LifeKnowledge Spotlight: Sustaining Leadership Development into the Summer

By Kelly Hoelting, Agriculture Teacher, Mission Valley High School, Eskridge, Kan.

1. Why is it important to continue to work during the summer to help students develop leadership skills?

It is a well-researched fact that student retention of knowledge drops over the summer months. Not only is this true for book work, but also for many of the social and leadership skills that students develop over the school year. Therefore, it is essential that those of us in agricultural education maintain the continuity we have in our classrooms throughout the summer months. This may include supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project visits, participation in fairs, summer leadership conferences or officer retreats. If we can teach students to keep their minds open to learning and use leadership skills throughout the summer, those skills can be built upon at the start of the next school year rather than relearned.

“Incentive programs are an easy way to keep students motivated over the summer months. In our FFA chapter, we keep track of summer participation in activities. Students are rewarded when school resumes, and this gives them something to transition back into the school year.”

2. How can teachers sustain leadership development for students over the summer?

The summertime provides an excellent opportunity for hands-on leadership development for both students and teachers. A great way to sustain leadership is to provide opportunities for students to use their skills. Activities planned over the summer are the easiest way to keep students involved and active in the organization. You might encourage students to work with brothers and sisters or younger members in the community. SAE mentoring programs and local fairs are another way to keep students involved and interacting with a variety of people. Many students need incentives to keep them motivated throughout the summer. By providing these, a teacher can make the most of summer activities.

3. What are some ways to integrate LifeKnowledge (LK) into summer FFA activities?

There are several ways to integrate LK into summer activities, but here are five things that have worked well for me.

  1. SAE Mentoring Programs—Older FFA members help younger members with similar SAEs to keep up records, answer questions and provide advice throughout the summer.

  2. Officer Retreat—Utilizing the goal-setting activities and team-building sections of the LK curriculum is an excellent way to plan an officer retreat and to continue the leadership development of the new officers. This will help with a smooth transition into the school year.

  3. Chapter Meeting—Holding a chapter meeting in the summer is a great way to have fun while infusing LK and leadership development. Team-building activities can be an exciting way to spend a summer evening. Utilize state and chapter officers to run activities and provide the LK training behind each activity.

  4. County Fairs, Town Fairs and Carnivals—Becoming an advocate for agriculture is an excellent way to use leadership skills while promoting the agriculture classroom and FFA. Students can develop a presentation board or a booth to display at a local event. These events provide many opportunities to use LK and foster responsibility among your FFA membership.

  5. FFA Newsletter—A summer newsletter with short articles about leadership is an easy way to infuse LK into the community and the students. Time the newsletter close to the start of school and it can also serve as a recruitment tool and upcoming events calendar.


4. How do you keep students from “taking the summer off” from their own personal growth development?

Incentive programs are an easy way to keep students motivated over the summer months. In our FFA chapter, we keep track of summer participation in activities. Students are rewarded when school resumes, and this gives them something to transition back into the school year. Planning an activity at the beginning, middle and end of the summer can help “bookend” leadership development and keep students thinking throughout the summertime.

An easy way to help an already busy student is to have them work with the activities they already have planned for the summer. Involvement in 4-H, youth groups and sport activities are all excellent ways that students can continue using their leadership skills without adding to their busy schedule. As an advisor, we can help teach students to use their leadership skills in these other organizations so they get more hands-on experience in developing their own personal leadership.

5. How can you build leadership development into SAE visits?

For this one, I come back to SAE mentoring programs as an excellent way to achieve leadership development during SAE visits. Older FFA members can mentor younger members, 4-Hers, brothers and sisters with similar projects or SAEs. By promoting this interaction during visits, an advisor can see the progress in FFA members over the summertime. This information can be tracked in record book or SAE packets.

Meeting with the student and their parents or a boss regarding specific LK precepts also provides opportunities for leadership development. For example, decision making is one precept that is very important. Student progress can be tracked over the summer while being tied into your curriculum and use of LK.

6. How do you encourage students to participate in summer officer retreats, SAE visits, fairs, camps, etc.? What percentage of your students participate in some sort of summer agriculture-related leadership activity?

Our chapter has a point incentive program. The more activities a student participates in during the summer, the larger the reward at the end of the year. As an example, SAE visits are related to the student’s grade for the upcoming year, and next year’s grade begins the day after school lets out. This helps keep them motivated and accountable throughout the summer. In addition, our officers are required to sign a contract for their participation. If an officer misses an important activity, it can be grounds for removal from office.

As far as percentages for student participation, 100 percent of our officers participate in the officer retreat, 65 to 70 percent of our students participate in SAE visits and/or fairs and 90 percent of our students participate in a summer recruitment event.

7. How does keeping leadership development a priority through the summer help when the students come back to school in the fall?

Keeping leadership development a priority makes the transition into fall activities easier. This also helps the excitement level of students when they come back to school. They have high expectations for themselves and their chapters. By setting high expectations, the school year will have an established starting point and things will move forward at a quicker pace. That being said, it’s important for us as advisors to provide students with the tools and support to succeed in all of their events and activities throughout the summer.