Perspectives​​: Professional Partnerships and Accountability: Two Characteristics of Effective Agricultural Educators

 

 

Throughout my years in education I have learned two important lessons.  The first lesson is that one cannot do everything by him or herself, and the second lesson is one must perform the job that he or she is paid to do… or simply stated one must be accountable.  As a young educator 10 years ago, I realized that trying to “save the world” by myself was at the very least a daunting task and that I needed help along the way. 

Consequently, while trying to “save the world,” I also realized that I was constantly being evaluated through both formal and informal channels by colleagues, administrators and the community at large.  A teacher education program cannot prepare aspiring teachers for all of the situations that they will encounter as novice teachers; however, I truly believe that a teacher education program has a duty to instill within teachers the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to foster beneficial professional relationships and accountability.
     

It is through professional partnerships that encourage networks of collegiality and transparent accountability that teachers of all experience levels feel empowered, cooperative and willing to take risk. According to Gonzales (1995) a major source of teacher attrition is the lack of positive interaction and feelings of isolation from colleagues and administrators.  Moreover, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education (2005), 52 percent of teachers who leave the profession indicate a lack of involvement in and influence over school policy as reasons for their attrition.  Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field of agriculture, many opportunities exist for agricultural educators to create cooperative networks among fellow educators.  Collaborative lessons could be performed across subject mater.  For example agriculture educators could collaborate with the school’s history department during African American History Month to educate students about the accomplishments of African Americans to American agriculture.  In doing this, teachers are combining the disciplines of agricultural science in conjunction with a study of culture and historical achievement, thus creating a collegial connection that would not have existed otherwise. Agriculture educators should make it a priority to volunteer on school committees in which policies are made that could ultimately impact their respective programs.  As the old adage goes, “If you are not at the table then you do not eat.”
    

In relation to the concept of teacher accountability, while I agree that teachers should be consistently evaluated in order to ensure that students are being provided with a high- quality education, assessments should be valid with multiple methods utilized depending upon the discipline taught.   Accountability is a concept with a positive sounding name and tremendous surface appeal among policy makers and administrators.  Accountability is a response to the popular perception that the cost of the public education has soared while the quality has plummeted.  Many models of teacher accountability exist such as merit-based pay, behavioral assessment, high-stakes testing and portfolio assessments.  So what does accountability mean for secondary agriculture educators?  With a great majority of agriculture educators in most states on 12-month contracts of employment, coupled with very challenging and complex economic conditions, it is more imperative than ever that agriculture educators are providing students with a dynamic learning experience.   For secondary agricultural education, this translates into agriculture educators that effectively address all three components of the standard agricultural education model equally (classroom/laboratory, FFA, and supervised agricultural experience programs [SAEs]).  Particular emphasis should be given to summer activities in the agriculture educator’s calendar of activities (i.e. SAE activities, FFA Convention, in-service workshops).
  

In order to document program activities and accomplishments, agriculture educators could develop and maintain program websites, in addition to keeping a weekly journal of activities accomplished and a program scrapbook.  Whenever possible, administrators, community stakeholders and other colleagues should be invited to participate in program activities such as being judges for career development events, guest speakers and resource personnel.  By integrating others into the fabric of the program, accountability becomes transparent, thus removing barriers of defensiveness by teachers and isolation, and instead creating environments of collegiality focused upon the ultimate goal of student achievement.
 

As an agriculture educator, collegiality and accountability are imperative to one’s professional longevity.  Having an understanding of these concepts contributes to the professional growth of dynamic agriculture educators who possess the knowledge, skills and dispositions to positively impact the development of intellectual capital within the students they serve.