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Chapter 23: Fundamentals of personal leadership development.


1. Define leadership.

2. Explain the role of leadership in agricultural education.

3. Describe the FFA model for building leadership skills in youth.

4. Trace the history of the FFA from its inception to its current status.

5. Describe the structure of the FFA.

6. Describe the types and degrees of membership in the FFA.

7. Explain the importance of the FFA constitution and bylaws to the structure of the organization.

8. Describe the process of organizing and developing an FFA chapter.


Agricultural education instruction has three distinct components: Classroom and laboratory instruction, FFA, and supervised agricultural experience (SAE) programs. (See Figure 23-1.) This unit focuses on the FFA component of that model. FFA activities provide an excellent opportunity for students to apply learning. In addition, they are often the most visible component of an agricultural education program.

Almost everyone has a different definition of leadership. Howard Gardner defined leadership as "the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers. (1) Maxwell proposed one of the shortest definitions of leadership as simply "influence." (2)

According to Fleishman et al. (1991), over 65 classification systems have been used to try to define leadership in the last half century. (3) One of the most widely accepted systems is that of leadership as the focus of group processes. In this system, the leader is at the center of the group's activities and is intimately involved in any change the group may make, yet functions at the will of the group. (4)

Another view of leadership is in terms of goal achievement. In this system, the leader primarily functions through the creation of a vision for the group and the establishment of goals that will help the group move toward that vision.

A third view of leadership focuses more on the knowledge and skills that the leader possesses. (5) That is, to be an effective leader, an individual must possess those knowledge and skills necessary to help members achieve the goals of the group. This system requires, however that the leader must be trained or prepared. This system promotes the concept that the group cannot function properly without a knowledgeable and skillful leader.


Whatever system is adopted, certain components of leadership have been identified as fundamental to the concept of leadership. Those components are: (a) leadership is a process, (b) leadership is a group-related phenomenon, (c) leadership involves influencing others, (d) leadership involves the creation of a vision, and (e) leadership entails the achievement of goals in attaining a vision. (6) Using these components, leadership can be defined as a process through which an individual influences others in accomplishing the goals of the group.


From the very outset of establishing instruction in agriculture, the need for agricultural leadership has been promoted. So when formal education in agriculture was created, developing the leadership abilities of students in rural communities was identified as a key component of the agriculture program. The mission proved so successful that, even as agriculture instruction has shifted to include non-rural programs, leadership instruction has remained a vital ingredient in agriculture programs.

Establishment of Youth Leadership in Agricultural Education

Early American leaders realized the need for instruction in agriculture. The country's first president, George Washington, proposed the establishment of a "Board of Agriculture" in America to help find answers to agricultural problems faced by the new country. Fifteen presidents and three-quarters of a century later, during Abraham Lincoln's term of office, Congress established a Department of Agriculture. In the same year, 1862, the Morrill Act was passed, creating state colleges of agricultural and mechanical arts.

While Washington was proposing national leadership in agriculture in the early 1800s, agricultural societies, the forerunners of today's agricultural organizations, advocated the inclusion of instruction in agriculture in the public schools. These societies met with little success. However, agricultural schools were formed in some states to teach young people how to farm and use the scientific approach to solving agricultural problems. Since the United States was basically an agrarian society at this period in time, some of these schools became a center of community pride and support. The school farms of this time period often served as the community's demonstration plot for new genetics and new agricultural practices. As a result of the success of these programs, communities without such programs lobbied for schools of their own. As a result, these schools prompted the creation of agricultural instruction in communities throughout the nation. In 1917, with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, this vision became a reality. By 1922, agricultural education was offered in all 48 states. (7)

Youth Organizations in Agriculture

As formal instruction in agriculture expanded, so too did the structure of the leadership instruction. Groups were defined and organizations were created, none of which have proven to be more successful and enduring than the FFA and 4-H.


