Bridging classroom content into FFA activities is one of the more challenging aspects of being an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. FFA activities and fundraisers all too often become a survival test for the advisor, moving us into a “just-get-it-done” mentality. This is when we must be careful not to overlook these activities as invaluable learning opportunities. Instead of another task on our already crammed schedule, we need to approach the activity from the perspective of purposeful learning. For example, instead of just making money, what else can our students learn from running a concession stand fundraiser? LifeKnowledge (LK) can provide you will the tools and resources to accentuate these areas.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that with everything we do, leadership and life skills should be practiced as often as possible. The classroom teaches students the concepts. Laboratory, SAE and FFA provide opportunities for students to experience those concepts and put them into practice. In all cases, leadership should be integrated. I often use LK as the curriculum for my human relations (leadership) class. In this class, I see a more diverse group of students who are not core agriculture students but who desire leadership training.
I also use LK to help me plan mini-lessons in my technical content classes. This can happen in one of two ways. Sometimes I use a leadership concept as a metaphor for a technical concept—for example, a comparison of the concept of diversity among people to the diversity in breeds of livestock. Other times I use LK to provide students with a skill they will need outside of class, like presentation preparation and other FFA events.
Like many schools, we fundraised to build a high school greenhouse. While preparing to speak with community members and local businesspeople, agriculture students benefited from the integration of LK skills along with their lessons. That approach eventually helped us raise more than $108,000 for the structure, which was ready for classes in August 2007.
As for using LK to bridge the gap between classroom and FFA activities, there are a few simple steps I’ve taken that make leadership development fluid in my program.
- Integrate learning objectives into the Program of Activities (POA). Involve officers and discuss with members as an event is planned. Prior to the activity, plan a short lesson to engage students and properly train them to do tasks. Students can gain valuable training in seemingly simple tasks such as welcoming customers, making change, closing a sale or any number of things.
- Plan to teach students LK skills prior to, during and after an FFA activity. When applicable, plan aspects of your curriculum around certain FFA activities so that you can seamlessly integrate leadership concepts.
- Make students part of the process and challenge them to teach their peers. Leadership development is not a stand-alone concept; it takes active participation. Empower students by applying LK concepts to every activity.
- Pair positive, experienced students with those who are learning. Take advantage of your role as advisor by utilizing the experience of other students to help you. It’s good for inexperienced students to learn from their peers with your supervision and assistance. Provide LK as a tool to help your students do this.
One of the biggest things I have learned by applying LK resources and leadership development throughout my program is that students desire responsibility and accountability for their FFA activities. LK has helped me create an atmosphere of ownership. Students are more motivated and can proficiently perform tasks without my supervision. This relieves stress for me, and many times their work surpasses my expectations.
It’s important for agriculture teachers to remember that LK is a more focused version of what agricultural education and FFA have been doing for more than 75 years: providing students with skills that will help them excel in life. Many teachers teach leadership, but it comes in small doses and at unscheduled times. Using the resources of LK, we’re able to turn doses of leadership into a measurable and ongoing prescription of leadership experiences.