By Beth A. DeHoff
Sometimes, the only thing standing between an agriculture teacher and his goals for a new program for his students, or a new fundraiser or other initiative, can seem to be the school’s administration. Just get the thing approved, and you’re all set, you think.
Honestly, says Ray Nash, a 14-year agriculture teacher who has spent the last 12 years at Biggersville High School in northeast Mississippi, looking at your administration as an obstacle is counterproductive. The best way to advance your agriculture program and your students’ education, he says, is to make your administration your students’ biggest fans.
“Go in and sit down with them – be upfront about your expectations and what the administrator expects, and find a common ground amid those expectations,” Nash says. “If everyone is on the same road going the same direction, that will help everyone with accomplishing shared goals.”
Nash enjoys a good working relationship with his principal and other administrative personnel. “My principal is familiar with our calendar of events and my lesson plans, and he knows what’s going on. And we help each other,” he says. “If he needs me to handle a small project or needs help getting something fixed, our kids and I are there to help. When it comes time for us to ask permission for a fundraising event or something like that, he already knows us. That makes it easy.”
Bruce Silva has been superintendent for Regional School District 19 in Connecticut, and he’s never been in an agriculture program – it wasn’t offered in his high school when he was growing up. Yet his district’s high school is an agricultural center in the state, taking students from around the area who want to study agriculture and related fields. His agriculture teachers have made a real effort to involve Silva and other administrators in their program, and now this superintendent has served on Connecticut’s State Ag Consulting Committee for the past five years. He is clearly one of his agriculture program’s most ardent advocates.
“Our staff has worked very hard to involve their administrators in their events and activities,” Silva says. “It’s always a very welcoming place to go.” The agriculture teachers and students hold an annual open house, inviting the school community in for activities, food and education about the program. They also enlist the help of administrators to be judges and help in other roles for class and chapter activities. Every year for Board of Education month, the agriculture program’s floral department makes beautiful floral arrangements, and FFA members present them to each board member at that month’s school board meeting.
“Try to get your administrator to feel it’s their program,” Silva advises. “Whenever there are events and opportunities to involve them and let them get to know your program and your students, do that. Involve your administrators in your program’s successes. As a superintendent, I can feel good because I feel I’m showcasing our students’ successes. Then when they need something special, I’m much more inclined to support the program, because they do some nice PR and make us all look good.”
Nash notes that in addition to involving administrators, he tries to show the many educational benefits of agricultural programs. “If a teacher can express the educational value of agricultural education and how it contributes to overall school success, that goes a long way in showing our value,” he says.
Silva concurs. “What appeals to me the most is it’s such a wonderful opportunity for kids to become really excited about learning,” he says. “There’s plenty of academic learning in ag classes, but there’s also very authentic hands-on learning opportunities. The leadership part of FFA is great, and kids benefit from the competitive events and public speaking.” Having a teacher and advisor show him these things through getting him involved, Silva says, was key. “When I saw all that, I loved it. Some kids need something different, and if books and pencils don’t engage them, then this will. I’ve been thrilled to have this in our school.”