By Nessie Early, FFA Trainer
When my current college roommate (who was not an FFA member herself) moved in with me, she could not understand how and why I left so many weekends throughout the fall semester to “facilitate a conference.” It took stepping out of “FFA mode” to realize how unique and truly fortunate I was to attend leadership conferences as a young person. So what do we really get when we attend or bring students to a leadership conference? Two words: Motivation and perspective.
I was absent 52 days my senior year of high school. I wasn’t sick and I wasn’t ditching -- I was furthering my education outside of the confines of a classroom primarily through FFA-related activities. Amazingly, I wasn’t initially interested in attending conferences as a high school freshman…until I attended one. After that first experience, I found that there was something extremely motivating about learning with others. I sincerely believe that through the collective spirit of leadership conferences, such as 212°, 360° and Washington Leadership Conference, every walk of student can be motivated. As a facilitator and as a student, I’ve felt the tangible synergy at these programs. The subject matter wasn’t the most important part; it was the feeling of belonging, the feeling of excitement that others are on the same page as you, that it’s safe to be passionate about learning, becoming a better person and more.
One can’t help but be moved to action (of all sorts) as a result of these programs. That moving environment is intentionally designed into the curriculum and occurs naturally. For example, in one of the 360° sessions we discuss how influencers are deliberate in their actions, relating that to deliberately planned flash mobs (a spontaneous public performance, usually a dance…not to be confused with flash mobs of dubious intentions). At a conference in Tennessee this past November, a few students wanted to create their own flash mob; the motivation spread like wildfire. Over half of the conference spent the beginning of their lunch break deliberately planning their own flash mob. The performance was a hit! More than that -- it was “curriculum” put into action and it was synergistic motivation at its finest. This kind of motivation, if stoked, lasts and spreads to future chapter activities and members who may not have had the opportunity to attend. In essence, motivated members cultivate a motivated chapter.
I believe most students are eager to “get out”-- out of the classroom and/or out of town -- even just for a bit. Leadership programs positively provide that avenue. As educators, you know the value of a perspective broadened by experience. In many ways, the part of these leadership programs that cannot be “taught” are what make them unique and worth both you and your students’ time and resources. Being challenged to think, perform and apply new ideas while being in a new place with different people is the heartbeat of experiential learning and these programs.
After multiple conversations with my roommate about FFA and the conferences I attend, she now asks “can I come along?” The same can happen for your FFA members -- the spreading desire to attend, learn and grow personally and in the organization. Bring your students to the next available program and watch their motivation and perspective change for the better.