Even before federal legislation authorized federal funds to help establish agricultural instruction in public schools, leadership was a component of agricultural education instruction. Several youth organizations for students studying agriculture had been established in the agriculture schools that existed prior to passage of the Smith-Hughes Act. Illinois had such clubs as early as 1912. Michigan reported a state association of clubs by 1917. As early as 1919, some states were sponsoring organized judging events, leading to a national judging contest for high school students at the International Livestock Show in Chicago in 1919.8 Other national judging events followed. With the creation of a national organization in 1928, the establishment of leadership events expanded into areas that focused upon personal leadership development, such as public speaking, and awards were created to reward student members, local chapters, and state associations for excellence in leadership performance. Today, this list of career development events (CDEs) has grown to 24 sponsored events. These are discussed in more detail in Chapter 24.


At the same time that the organizations that would eventually became the FFA were forming, another organization that served a broader age range of students was also in its formative years--4-H. The first groups of individuals to participate in this organization were members of "corn clubs" in the South. Membership in these organizations did not usually fall under the supervision of an adult leader; members were enrolled by mail and serviced through the state's extension office. (9) These clubs had similar requirements and opportunities as today's 4-H organizations; including officers, projects, meetings, and record books.

The 4-H program that we know today is grounded in two pieces of legislation: the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. The Morrill Act of 1862 created the land-grant university system and enabled the formation of the Cooperative Extension Service. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 directed that all Cooperative Extension work, including boys' and girls' clubs, become an official function of the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the land-grant university system. (10) From this legislative birth, an organizational structure was put into place whereby youth organizations gained common focus through adult supervision.

Although the Morrill Act was passed in 1862, the organization now known as 4-H began and grew into a national organization during the period from 1902 to 1914. By 1914, agriculture clubs similar to the 4-H were found in every state. (11)

Today, the 4-H and FFA organizations complement each other in that students may belong to both groups and reap the benefits of participation from a young age into postsecondary instruction. Unfortunately, in some communities, the two organizations often compete for members rather than using the unique and common opportunities that each affords. In some states, however, efforts are underway to help teachers and agents develop partnerships that will enable students to participate in, and benefit from, membership in both organizations. For example, in some communities, students become 4-H members at nine years of age and participate in 4-H activities all the way through high school. The local agriculture teacher and older FFA members assist the 4-H leader and members by helping with 4-H activities. Events such as seminars on showmanship, ethical treatment of animals, gardening, floral design, safety, plant care, and other topics may be conducted by FFA members for younger 4-H members. In addition, both organizations offer expanded opportunities for personal and group leadership development for students who are members of both organizations.

Interview an FFA advisor and 4-H leader. Develop a
list of similarities and differences in the two organizations.
List ways in which the two groups could
benefit from encouraging membership in both


The FFA is a national organization of students enrolled in agricultural education programs at the middle and high school levels. The FFA is both an integral and intracurricular component of an agricultural education program. The organization brings together students, teachers, agribusinesses, and other leaders in support of agricultural education. The FFA serves as an instructional laboratory for the development of leadership, human relations skills, and community service. The organization provides leadership opportunities through the election of student officers, participation in leadership conferences, international experiences, CDEs, and other award programs.

Several research studies point to the benefits of membership in the FFA. For example, agricultural education students who are also FFA members possess attitudes and exhibit behaviors that show that they benefit more from their personal, academic, and career experiences during school than the general student population. Specifically, FFA members have been found to be more enthusiastic about, and attach greater value to, their school studies than other students; more likely than other students to relate personal effort to success and believe it is important do their best; and have more sharply defined career objectives. (12) In addition, FFA members participate in more college organizations than their peers, and hold more leadership positions in college student organizations than students who are not FFA members. (13)

FFA Mission

The mission of the National FFA Organization is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. (14) Through its programs, the FFA teaches students leadership skills for life, preparing them to make a difference in their schools and communities and be successful in their chosen occupations. To accomplish its mission, the FFA

* Develops competent and assertive agricultural leadership.

* Increases awareness of the global and technological importance of agriculture and its contribution to our well-being.

* Strengthens the confidence of agriculture students in themselves and their work.

