By Christine White, Team Leader – Program Operations Team
I can remember when I started my career as an agriculture teacher – I was fresh out of college and my first few years were filled with lots of new experiences. At times I felt like I had to learn everything from scratch, and I looked at the opportunity as a challenge. However, over the years I started to get into a routine and was very comfortable until my district decided to make changes to my curriculum. I can remember those changes making me feel like a new teacher all over again. I could have complained; after all, how dare they try to make my life more complicated. Instead, I listened and explored what was changed and the reasons why things were changing. I discovered that these changes were not only purposeful in order to help keep my program relevant but, more importantly, ensured that I was preparing students to enter our local workforce. Understanding the reasons made adapting to the change a little bit easier, even though it still took time and a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong…I did complain on occasion, but I embraced the change and it helped my students in the end.
As a member of the National FFA Organization’s staff, I have had the opportunity over the last year to work with a number of colleagues in our profession who have been challenged to revise our award and recognition programs. These individuals were tasked to look at each event, application and program structure to see where we could make some purposeful changes. One area of change was to align all programs to the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) National Content Standards related to academic standards. As a result of this work, for the first time we now have the evidence that can be shared with our administrators that students who compete in career development events (CDEs) are demonstrating national agriculture and academic-related skills. As a profession, we have known the value of these competitive events as a learning experience, but now we can help others see the academic value of our programs as well.
In addition to aligning the events to the AFNR content standards, we also included industry professionals in the process of reviewing our programs. This allowed us to assess whether or not the content in our events were relevant to what was happening in agriculture. By involving industry leaders, we were able to elevate the rigor and relevance of our program areas. As a result, we now have events that are no longer just a test of a student’s knowledge but assesses if the student can apply this knowledge in a real-life application. We are now going to start asking students to account for the skills that they have attained through their supervised agriculture experiences (SAE). Students often complete various tasks or skills within their SAE program but never take the time to reflect on those skills so that those skills can be utilized in other aspects of the student’s lives. Additionally, students will now be evaluated not just on the dollars they earn in a program, but they will need to articulate the educational value and skills attained in that program. This again is another opportunity to provide the evidence that agricultural education, FFA, and SAEs are valuable for the growth and development of our students.
It was also evident when we looked at some of our career development events that team activities were being scored generally based on the outcome of the task and not on the process used to complete the assigned task. As an organization that prides itself on developing outstanding leaders for the future of agriculture, this was concerning. We have now reworked some of these team events to not only score the final product but to also evaluate how well the students worked as a team and communicated in order to accomplish the task that was assigned.
Every five years the awards and recognition programs are revised and updated. Over the last few years, your colleagues have worked diligently on your behalf to make sure that our programs do not become stagnate. These committees were challenged to dig deep and make the purposeful changes that are needed to build rigor and relevance, and to ensure that our programs are progressive in keeping up with the changes within education and agriculture.
As you start to review the changes that have been made within each of the programs, know that these changes were not made frivolously, but were examined, debated and incorporated to make a positive difference. This is our opportunity to embrace these changes and know that they were designed purposefully to impact students.
Some of you may look at these changes as I did when my curriculum was revised. Change can be difficult no matter what stage you are at in your career but, I hope that you will see the value of these changes for our students. I encourage you to reach out to me if I can be of any assistance in helping you with this new process.