Just Believe

If you know me really well, you probably know that I tend to do this thingggg where I come up with an idea or I decide to do something and I’m all psyched about it for like an hour or maybe a day or a month and then when a few little things goes wrong, I immediately let my doubts overcome me, start freakinggggg out, and begin questioning everything, everything I tell you! I’m not the only one who does this, right?? It’s completely normal…totally healthy…

Well that’s how it was with this whole “Agriculture Extension Workshop” idea. About 6 months ago I signed up to teach a class called “Agriculture Extension and Rural Sociology” for the post-secondary students in the National Diploma in Agriculture (NDA) program. This program is a 2-year program and it is for high school graduates wanting to pursue further education in a specific trade area(for example, agriculture). As I was going through the curriculum for the course, I saw that I was to assign 50% of their grade to “practical experiences.” Sure, that makes sense, this is a vocational program anyways and so of course 50% of their time should be spent doing hands-on things. For the swine class that means taking them down to the piggery and practicing giving shots and for the aquaculture class this means digging a new pond and filling it with fish. But what exactly should the practical look like for an Agriculture Extension class? The curriculum gave me no indication as to the types of projects/activities that my students should do and so I started trying to come up with some ideas. I thought maybe I will have them go out and interview farmers one day to practice talking with farmers, but then what, what to do after you’ve interviewed them? Just say thanks for your time and then never get back to them with any useful information? Just use them for a class project? No, that didn’t seem quite right…so I kept thinking. And then it hit me, my big idea: the students should go interview farmers and then based on those interviews they should put on an agricultural extension workshop for local farmers where they (the students) were the organizers, facilitators, and teachers for the event. Yes, I admitted to myself, it would be hard, but we could do this!

And so naturally I started running full speed ahead with the idea, making sure to plan the semester out in such a way that I would be able to prepare the students for the big task ahead. Some topics that we covered throughout the year included history of agricultural extension, importance of agricultural extension, extension models, communication strategies, learning styles, the experiential learning model, the “5 E method” of lesson planning, how to conduct farmer surveys,diffusion of innovations, program development models and steps, writing objectives, and more. Throughout the course, students knew that their final project would be to put on an agricultural extension workshop where they themselves would conduct the farmer surveys, create the program objectives, do the program planning and implementation, facilitate the teaching of lessons, and lastly complete an evaluation of the program. Students worked on different parts of the program throughout the entire semester as group projects, individual assignments, classwork, and homework.

Sometimes things went great, and sometimes things didn’t go so great….sometimes everyone did their assignments and seemed to have understood the concept of the week and sometimes the whole class would show up having completely forgotten about their homework. Some days the class was quiet and respectful and eager to learn and sometimes I questioned whether or not I was teaching middle schoolers because the talking was just out of control. Sometimes I had class on time as scheduled and sometimes I would show up to class and find 3 students because the rest of the class had decided since there was a football (soccer) game later that day that they did not have to attend classes in the morning. Some days they understood my American English accent and I understood their Liberian English way of saying things and then some days it was as if neither of us could understand a thing the other person was trying to say. Some days you could tell that they had put effort into practicing their lesson plans and public speaking techniques and some days it was clear to see that they weren’t taking any of this seriously at all.

Every week for the duration of the semester my emotions were up and down and up and down, a wild roller coaster ride. This workshop was a great idea, the students are going to do great….this workshop was a terrible idea, the worst idea I have ever had (dramatic much?)….this workshop will be such a good use of the school’s money and I’m glad I asked them to support this program financially, this workshop will be such a waste of the school’s money and I regret asking for money….this workshop is going to really help the students feel confident in their knowledge and teaching skills, this workshop is going to embarrass us all, it will be so bad AgriCorps will probably fire me (again with the drama, Anna). They can totally do this, they can’t do this at all…I can do this, I can’t do this.

Nonetheless, I’m sure you can image how I was feeling in those last couple weeks leading up to the workshop. It was getting down to the wire, and just like all of the extension workshops that I had planned back home, there was always a million little details to stay on top of and complete. Only, this time, I wasn’t the one in control. I had given control over to the students, this was their workshop, their responsibility to complete. Giving up control like that, especially for a self-diagnosed control-freak like me, was no easy thing. I was constantly battling in my mind the degree to which I should step in and help complete tasks, the degree to which I should let them learn from their mistakes versus stepping in early enough to prevent any problems. I wanted them to feel the weight of the responsibility they had to complete this task, but I also didn’t want them to think that I was absolving myself of all responsibility in case things went south because we were in this together. I wanted to see them come up with creative ideas, take risks, and find ownership of the program, rather than having to rely on me for all the ideas, to-do lists, and next steps. I wanted to step back and show them that I believed in them by letting them do it all themselves, but I also didn’t want to stand so far away from it that I couldn’t actually do any teaching, nudging, encouraging, motivating, reminding, correcting, guiding, or facilitating. Learning how to give constructive criticism while still being encouraging. Finding that balance is hardddd and I struggled almost daily throughout the entire process, but I hear that’s a thing that all good teachers, parents, bosses, leaders, etc struggle with, so I hope that means I’m doing at least something right!

