By Nicole Keller
Lately, it seems everyone is forming a team of supporters, governments and industries. Why not form your own team for agricultural education? Teachers who build their own Team Ag Eds, or TAEs, can benefit from bringing “everyone to the table who is a partner in your local program,” according to Ernie Gill, FFA Local Program Success (LPS) specialist for the western states.
The TAE concept has been filtering from the national to state and local levels over the last several years. FFA and partner organizations decided to work together to promote communication. But some schools have not yet developed their team or use existing groups double-duty. “The problem is that existing boards or alumni chapters don’t encompass the full scope of community resources available and aren’t inclusive enough so teachers aren’t getting the full benefit,” Gill said. “Maybe you just have business and industry but no representatives from alumni or the foundation.” The key is to bring everyone together and to develop a common base of knowledge about what is happening in the agricultural education program.
TAEs, chapter advisory boards and alumni affiliates—though all supporting students—play different roles. TAEs have a broader scope, drawing from an entire community of supporters who have a vested interest in the success of agricultural education, its teachers, and its students. Advisory boards are in place to evaluate program issues, and alumni affiliates find funds and resources.
Some educators have hesitated starting a TAE, concerned with the work involved and trying to find time and energy for one more meeting. A local TAE, however, is designed to support the teacher in a variety of ways. When partners are brought together, problems are solved and resources found. Teachers often find that resources just show up because partners perceive a need and take steps to meet it, taking the burden off the teacher to be all things to all people. “Done right, the local Team Ag Ed chairman puts together meetings and coordinates activities, running things by the teacher so they don’t have to spend their time on it” beyond providing and receiving advice, Gill said. The teacher shouldn’t perceive the TAE as solely their responsibility any more than the advisory committee or the alumni. The key is to find people who are passionate about agricultural education and give them the flexibility to help.
A local TAE should consist of representatives from the school administration; the local FFA alumni affiliate and FFA foundation; the chapter advisory board; community businesses and industry and/or local commodities groups; a fellow teacher; a parent and a student. At meetings, each representative should provide information about their efforts to promote the program and pose questions for the group for discussion and possible solutions. The agriculture educator can also use the time to pose issues and ask for input from the group on ways to solve problems and find resources.
Kevin Fochs, senior agricultural education instructor at Park High School in Livingston, Mont., and advisor of the Park FFA Chapter, helped set up Montana’s TAE and thinks the concept works. “When I first started teaching, we could only take two to four seniors to the national convention, but in the last 10 years, we’ve taken 15-25 kids. With the burden of travel costs, we wouldn’t ever have been able to do that without the alumni.”
One struggle in a small community is the limited number of people to serve on the TAE, advisory committee, and alumni. It is possible to utilize the same people, but it is imperative that everyone understands the role they serve at respective meetings. Fochs uses his alumni affiliate as his TAE but says that doesn’t work without clear communication. “I see the TAE philosophy as keeping everybody on the same page so we don’t have people working toward a goal not aware of what another group is doing,” he said. Park FFA Chapter’s alumni and student chapters meet at the same time so Fochs can provide guidance to both, when needed.
To start a local TAE, contact your state FFA staff or LPS specialist for operating procedures and sample bylaws. And clarify expectations early. “Don’t be scared of it,” Gill said. “If you spend the time initially, once you get it going, it takes a tremendous load off because you’re able to delegate so many things.”
When it comes to forming a TAE, Park FFA advisor Kevin Fochs recommends:
Have your TAE do a needs assessment or survey of the business community to help drive what you do. “It’s a good way to evaluate your curriculum and your program, what you’re teaching, to see if you’re meeting the needs of the community,” Fochs said.
- Don’t meet just to meet. “Always have some purpose for your meeting,” Fochs said. “People are just too busy now for regular meetings. The less you can meet and still get things done, the better.”
- Always have constant communication. Even after 24 years of teaching, Fochs still needs to refresh his alumni and advisory groups on their roles. “Since there’s always change, even established groups can use a reminder: We’re here to support the students,” he said.
The Local Program Success Team recommends:
Outline the responsibilities of each group to reduce confusion. The most problems will come when people share responsibilities in the TAE, advisory committee and alumni.
- Be clear that partners are there for support and assistance, not to create more work for the agriculture teacher.
- Promote an open and honest atmosphere. Sometimes the truth hurts, but you must accept it as a means toward improving the program to positively affect student outcomes.
- Use the TAE as a means to both share what is happening in the agriculture program and learn what is happening in the community around the program. It is an opportunity to become proactive and address changes that will keep the agriculture program viable in the future.