I have a student who, in his first year in agriculture class, bought a show pig. This student did not have a lot of self-confidence, and the pig was his entire SAE project for that year. Toward the end of the year, when it was time to show the pig and reap the potential rewards, the animal got sick. Needless to say, things did not turn out well. My student wanted to write the whole thing off as one big failure.
"We need to remember that trophies collect dust and character does not."
What my student didn’t realize at the time is that this failure would turn into his greatest asset. Applying LifeKnowledge principles, I was able to advise him on dealing with setbacks and things we don’t plan for because, after all, that’s life! Rather than focus on the negative, we evaluated the whole project from start to finish, including his ability to deal with this setback and how to apply it to future success. Just two years after the pig “incident,” this student now owns a string of eight registered show heifers. He talks with breeders, goes to livestock shows, is involved with A.I. and embryo transplants, participates in livestock judging, and learned how to take out loans to pay for his project, among other skills. The best part is, he loves it.
Obviously, the example above is a unique case and doesn’t apply to all of my students. However, it is the perfect example of why integrating LK into SAE programs is so important. The reason we use LK in the classroom is to engage students and make learning more exciting, more fun and more relevant. Why not take what we use in class and apply it to the most hands-on portion of agricultural education – SAE? Here are five steps I have taken to seamlessly integrate LK into SAE. I think you’ll find it’s much easier than you think.
- Make everything intentional. When looking at LK, think of lessons and activities that apply to SAE. Character, hard work, responsibility, manners and developing leadership are just a few of the traits we can emphasize through SAE. Clipping a heifer is not just about learning the technical side of grooming a calf. It’s about persistence when the animal doesn’t cooperate; having the right tools to do the job; knowing the steps involved to make it look just right; and being able to make adjustments if something goes wrong. Make points of conversation with your students so that the teaching moment sinks in.
- Look at the big picture. Rather than focusing on the awards or end results, emphasize the importance of having a project and the lessons learned from start to finish. It’s not necessarily about having the grand champion steer (although that’s a bonus!); it’s about the work and the lessons learned from raising, feeding, grooming, planning, financing and showing that animal. Evaluate every student’s SAE from the perspective of continuous improvement and character building. Every moment we have with our students is a teaching moment – from emphasizing the importance of treating others with respect to a neat appearance and good manners.
- Use awards as a carrot, not as a method of measuring success. Sure, I like to win as much as the next ag advisor. But when it comes right down to it, we need to remember that trophies collect dust and character does not. Awards and recognition are great tools for us to motivate our students to do their best. And it’s important for us to put incentives in front of them, as it keeps us all energized to work toward goals. Be creative in helping your student select an SAE that you know will provide them with opportunities to grow and succeed on the awards stand and as a person. Stress that we can be successful while keeping everything in perspective. Use failures as building blocks for future success.
- Leave little nuggets of information with your students. When students leave my program, I like to think that they have a lot of little nuggets from their FFA/ag ed experience that will help them the rest of their lives. LK is all about little nuggets of useful information that we apply on a daily basis. By passing along a little nugget here and a little nugget there, they will come away with something permanent and meaningful. That’s why we become teachers.
- Make the use of LK transparent. Students don’t need to know you’re using LK as part of your SAE strategy with them. If you’re already using it in class, they’ve probably just come to expect it. Carry that over into SAE. Make LK precepts part of your thinking and perspective on handling daily situations. Students will learn by your example and will start thinking out of the box when it comes to priorities and experiences.
Always remember that SAE gives us the ideal opportunity as teachers to incorporate LK because what our students learn through SAE is real life. It’s not like an FFA contest or a skill they learn in class. Integrating lessons on character enables students to move forward with a fulfilling experience, not just ribbons and awards.