F. Smith of Nicholasville, Ky. has been hired as NAAE Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Her assignment in this capacity will begin October 1, 2020.


In this assignment, Smith will lead this not-for-profit education-related professional membership association, which serves agricultural education professionals throughout the United States and its territories. In partnership with the NAAE board of directors, Smith will be responsible for the short- and long-term success of the organization by overseeing the leadership and management of the organization. Smith will work with the board of directors and staff to assure NAAE’s relevance to school-based agricultural education and NAAE members, the accomplishment of organization’s mission, vision and strategic plan, and the accountability of the organization to its members.


“I am excited to take on this new challenge in leading NAAE,” stated Smith. “I look forward to staying on course with the great programs and services that we have provided over the years and expanding programming to be responsive to needs of our members and agricultural educators at all levels as we continue to grow NAAE and the agricultural education profession.”


For the past 14 years, Smith has been the associate executive director of NAAE where she is the primary driving force behind the development of programming to support the recruitment, retention, and recognition of agricultural educators in all stages of their careers. In addition to her work at NAAE, Smith is an accomplished textbook and workbook author and she has served as a university resource teacher for agricultural education student teachers for the University of Kentucky. Prior to joining the NAAE staff, she taught agriculture for five and one-half years in the Jessamine County School District in Ky.


Parker Bane, NAAE President and agriculture teacher at Normal Community West High School in Normal, Ill., said, “We are most fortunate to have Alissa Smith in this new role with our organization. Alissa is respected and valued highly by our members as well as our external sponsors and partners. She will continue and expand our mission of providing outstanding professional development for agricultural educators, advocacy for the agricultural education profession, and recruitment and retention of agricultural educators. In addition, she will keep our organization on a sound financial footing.”


Smith received the Honorary American FFA Degree from the National FFA Organization in 2019; the DuPont George Washington Carver Teacher Mentor Award in 2015, and the American Cancer Society Mid-South Community Volunteer Award in 2010-11.


Smith replaces Dr. Wm. Jay Jackman who has chosen to vacate the position after almost 25 years in this capacity. Smith and Jackman will overlap as NAAE chief executives through December.


About NAAE:

The National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) is the national professional association for school-based agricultural educators. NAAE is ... “Professionals providing agricultural education for the global community through visionary leadership, advocacy and service.” There are over 9,000 NAAE members nationwide who are agriculture teachers/instructors in middle schools, secondary schools, and postsecondary institutions, agricultural education faculty in colleges and universities, statewide coordinators of agricultural education, college/university agricultural education students, and others who support the school-based agricultural education profession.



With the announcement of ACTE CareerTech Vision becoming the Virtual Vision, NAAE has also made the decision to go virtual in 2020.  We value the health and safety of our members and look to provide a new way for them to engage and earn professional development from their own classrooms, in their homes, or wherever they may be.  With all of the uncertainties in our world today, one thing is still guaranteed…NAAE Convention will be the best professional development conference for ag educators this year! 

One of the greatest additions to this year’s convention will be the opportunity for NAAE members to have access to the content for 365 days after the convention.  “In our traditional in-person event, you would only be able to attend one professional development workshop per time slot.  With our virtual format, all sessions and workshops will be recorded and available on-demand for a whole year giving our members the opportunity to attend sessions at their own pace.  That’s just not available in an in-person format,” said Alissa Smith, NAAE Associate Executive Director. 

Another great component of the new virtual format will the NAAE Networking Lounge.  This will provide a space for ag educators to network and meet-up.  We know our members value the opportunity to swap stories and resources so this space will provide a great area for those conversations. 

With the change to virtual, we are still in the planning phases.  However, you can find the most up-to-date information about registration, schedule, and all things convention on our website at 

I am sure many you have heard the Kenny Rogers song the gambler. This was one of my favorite songs when I was growing up. A famous line from this song is "you have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run". 
We in education have been dealt a very poor hand these past few months but you have played that hand to the best of your ability and I thank you. I want to ensure you that the staff at ACTE and NAAE have worked tirelessly on our behalf to help provide the support and resources we need in the trenches each day. I want to thank them for all their hard work and dedication to our profession. 
On another note, as many of you aware we were all supposed to be together in Nashville for ACTE Vision 2020 and NAAE Convention. The staff at NAAE and ACTE held their hand as long as they could in hopes that we would be together in person in Nashville. Given the current restriction of the pandemic, it became apparent that we needed to fold our hand on having an in-person convention.  
As we walked away from the in-person convention we ran to the idea of having a virtual conference. I am so excited about the possibilities that this format will provide us. I know several teachers who have not been able to participate in VISION and NAAE conferences due to a lack of funds. This virtual format will allow us to reach more teachers, teacher educators, state staff, and University staff from the comfort of their homes and offices.  There will still be keynote speakers, networking opportunities, workshops, and friendship building. 
The schedule has not been finalized yet, but we are hoping to have it set in the next few weeks. The dates will be November 30 - December 4. I hope you will run on over to and get registered for the conference. I have already registered and I can not wait to "see" you all at the conference. 
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me at or give me a call at 573-881-3315. 
ACTE Ag Ed Division Vice President

