Building Student Leadership Skills

By Deb Buehler

Virtues and growth, vision and influence –these are the core themes for 212º and 360º leadership conferences respectively. Both programs revolve around curriculum designed to promote the development of student leadership.

“I think one of the things that’s special about these programs – while they are all set in the context of FFA – they aren’t teaching FFA content. They are really about student development (212º) and then the context of how student leaders can help their chapter (360º),” program manager Denise Mills said. “Some folks are surprised that it’s not heavy FFA content; however leadership concepts are explored that are important for FFA and how FFA develops their own leadership and impact in the community.”

212° Leadership

Designed for ninth and 10th grade students, 212º focuses on personal growth through the framework of the Growth Conference or the Virtues Conference. 2011-2012 is the year of growth-focused conferences where, through hands-on collaborative group activities, students explore relationships and feeling accepted.

“Students take away a growth plan for self-improvement when they leave the conference,” explained Stefany Deckard, an education specialist for 212º. “For example, a group may be challenged with stacking golf balls without using a T base. It is a balancing act – that is the teaching point – a lot of things are a balancing act of how you treat others.”

The Virtues Conference (2012-2013) is focused on helping students look at their passions and see how these fit with their virtues. Participants begin to understand how to live their virtues while exploring their passions.

“Overall, the 212º focus is on the individual student; if the student comes back with a growth plan or ideas about how to be a better leader, they contribute that to their chapter,” Deckard said.

360° Leadership

Designed for high school juniors and seniors, this program focuses on how students can apply their leadership skills to chapter growth.

“At the 360º level, students’ move toward being a leader in their chapter and having an impact on their chapter,” Karen Fredenburg, an education specialist for the program, said.

The Influence theme (2011-2012) helps students understand their personal influence and impact in their chapter. They focus on relationship building, being trustworthy and deliberate collaboration.

The Vision theme (2012-2013) explores the chapter’s wishes through a needs assessment during which students ask and answer key questions and then create a vision plan for the chapter.

“The process helps students figure out how to get others on board with ideas and thoughts and the energy to move the vision forward,” Fredenburg said. Once students complete the vision theme, they can cultivate the energy and momentum to help a new vision continue on in the chapter beyond their own graduation.

Both programs are available for states to host at their conferences with the curriculum being facilitated by National FFA staff or by state leaders. Themes are offered on a rotating basis in order to assemble student and advisor feedback that supports on-going assessment of curriculum content. During the off-year, content revisions or tweaks are made to ensure that it remains engaging and relevant to students.

“Students are really developing core concepts that benefit them in FFA and that they carry into their adult lives,” Mills concluded.