By Nicole Keller
The Washington Leadership Conference and 212°/360° are key parts of the FFA chapter/student leadership continuum, where students learn about who they are as leaders and, more importantly, as people. Even though not everyone can attend these conferences, you can still bring the same chances for growth to your chapter’s officer team. Check out these training tips and tricks from National FFA education specialists Whitney Danker and Shane Jacques.
Get busy ASAP: Summers can be hectic but not compared to the school year. Chapters like Danker’s in Wellston, Okla., can take advantage of summertime to train at state and national levels—and even just have more time to think and plan before homework hits. “We knew before we left school who would be leading the chapter and when officer retreats were conducted so we could spend the summer preparing, calling members and getting to know them, and calling new recruits,” Danker said.
Get together and get out: Officer retreats “are starting to be really common among top growing FFA chapters,” Danker said. Retreats can entail everything from a morning at the chapter president’s house to a daylong sit-down between officers and advisors or even three to four days at the lake creating a detailed program of activities. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just distraction-free. “Taking students out of the classroom, into a new environment, goes a long way in maintaining their focus,” Jacques said. “It’s the first step in setting the stage for success.”
Get help: Training doesn’t have to be all you, all the time. In fact, leadership lessons may be even more effective coming from someone else. “We see this at all levels,” Jacques said. “It’s OK to ask for help in something that may not be your greatest area of strength.” Consider training officers together with nearby FFA chapters and ask others to share their assets: FFA alumni, the local farm bureau, community businesses and supporters, other teachers and administrators, even members’ parents who work in human resources or other relevant fields. There are experts all around willing to volunteer.
Helping you train is also part of state FFA officers’ jobs. “Students buy into what you’re saying more when they hear from a fresh perspective, especially from someone who’s only slightly older than they are,” Jacques said. “State officers have instant credibility because they’ve gone through what your officers are going through themselves fairly recently.”
Get to the heart: Building a successful chapter officer team begins with students who know themselves before they figure out how they can contribute to the group, Danker said. “At National FFA, we organize training around a Me-We-Do-Serve model, even among our training staff, and that’s a great way to structure local officer training, too,” Danker said. Tools she’s used include “Me”-in-a-Box, where students create a decorated shoebox containing 10 items that portray who they are and then share those attributes with the group. “Students find out about things they have in common and begin to build relationships from there, creating the model’s ‘We,’” she said. Then they decide what they’d like to “Do” for the year, what they’d like to achieve as officers, and who and how they plan to “Serve” the chapter, school and community.
Get technical: Students now talk so much through text messaging, Facebook and Twitter that email is almost passé. “Don’t be afraid to go where the students are to keep in touch, especially during breaks from school,” Jacques said. “There are some great training tools on YouTube; it just takes some digging, research that could even be assigned to a student. They spend a ridiculous number of hours watching videos anyway so it’s a perfect opportunity to engage them, show responsible use of social media – and earn some cool points, too.”
Get back to what’s important: That strong leadership foundation you built will crumble without continued reinforcement. “You start out with great ideas, goals set, plans made,” Jacques said. “And it all gets moved to the back burner, if not off the stove completely, when the school whirlwind hits.” Try beginning each officer meeting with training. “A 15-minute life lesson, a fun activity, a quick little talk around the organization’s 16 precepts just may become one of the things your students love most about FFA,” Danker said. Then have them pay it forward. Danker’s home chapter has each officer meet regularly with their own group of chapter members, grooming the officers of the future today.