Preparing for the start of a new school year is never easy, but this year teachers will have even more hurdles to leap before school starts in the fall. For those who will return in person, how do you socially distance in a classroom? In many places, masks will be required for everyone whilst in the school, sanitation has never been more important, and activities that were once common place are now potentially hazardous. Meanwhile, for the teachers who will be returning virtually, how do you make sure that your students are receiving the education they need? How do you virtually go to the green house, or the barn, or do labs in the ‘classroom’?


As different as this school year will be, many of our teachers have developed new and creative ways of instructing their students. From virtual field trips to “meet the teacher” postcards, Ag teachers everywhere are finding new methods of reaching their students and making the 2020-21 school year a success.


In Center-Stanton Public School in Center, North Dakota, Nikki Fideldy-Doll has yet to find out where her classroom will be in the Fall. The North Dakota Governor has announced that it will be up to the discretion of the school district and her district is currently “collecting data from staff, parents, and community members to help make the best decision.”


While she is unsure of what her year will look like, that hasn’t stopped her from making plans. One way she plans to connect with students that she may not get to meet face to face is by sending out “meet the teacher” postcards. New students entering the agricultural education program have received a postcard in the mail introducing Nikki as their agriculture teacher. The postcard includes a QR Code for students to scan that will take them to Flipgrid where they will find a recorded video of Nikki answering fun ‘get to know you’ questions.


Besides finding way to connect with new students, Nikki is using some creative online learning techniques she picked up at the end of last school year.


“One way I did SAE visits during the pandemic was through my “Flat Fideldy” project.” Nikki said. “Students in the program received my Bitmoji in the mail and they had to take me on an SAE visit. They took pictures with my Bitmoji and wrote journal entries explaining what they were doing.”


Meanwhile, in Tillamook, Oregon, Brooklyn Bush is hoping to make a return in person. Her school is also on the fence, but she says “I personally would rather be in-person - I think it's easier to build relationships with students and get them excited for their classes.  There's always a contagious energy when students return to school.”


One of the ways Brooklyn is preparing to go back to school in person is by modifying some of her assignments, especially if they contain group work.  She is thinking about lab space and how to accomplish certain labs given the available space and equipment.  Most of her current preparation though is focusing on how to make social distancing work in her classroom.  Class sizes will be smaller, disinfecting will be even more important, and face masks will be made mandatory. Although she prefers in-person teaching, Brooklyn plans to stay current on online teaching techniques and content strategies for virtual learning just in case that is the route her district decides to go.


With so many teachers facing the unknown this fall it could be easy to feel disheartened, but in the end, Nikki said it best.


“There are so many uncertainties, but one thing I am confident of: if anyone can do it, teachers can.”


From Sherisa Nailor:


Happy spring!  Four short months ago, I stood before those in attendance at the NAAE Convention and challenged our organization and profession to change the status quo.  Little did I know just how timely and real that message would be to educators across the country.


Our task as educators certainly has a different look than it did two weeks ago.  And, among the hustle and bustle of navigating new instructional methods, we are also tasked with managing student leaders from a distance, making contingency plans for events and competitions, and assuring our students and members that we will persevere and survive this unprecedented time.  The key for them, as it is for us, is to work together!  #NAAEBetterTogether


If you have not had a chance to engage with agricultural educators across the nation who are facing the same struggles as you, I hope that you will find that connection this week.  If you are in need of materials, lesson ideas, and resources for delivering instruction virtually, check out Communities of Practice, Ag Ed Discussion Lab, or follow NAAE on FaceBook and Twitter.  In times like this, more than even before, we need each other as sounding boards and a support system.  #NAAEBetterTogether


My hope for you in the coming months is that you find time to connect in a way like never before.  Use this time to engage in some self-care, try a new lesson format or activity, challenge your students to discover their own learning, finesse a hobby, finish reading that book, spend quality time with family.  Sometimes the world has a funny way of making us all slow down and appreciate life for what it is.  #NAAEBetterTogether


In times like these, great organizations need leaders, but we also need an engaged tribe who is willing to challenge the status quo at the grassroots level, and lead the charge for change and innovation.  Reach out to your colleagues, even if just to share in common struggles.  Your NAAE leadership team is here for you and whatever you need, just reach out.  We are all in this together, #NAAEBetterTogether.

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