* Promotes the intelligent choice and establishment of an agricultural career.

* Encourages achievement in SAE programs.

* Encourages wise management of economic, environmental, and human resources of the community.

* Develops interpersonal skills in teamwork, communications, human relations, and social interaction.

* Builds character and promotes citizenship, volunteerism, and patriotism.

* Promotes cooperation and cooperative attitudes among all people.

* Promotes healthy lifestyles.

* Encourages excellence in scholarship. (15)

The FFA was founded in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri, by 33 agriculture students, their advisors, state leaders in agricultural education, and representatives of the Federal Board for Vocational Education. (16) Since then, millions of agriculture students have become members of the organization and participated in its many activities. (17)

In 1950, Public Law 81-740 was passed by the U.S. Congress, granting a federal charter to the National FFA Organization. This law also established the FFA as an integral component of agricultural education. A board of directors, national FFA advisor, and national FFA executive secretary were established to provide leadership and guidance for the organization as employees of the U.S. Department of Education. (18) In 1988, Public Law 105-225 replaced Public Law 81-740, changing the name of the organization from the "National Future Farmers of America" to the "National FFA Organization." The role of the FFA remained unchanged, however.

Although the FFA is defined by law as an integral component of agricultural education and administratively housed in the U.S. Department of Education, FFA programs are not funded by the U.S. Department of Education. At the state level, the funding sources for FFA programs vary. However, all FFA programs function largely through membership dues and funds provided by private donations.

The Future Farmers of America was originally designed as an organization for male students who aspired to pursue farming as a career. Today, the organization's name, makeup, and mission are very different. The FFA has attempted to shed its image as an organization just for male students who are interested in pursuing a career in production agriculture. Likewise, from the original seven states that were chartered in 1928, over 7,000 chapters with nearly a half-million members are now chartered in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Table 23-1 provides a comparison of the organization from its inception in 1928 to today.

Oftentimes, teachers struggle to find a balance between the components of an agricultural education program. For example, exactly how does involvement with and membership in the FFA fit into the larger picture of agricultural education? In some programs, the FFA is rarely or never mentioned to students. In others, it serves as the focal point of the agriculture program. However, in an ideal situation, the FFA should provide an opportunity for students to apply what they learn in class, develop skills in working with others, and be motivated to serve through involvement in the activities of their chapter and community.

Community Involvement

Active participation of young people in communities is very important to the well-being of society. Youth in agriculture want and need experience working with their community leaders and citizens. Students in the FFA learn responsibility, develop a sense of pride in their communities, gain work experience, develop new skills, become empowered, and forge meaningful relationships between themselves and others in the community. Research also suggests that young people who are involved in their community's activities are less likely to exhibit behaviors that may lead to problems. (19)

At the inception of school-based education in agriculture, the opportunity was recognized that students enrolled in agriculture courses could play significant leadership roles in their communities. With the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917, systematic agricultural education programs became a component of public education. As such, in each community where those programs were developed, members of the community often benefited, receiving new technology and farming practices that filtered from the programs to the communities.

Another benefit to communities soon emerged as FFA chapters began programs aimed at assisting communities with various activities and projects. In 1971, the FFA organization adopted a program to involve FFA members in improving American communities. The program, known as Building Our American Communities (BOAC), had far-reaching effects. While members and chapters were offered the opportunity to earn awards, communities and the members themselves received a significant benefit. Members became a functioning and contributing part of their communities. As such, a new type of leadership system emerged--the servant-leader. Although the BOAC program is no longer sponsored by the National FFA Organization, the FFA continues to focus on community service. For example, one-third of the evaluated components of the National Chapter Award Program is based upon the community service programs conducted by the chapter. (See Chapter 25.) In addition, local chapter programs of activities all include community service components as part of the chapter's activities. These activities support the servant-leader model of leadership that is supported by both public and private institutions across the country.