The morning of the event came, and as you can probably tell from my Snapchat video (link below), I was still a taddddd nervous. Students started arriving and I could tell that they were a bit nervous themselves, but also excited. They were all dressed up in their finest lappa or suits, dancing around, and snapping a million Facebook-worthy pictures of each other posing as teachers, pen in hand in front of the dry erase board with their notes. Despite the jovial attitude, I could definitely tell they were taking this seriously, that they were proud of what they had put together, and that they couldn’t wait to show off to the farmers, administrators, other students, and members of the press. I finally started to relax and sat back and got ready to enjoy the day. There was no going back now, was there?

The day turned out to be a great success! Students presented their lessons professionally and confidently and came well prepared with all their notes and diagrams clearly written on flip chart paper, farmers were engaged and asking questions, the press was taking lots of pictures and doing interviews, and members from the administration of the school came and stayed the entire time even though they definitely did not have to!

On Monday in class after the workshop, I did a little reflection activity to help students think about what they did well and what they or the school could improve on for next year. I think it is clear to see from the compilation of student quotes below, how proud they were of themselves, how much they learned from the activity, how thankful they were to have been given the chance to showcase their knowledge, and that the administration (and Nathan and I, their teachers) had shown that we believed in them. And as I sat there smiling and feeling proud as I read their reflections to myself, I started to feel guilty and ashamed as it occurred to me that I had almost given up on them. Partly because I didn’t think they could do it, but mainly because I didn’t think I could do it, too much stress and too many unknowns! The mind is a tricky tricky place, but I am so glad that for this time at least I didn’t let my crazy anxious, overly critical, sometimes pessimistic, control-freak, flip-floppy mind bail on this whole idea. Because if I had actually thrown my hands up, given up on them, caved into my doubts and stopped believing in them, and just walked away (like I swore to Nathan I would do after I had just had another rough day of teaching) they might not have ever gotten this experience to truly shine, to fly, and to prove to themselves and to each other just how great they are and all that they can accomplish if they just put their minds to it.   I can’t wait to see where these talented students go from here! They are the future agriculturalists, extension agents, and agricultural teachers of Liberia and I’m so honored to have had a chance to work with each of them!

You’ll never know what someone is capable of if you never give them the chance and believe in them. Don’t let your own broken wings keep someone else from using their own wings to fly.

Me, Mr. Wowah (NDA program coordinator), and my students after the workshop 🙂 Super proud!

Student quotes from their reflection activity (be still my heart…<3)

  • “I felt encouraged when my Extension and Beef and Dairy Instructors (Mrs. and Mr. Glenn) smile at the facilitators while they were teaching”
  • “I was encouraged when I saw one of my teachers looking at me during the presentation and was happy with my presentation”
  • “I felt encouraged when I saw the farmers smiling at me”
  • “ I did well because I really studied my lesson notes ahead of time”
  • “I was encouraged when I saw the farmers accepting my new ideas. I was encouraged to want to teach the farmers more and more”
  • “I felt encouraged when I saw members of the administration, the department chair, and representatives from AgriCorps in attendance”
  • “I did well because my Extension Class taught me those techniques in presentation”
  • “I was encouraged when people praised me and told me that I did well in my presentation”
  • “I am very proud of myself and the class”
  • “I am very proud of myself on Saturday for standing among many people from different backgrounds and talking and telling them about the importance of agriculture.”
  • “I was encouraged when the farmers were asking me questions and my teacher told me that my answer was correct”
  • “I am very proud of myself when I saw myself presenting to such people on my knowledge that I have in agriculture. I described that day as a memorable day in life and a gateway to my academic journey”
  • “This program showed me that I am a good teacher if I will focus and commit myself”
  • “This program showed me that I am capable of teaching local farmers about what we have learned in the field of agriculture”
  • “This program showed me the skills I have and this program also gave me the motivation I need in presentation (public speaking)”
  • “This program showed me that after my graduation, I need to teach more farmers on how to grow their crops well, to be self-sufficient in terms of long-term food security.
  • “This program showed me about public speaking and that I want to work as an Extension Agent in the near future”
  • “This program showed me the best way to present in the midst of different people from different levels of understanding”
  • “This program showed me how do to a presentation, how to conduct a workshop, and how to improve my speaking ability.”
  • “This program showed me how important facilitators and extension agents are to the communities, societies, and nation.”
  • “This program showed me that I am good at teaching”
  • “This program showed me the value that is already within me”
  • “This program showed me that I have something inside me that is about to come out.”
  • “Next time I want to put away fear- which caused me to talk less”
  • “Some things I want to improve next time are spending more time researching the topic better so that I can answer questions better”
  • “I wish I had more time to conduct another workshop that will enable us to do more than the first”

3 thoughts on “Just Believe

  1. Anna, love the students’ comments. That’s the validation any educator needs. Love the story and it’s so true about giving others wings to soar.

    Liked by 1 person

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