Planning the Perfect Year

Seven key tips on what it takes to have a successful year.


By Matthew Gonzales


The start of a new year is a time of both hope and excitement for FFA advisors and chapter members. We talked to two experienced FFA advisors (and one former advisor) who’ve learned firsthand what it takes to have a successful year:


Stephanie Jolliff, Ridgemont FFA, 2011 Model of Innovation winner, Chapter Development


Lance Jagers, Eads FFA, 2011 Model of Innovation runner-up, Chapter Development


Kent Zeller, former advisor of Ravenna FFA, 2000 Model of Innovation winner, Student Development, and current National Chapter Awards judge


Here’s what they had to say, along with a few useful secrets


1. Make your Program of Activities priority number one. “Your POA is going to be your road map for the year,” Jagers said. “It’s of utmost importance, because it not only tells you what you’ll be doing that year, but it will allow every member to be involved with the activities they really care about, which makes for a much stronger chapter.”


The idea is to create an environment where the POA really works for you and your students. It’s always easier to figure out where you are going when you have a plan and road map to get there. A well-laid out POA will help you keep your members focused on the task at hand and provide an educational setting for experiential learning as well as leadership development.


2. Focus on measurable outcomes. “Start the year off with the end in mind,” Jolliff said. “This way, the kids know what they need to achieve and what the steps are to get there. It’s also a good idea to establish an officer team that’s dedicated solely to monitoring progress along the way. These students become agents of overseeing instead of doing.”


The POA isn’t about the officers doing all the work. The more members you have involved, the more ownership they will take of it. Every member needs to understand how to create SMART goals, follow a plan of action, and then evaluate the results. This process of evaluation and synthesis addresses the highest levels of cognition and should be practiced by students and teachers alike.


3. Get your members on board. “It’s really crucial to make sure the kids buy into everything you’re doing,” Zeller said. “It’s important that they really feel ownership. That means giving them freedom, and allowing them to come up with ideas for the year’s activities. When they really buy in, your year is going to be much more successful.”


That’s not to say we give members free reign to decide what the chapter will do. If we’ve done our job in teaching them to identify the needs of members and our community, they should be able to identify meaningful activities that will have impact as well as appeal to all members for participation.


4. Connect to your community. “Become affiliated with public officials,” Jolliff said. “Network with the local community development associations. Make sure they know FFA is there to serve their needs. Also, share your vision and goals with administrators. It’s all part of positioning your chapter to leverage partnerships.”


So often in education, we develop a mentality of us against them when we think about our administrators. The reality is that we are all in this game together, working toward the same ends. When we find that school officials or community leaders don’t understand or value what our members are doing, it is time to take a step back and consider how we are telling them our story. Are they aware of our service-learning initiatives? Our alignment with academic standards? Our student’s economic impact through their supervised agricultural experience projects?


5. Create a master calendar. “Students are involved in all kinds of activities – sports, church youth groups and other organizations,” Jagers said. “So if you can get a complete calendar of activities to them in the beginning of the year, it’s easier to get them committed early in the year.”


Organization is key for a successful chapter, award-winning or not. Training ourselves and our students to stay ahead of deadlines and avoid scheduling conflicts is an endeavor that is ongoing and essential for us all to maintain balance at home, school, in our activities and in our careers.


6. Reach out to resources. “There are some great resources online,” Jolliff said. “Start with Youth Service America ( and State Farm’s Youth Advisory Board ( Also look for resources within your school. Partnering across curriculum is a good idea, and it gives others a chance to see the academic rigor of your ag program.”


Making partners out of your colleagues can be one of the best ways to ensure the value of your program and your student’s efforts are seen. Often the science, math, English, or special education teacher will defend your efforts and sing your praises when asked why it is important you and your students are absent from school, asking for new equipment, or need assistance.


7. Capture your success on film. “At the end of the year, you’ll want to show everyone what you did, and how you did it,” Zeller said. “Plan to use video and photography to highlight your kids as they are involved in different projects, and use it as way to show your successes to all of your supporters at your year-end banquet. It helps build even more support, and makes for great banquet entertainment.”


Don’t limit yourself to the technology you know how to use. Your students can be much more aware of ways to get your program message out to your partners and community members. Utilize their technology talents and you are just liable to engage an entire new group of FFA members in the POA.