Author Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase "servant-leader." Greenleaf described a servant-leader in the following way:

The servant-leader is servant first ... It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve--after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest-priority needs are being served. The best test, and most difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived? (20)

Fundamental to the emphasis on leadership as a component of agricultural education is the concept of servant-leadership. While the individual develops certain aspects of his or her own leadership skills, a key concept in the process is exemplified in the last line of the FFA motto: "Living to serve." Through its emphasis on developing its members through service to their community, the FFA promoted the idea of servant-leadership a half century before the term "servant-leader" was coined.


For many years prior to the FFA movement, there were agriculture clubs in many parts of the United States. With the passage of the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act in 1917, agriculture courses were established in public schools throughout the country. These courses provided the opportunity for the application of in-class instruction through a student youth organization, and began a movement to organize existing agriculture clubs into a formal entity. This movement received its first recognition as a state organization in 1926 in Virginia. Professor Henry C. Groseclose of Virginia, while confined to a hospital, wrote the constitution and bylaws of the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV). This constitution and bylaws, with the accompanying ceremonies, attracted national attention. Leaders in agricultural education in other states soon realized that such an organization was worthwhile. Within two years after the FFV was founded, six other states in the southern region of the country had similar organizations. A national organization meeting was held in November 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri, in conjunction with the American Royal Livestock Show and the National Congress of Vocational Agriculture Students. At this meeting, national officers were elected and the national constitution and bylaws were adopted. (21)

The National FFA Organization has experienced many changes in the development of the organization as it exists today. Table 23-2 highlights some of those changes.



The FFA is structured on three levels--national, state, and local. (See Figure 23-2.) At the national level, the FFA is a federally chartered organization (Public Law 105-225, formerly Public Law 81-740)22 and operates under the direction of a board of directors and national officers. The FFA Board of Directors consists of the secretary of education (who serves as the national advisor), four staff members in the Department of Education (including the executive secretary), and four state supervisors of agricultural education. The national officers consist of a student president, four student vice presidents (one from each FFA region), a student secretary, an executive secretary, a treasurer, and a national advisor. The treasurer must be a member of a state program of agricultural education. The six student officers are elected annually at the National FFA Convention and constitute the Board of Student Officers. They serve as representatives of all student members and advise and make recommendations to the entire Board of Directors.

State FFA Associations

State FFA associations function within the parameters of the national organization, but may offer programs or awards unique to their needs. The number and types of officers in state associations vary by state. State associations sponsor activities such as CDEs, leadership camps, conventions, career shows, and leadership conferences, in addition to those events offered by the national organization.

The officers of a state association consist of a president, one or more vice presidents, secretary, treasurer, reporter, sentinel, and advisor. The state supervisor of agricultural education assumes the responsibility of the state advisor. Other officers and a state advisory council may be elected if desired. The student officers usually undergo an application and screening process and are elected by a majority vote of the members in attendance at a state convention. Most state officers serve one-year terms, although some state associations allow officers to serve a second year in some capacity, if re-elected.

Local FFA Chapters

The local FFA chapter is the center of activity for the FFA. Local chapters may be chartered in any public school with an agricultural education program under the guidelines as established in the State FFA constitution and bylaws. Active chapters of the FFA may only be chartered in schools where recognized systematic instruction in agricultural education for agricultural occupations is offered under the provisions of the National Vocational Education Acts. More than one chapter may be chartered in a school when deemed appropriate by the executive committee of the state association. Schools with large enrollments or multiple programs may establish mini-chapters as subdivisions of the regular chapter. (23) When mini-chapters are used as subdivisions of the regular or parent chapter, they must be coordinated by the officers and advisors of the parent chapter.

Leadership for local chapters is provided by students. The agriculture teacher serves as the advisor to the chapter. Chapters usually have at least six officers--president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, reporter, and sentinel--but may have additional officers as appropriate. Chapters using a mini-chapter system may elect additional sets of officers so that additional members have an opportunity to serve in leadership activities.

