Yes, humility. And, confidence.
We don’t have to have all the answers to make all the difference.
Do you ever want to help, but feel like you aren’t smart enough to make a difference?
On a sunny, humid summer afternoon in Indianapolis, I sat at a patio table behind the National FFA Center and listened intently to the voice on the other end of the Zoom call. Dr. Daniel Foster, associate professor at Penn State and co-founder of the Global Teach Ag Network, shared his passion for educators and building meaningful, cross-sectoral (i.e. between private and public, non-profits and businesses) connections to lift agriculture education across the globe: from classrooms in the United States to 4-H extension programs in Uganda and everywhere in between. It was like watching someone balance on a fence, but this fence was intellectual. Dr. Foster had the most incredible balance of humility and confidence that I had ever seen.
Often, when we seek to influence the world around us, we feel this pull in one direction or another. We either become so confident in our ideas that we end up actually reversing progress, or we shrink back in humility, knowing we will never have all the answers. When we reel ourselves in from either of those extremes, we find ourselves making meaningful impacts; they might not look like a big deal, but often the biggest deals look small on the surface.
A local FFA chapter with a dream
Logan and the other members of Coolidge FFA in Texas understand what this balance of humility and confidence looks like. I met them (through Zoom, of course) back in February during National FFA Week virtual chapter visits. I was admittedly not in the best mood when I joined their Zoom call, but it didn’t take more than a minute or two for my spirits to lift as I realized there was something exceptional about this chapter. Yes, the classroom looked like an average ag department. No, they didn’t start some big worldwide philanthropic project or other such groundbreaking work. What they did have, though, was a love for what their chapter was achieving and the perspective to know it was less about winning the competitive events and more about adding value to each other and their community.
Logan told me about how they were starting teams for competitive events, some for the first time in over ten years. Morgan shared about their local community livestock shows and auctions and how the FFA chapter was becoming more involved. Hunter talked about how they were helping each other with their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects, whether it was raising livestock to show or growing vegetables in their greenhouse. We spent over an hour together, and each time I thought I couldn’t be more inspired, they would share one more step they were taking to create a meaningful FFA experience for their whole chapter. In our last few minutes together, they shared their most recent goal: through a presentation, they hoped to gain their school board’s approval to attend the National FFA Convention & Expo for the first time in fifteen years.
I often find myself becoming complacent; instead of looking for ways to improve my situation, I simply take it as it is. If my school board hadn’t allowed my chapter to go to convention for fifteen years, I would accept that as the gospel truth. Coolidge FFA? They weren’t going to take no for an answer without first finding out if yes was an option. Yet, they knew there was more to the story. Their school board wanted to make sure this trip wasn’t about skipping school; they wanted to see how attending convention would be valuable not just for the students who took the trip, but for the rest of the chapter and the surrounding community. Logan and his officer team had the humility to know this was a valid concern, and to know they didn’t have all the answers. They took that concern seriously, and they reached out to others who had attended convention to fill in their knowledge gaps. They also had the confidence to know if they didn’t take action, this board precedent might never change. I had a follow-up meeting soon after our first visit together, and then heard nothing for weeks.
I was setting up at my desk for a virtual partnership visit with Microsoft one morning in May when I received a text from Logan. “Miriam, our school board approved our request. We’ll see you in Indy in October!” I let out a cheer, startling my teammate sitting next to me, but this was the type of moment where that balance of humility and confidence had paid off for the Coolidge FFA Chapter. To those of us who never faced a barrier like this, it might not seem like that big of a deal. To Logan, it was a trajectory shift in his FFA career.
The compounding effects of small actions
This is what I mean when I say the biggest deals don’t always look very big on the surface. In the grand scheme of things, a few students from a small chapter in Texas going to another convention might not seem like it’s going to change the world. Yet, consider this: What about the people Logan and his friends will meet? What if they build a lasting friendship with a member from another state and both have broader perspectives as a result? What if they see a community service project idea and bring it back to the town of Coolidge, bringing hope to a community member in need? What if they share their story with another local chapter after they return, who also has been unable to attend convention, and start a domino effect of students taking action?
Dr. Foster may not know my friends from Coolidge FFA, but they’re living out the same truths. No, we can’t ever know all there is to know about solving a problem we see (big or small). No, that isn’t an excuse to not step out in confidence to take action, all the while knowing we will always have more to learn. Let’s seek to become the type of people who solve problems with both the confidence to make a difference and the humility to know we can’t do it alone.
Where can you make an impact while learning from others? Whether it's recruiting new members for your FFA chapter, reducing hunger in your area, or being a peacemaker in your friend group, we can all learn from each other. Share your thoughts in the comments below or tag me on social media at @nffaevp and @miriamrosah and use the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
To learn more… about the Global Teach Ag Network, check out their Facebook page. It’s not just for agriculture teachers, either; if you have any interest in solidifying the impact of agricultural education in any area, from farmer field days to university extension programs, it’s a place for you, too.