On the rare occasion I visit the grocery store, I find myself overwhelmed with the variety of choices presented. Within each food group is an array of similar products competing for a coveted spot in my cart. It could take me days to make a decision about a single purchase if I were to fully research the merits and shortcomings of each contender. Instead, I base most of my grocery decisions on expectations of quality and anticipated experience - a marketer's dream! This method of purchase and investment is the desired result of branding: decisions based on perceptions.
Similarly, stakeholders in agricultural education - students, parents, community partners and administrators - choose whether to invest in our programs based on our brand. Thus, a program's brand can have a significant impact on enrollment, student quality, parental involvement and support both on- and off-campus.
Determine both your desired and current brands
Ideally, how should people perceive the program? How do people perceive your program now? Are the desired and current brands congruent? If some disparity exists, this article has some ideas to bring the two closer together.
Fortunately, nobody is starting from the ground up. The National FFA Organization has steadily built a brand for the past 82 years. How often do we come across former members who fondly re- member reciting the Creed or still own a jacket they haven't worn in 30 years? The legacy lasts. Many people instantly associate our name and emblem with wholesome experiences and fond memories.
How then do we channel this rich, albeit broad, legacy into a local- ized brand that accurately reflects the desired perception of the local agricultural education program?
At Galt High School, in Galt, Calif., we focus on a few specific areas that yield substantial dividends for our brand. Small changes have altered perceptions about the agricultural program at our high school and transformed the face of our student organization. The momentum of our agricultural department and corresponding FFA chapter has sharply risen and our students are excelling. Below are ideas we use to promote and improve our brand.
I believe nothing speaks more about program quality than what happens in the classroom. Sometimes in our profession, we grumble that we are a "dumping ground" or students take agricultural education courses because they think it's "an easy A." However, when our classes are rigorous, challenging and engaging for students, this battle is over and done. Fortunately, there are some quick and easy ways to influence the perceptions of your agricultural classes.
-Make a conscious effort to laugh with students. Students will positively associate your class with enjoyment. Put a funny slide in your PowerPoint presentation, end every class with a joke or amusing story, and laugh at yourself when you make a mistake. You become approachably human and students feel comfortable opening up and sharing themselves in your class. Enjoying a class or teacher can go a long way when a student is figuring out what to sign up for next year.
Speak to every student, every day. Students will gain a sense of belonging in your program, making them more apt to get involved in leadership development activities, as well as to stay enrolled for the long haul. Greet them, check in with them during the period, and call on them during class, all while using their name.
-Redesign two units. You don't need to toil all summer with the headaches of complete course redesigns - start small. When students feel both challenged and accomplished, they take ownership in your class. Assess their incoming knowledge to best meet their needs in the unit. Insert at least one handson laboratory lesson that will teach them a useful skill. Accompany this laboratory with rigorous knowledge demanding their intellectual best. Vary your daily activities to keep them engaged and curious. …