Federation, Area, Region, and District FFA Associations

In addition to the three levels discussed above, many states have created an additional level that is usually referred to as a federation, area, region, or district association. When implemented, this level of participation exists between the local and state levels. Officers are usually elected at this level and activities conducted in much the same way as with the state association.


The FFA is organized in a way that promotes active participation by members. First and foremost, the FFA is a student organization that actively seeks to educate students in agricultural fields of study and involve them in leadership activities. Students enjoy doing something worthwhile, excelling in work and social activities, being appreciated, serving in responsible positions, learning how to help themselves, having opportunities to participate in activities, and obtaining recognition through outstanding service and achievement.

Participation in FFA activities promotes a cooperative attitude and provides practice in setting and achieving personal and group goals. Likewise, participation in local FFA activities increases student awareness of community organizations, government, and school-community relationships. Problems in the community can often be identified and solved through the efforts of FFA members. Democratic principles are taught by student participation in group processes. Communication skills are improved through involvement in meetings, banquets, community presentations, etc. The broad array of CDE in the FFA also serves to refine and reinforce technical skills learned in agricultural education.

Involvement in FFA activities can also enhance personal and career development. Members have the opportunity to interact with other leaders, accept responsibility, and initiate ideas and programs. As a result, students' self-confidence is boosted, and they begin to experience success. Additionally, the FFA organization encourages and recognizes excellence and individual achievement. Many FFA activities give members the opportunity to explore numerous career options in agriculture. Students need to be a part of an active, worthwhile organization that is fun, challenging, rewarding, and of personal value. More than any other, the FFA has become that organization. Nearly three-fourths of all agriculture students in the United States are FFA members, by far the highest percent membership of any career and technical education student organization.

Kinds of Membership

There are four kinds of membership in the organization--active, alumni, collegiate, and honorary. (24) Following is a description of each of these membership categories.

Active Membership

To be an active member, students must be enrolled in a secondary agricultural education program. Secondary agricultural education programs are defined as grades 7 through 12. To become a member and retain membership while in school, the student must be enrolled in at least one agricultural education course during the school year and/or follow a planned course of study; either path must include a SAE program, the object of which is aimed at helping members fulfill the mission of premiere leadership, personal growth, and career success. Members must show an interest in the affairs of the organization by attending meetings, participating in organized chapter activities, or striving for degrees of membership. Members must also pay dues and display conduct consistent with the ideals and purposes of the National FFA Organization. Members may retain their active membership until November 30 following the fourth National FFA Convention after graduating from high school. No individual, however, may retain active membership beyond his or her 23rd birthday. (25)

Alumni Membership

The FFA Alumni Association was organized in 1971 and consists of chartered state associations and local affiliates. Alumni membership is open to former active members, collegiate, or honorary FFA members, present and former professional agricultural educators, parents of FFA members, and others interested in and supporting the FFA. Alumni members are not required to have formerly held membership in the FFA. The purposes of the FFA Alumni Association are

1. To support and promote the FFA organization, FFA activities, and agricultural education on local, state, and national levels.

2. To provide help to the FFA that will assist FFA and agricultural education personnel to involve former FFA members in worthy activities.

3. To promote greater knowledge of the agricultural industry and to support education in agriculture.

4. To cooperate with the National FFA Board of Directors, the National FFA Foundation Board of Trustees, and the National FFA Foundation Sponsoring Committee.

5. To promote and maintain an appreciation of the American free enterprise system.

6. To promote the personal development aspects of the FFA. (26)

Collegiate Membership

Collegiate membership has been available since 1931 and is open to students enrolled in agricultural courses or those who are pursuing career objectives in agriculture at a two- or four-year postsecondary institution having a collegiate FFA chapter.

