NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Donna Page inspires students on a daily basis in her agriculture classroom at Rochelle Township High School and her involvement with the FFA program on the national level lead to her joining an elite group for the year.
Page was one of 20 individuals nationwide selected to participate in the 2017 XLR8 Institute, a professional development program which began at the National Association of Agricultural Educators’ (NAAE) annual convention in Nashville, Tenn. Dec. 5-9.
The XLR8 program was developed as a means to help agriculture teachers in their seventh to 15th years of teaching address common issues that lead to them leaving the profession, such as burnout, work/life balance, and stagnant professional growth. The program’s goal is to accelerate the selected teachers’ careers through year-long professional development.
“The XLR8 program went really well,” stated Page. “Throughout the face-to-face portion of the program we explored ways to be successful in both our professional and personal lives and how to balance it all. Over the next few months we will be meeting via conference call and message boards to continue the purpose of the program.
Selected participants engaged in rigorous professional development sessions at the NAAE Convention. Topics that were addressed included setting priorities, work-life balance, and moving careers and agriculture programs forward over the next several years.
“Currently, the biggest issue facing the ag teaching profession is the enormous shortage of teachers coming into the profession,” Page explained.
“Last year in the state of Illinois alone, there were over 70 job openings for ag teachers and less than 25 graduates from the Illinois universities. There is projected to be more openings than applicants for the foreseeable future. Without a steady supply of quality teachers it appears as if some schools may be faced with the harsh decision of closing their agriculture department if they can’t find someone to continue it in the event of a vacancy.”
This year’s cohort will continue their experience throughout the upcoming year with virtual learning experiences, online collaboration through the NAAE professional learning community, Communities of Practice, and by connecting through a variety of social media tools.
“The largest takeaway is really to prioritize the things that I spend my time on and how to start delegating to others so that I don’t have as much on my plate.I also was able to take part in some great professional development workshops during the National Association of Agriculture Educators convention,” stated Page.
The goal is not only to retain XLR8 participants in the teaching profession, but to give them the tools to help other mid-career teachers. The XLR8 program is sponsored by CSX as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
“I was just really excited and honored to be allowed to take part in the NAAE national convention and especially the XLR8 program,” Page added. “Being able to grow as a professional and be a better teacher for my students is always an exciting aspect of my career.”
Page was one of over 115 applicants to apply for participation in the XLR8 program. NAAE focuses on teachers in the seventh to 15 range as that is typically when ag teachers leave the profession to pursue other career options.
NAAE is the professional organization in the United States for agricultural educators. It provides its’ nearly 8,000 members with professional networking and development opportunities, professional liability coverage, and extensive awards and recognition programs. The mission of NAAE is “professionals providing agricultural education for the global community through visionary leadership, advocacy and service.”