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Guest Commentary: Kettler on the Three Circles of Ag Education this National FFA Week


This guest commentary is from Bruce Kettler. He serves as the director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and is a former National FFA officer. This photo is of Kettler shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in July of 1983 when he served as the National FFA Eastern Region Vice President. 

Three circles. That’s all it takes to help turn a student into a leader.

The three-circle model is an integral part of Agriculture Education. This model, made up of equal parts instruction, work-based learning, and leadership, is used to encourage student involvement and development. The three circles expand beyond the four walls of a classroom and are more encompassing than an FFA blue corduroy jacket.

All 211 Indiana FFA chapters follow the simple three-circle model – classroom and laboratory instruction, Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE), and FFA. The classroom and lab instruction portion takes place during the traditional school day, SAE is the work-based learning component, and FFA is the leadership opportunity segment.

The three-circle model makes FFA so much more than just another extracurricular activity.  Students learn a number of soft skills, such as teamwork, time management, and conflict resolution, all of which are becoming increasingly important and necessary for people to become successful. Perhaps we start calling them power skills!

FFA provides tremendous opportunities for its members to develop into leaders. This organization can take students across the country and back, visiting other schools, competing in career and leadership development events, joining the state or national FFA band or choir, attending the National FFA Convention, and so much more – the opportunities are truly endless. Through a member’s involvement in the organization, they can gain a realistic view about their future and learn early in their school career what they are passionate about. More importantly, FFA helps them understand and build resilience in all they do, which is something we certainly need in agriculture, not only in Indiana, but throughout the world.

This week is National FFA Week, and across the country students are participating in activities within their schools and communities to show what FFA does, all while making a lasting impact. Throughout the week you can expect members to highlight and embody the FFA motto, “Living to Serve.”

Even as times begin to change and shift, agriculture will always be needed – it’s inevitable. When we think of our current industry challenges, for example, how food is unevenly distributed across the globe, I truly believe that one of our young FFA members will face this issue head on and innovatively find a solution. Because of the three-circle model of Agricultural Education, our agricultural students and FFA members will be pointed toward success for years to come.

This National FFA Week, I want to encourage all of our Hoosier students to learn more about FFA and realize what an excellent opportunity it is for them, whether rural or urban. Contrary to popular belief, many of the 211 FFA Chapters across our state are in suburban and urban settings versus solely rural and remote areas.

FFA is for all of our youth, whether they find themselves working on a farm in the future, employed in another role of the agricultural sciences, or are simply a more informed consumer of food, fiber, and fuel. This organization is open to anyone who is wanting to learn more about agriculture, wishes to be exposed to career development opportunities, or is ready to gain the skills it takes to be a great leader.

In FFA everyone has a seat at the table, and if the table gets full, these young leaders are always willing to pull up a chair.