Building successful relationships with your administration

By Deb Buehler

A change in school administration can present challenges for agricultural programs. Unfamiliar with agricultural education or the tenants of FFA, an administrator might not appreciate all that is happening in and out of the classroom.

Shane Sutton, a former agriculture teacher who is now his district’s career and technical education director offers these tips for building relationships in support of agricultural programming:

Involve them in the program
“I remember having a new principal while teaching in Casper, Wyo.,” Sutton recalls. “He was unfamiliar with ag so I invited him to visit a student’s home with me.” Sutton and the principal talked with the student and his parents about his cattle project. They explored the project, seeing the cattle operation and the student’s records. By the time the visit was over, the principal was sold on every aspect of agricultural education and how FFA worked.

Remember that you are part of a larger community
“You are not only an ag teacher and FFA advisor,” Sutton says. “You are part of the school community.” He suggests that teachers volunteer to do something supportive across school disciplines. Whether it is score keeping at a basketball tournament or engAging agriculture students in a school project, the benefits can pay big dividends.

For example, there was little landscaping around the buildings at Elko High School when Sutton arrived 20 years ago. Speaking with the principal, Sutton suggested that his agriculture students pick an area each semester to develop with low maintenance gardens. Today, the school’s campus has been recognized as one of the most beautiful in the state. As the campus was becoming increasingly attractive, the larger community has also gained insight into what agricultural programming is all about.

This same campus has several buildings, sometimes making it difficult for visitors to find their way around. The agricultural mechanics teachers volunteered students to use the CMC plasma cutting machine to create directional signage that is now located at key entry points for each building. This was just another project creating visibility for agricultural programming while benefiting the community.

When Elko High School hosts the state wrestling tournament, Sutton’s agriculture students run the scoring and manage mat clean up. All the while, they are wearing their FFA T-shirts, showing their school spirit while demonstrating that they aren’t just their own little clique.

Be up front about mistakes
For new teachers Sutton recommends that when you make a mistake, let your administrator know about it right away.

“It is better for your administrator to learn about a mistake first hand,” Sutton explains. “Rather than have it sprung on him by a parent, teacher or community member.” The best impression a teacher can make is through owning up to a mistake.

Create your own media presence
Sutton says that most schools have websites and your agricultural program should have a regular presence. He says think about how present sports activities are; try to make your agricultural program equally as visible. From highlighting current events to sharing the success stories of recent graduates, public relations are extremely important.

The language of FFA
“Every administrator needs to know the exponential nature of ag instruction,” Sutton says. “Help them gain a firm grasp of the three-circle approach.”

From classroom science-based instruction and supervised agricultural experiences outside of the classroom to leadership opportunities through competitive events, community service activities and community work, administrators should also understand the chapter program of activities. Begin by providing him or her with a copy of the plan for each year. Build further understanding by inviting your principal to attend special events and activities. Most of all, maintain communication throughout the year.

Overall, Sutton says agriculture teachers can make themselves and their chapter available to the good of the order for the school and community. To him this means staying alert to opportunities to be engaged.