Honorary Membership

Agricultural producers, school superintendents, principals, board of education members, chapter advisors, teachers, staff members in agricultural education, business people, and others who are helping to advance agricultural education and the FFA may be elected to honorary membership by a majority vote of members present at any regular meeting or convention. Honorary membership can be bestowed at the local, state, and/or national levels. It is usually awarded in recognition of continued excellence in service to the FFA. (27)

Degrees of Membership

The five degrees of active membership include Discovery FFA Degree, Greenhand FFA Degree, Chapter FFA Degree, State FFA Degree, and American FFA Degree. (28) Advancement to each of these degrees is based on individual accomplishments with respect to agricultural activities, earnings, investments, leadership, and scholarship as set forth in the FFA constitution. The first three degrees of membership (Discovery, Greenhand, Chapter) are conferred by the local chapters; the State FFA Degree is conferred by the state associations, and the American FFA Degree is conferred by the National FFA Organization. Degrees earned recognize the increasing levels of accomplishments of members at the local, state, and national levels. All members should be encouraged to wear the insignia which represents the highest degree they hold.

Discovery FFA Degree

The Discovery FFA Degree is intended for use in state associations and local chapters where middle school membership is offered. However, it is not necessary to obtain the Discovery FFA Degree in order to obtain the other degrees. To obtain the degree, members must be enrolled in an agricultural education class for at least a portion of the year, pay dues, participate in at least one FFA activity outside of class, possess knowledge of agricultural opportunities, be familiar with the local FFA program of activities, and submit a written application for the degree.

Greenhand FFA Degree

To receive the Greenhand FFA Degree, members must be enrolled in agricultural education; have a satisfactory SAE program; learn and explain the FFA creed, motto, salute, FFA emblem, colors, and FFA mission statement; demonstrate a knowledge of the FFA code of ethics, proper use of the FFA jacket, history of the organization, chapter constitution and bylaws, and chapter program of activities; personally own or have access to the Official FFA Manual and the FFA Student Handbook; and submit a written application. (29)

Chapter FFA Degree

To receive the Chapter FFA Degree members must have received the Greenhand FFA Degree, completed 180 hours of instruction in agricultural education at or above the ninth grade level, have maintained an SAE program, been enrolled in an agricultural education course, participated in planning and conducting at least three official functions in the program of activities, earned and invested at least $150 or worked at least 45 hours outside of class time, led a group discussion for 15 minutes, demonstrated five procedures of parliamentary law, shown progress in completing an individual achievement award, maintained a satisfactory scholastic record, and submitted a written application. (30)

State FFA Degree

To receive the State FFA Degree members must have received the Chapter FFA Degree, been an active FFA member for at least 24 months, completed 360 hours of instruction in agricultural education at or above the ninth grade level, have maintained an SAE program, been enrolled in an agricultural education course, participated in planning and completion of the program of activities, earned and invested at least $1,000 or worked at least 300 hours outside of class time, demonstrated 10 procedures of parliamentary law, given a six-minute speech on an agricultural topic, served in a position of leadership in the chapter (officer, committee chairperson, or committee member), shown progress in completing an individual achievement award, have maintained a satisfactory scholastic record, and participated in five activities above the chapter level. (31)

American FFA Degree

To receive the American FFA Degree the member must have received the State FFA Degree, been an active member for 36 months, have maintained a satisfactory record of participation in chapter and state level activities, completed the equivalent of 540 hours of agricultural instruction in secondary school or 360 hours in secondary school instruction and one full year in postsecondary agricultural instruction, graduated from high school at least 12 months prior to convention, have maintained an outstanding SAE program, earned and invested $7,500 (or $1,500 and worked 2,250 hours), have maintained a record of outstanding leadership, and achieved a grade of "C" in school coursework. (32)

National Dues

The National FFA Organization is a self-supporting, non-profit organization that is funded through membership dues and is supported by the National FFA Foundation. Membership in the National FFA Organization entitles the member to a subscription to the FFA New Horizons magazine. The FFA New Horizons is produced and published bi-monthly by the National FFA Organization and features articles and other items of interest to students and supporters interested in the FFA and agricultural education. The primary purpose of the magazine is to publish information on agricultural education, FFA, agricultural careers, and various youth-oriented topics. The magazine's policies are controlled by the Board of Directors and national officers. An editorial board of four FFA members, four agriculture teachers, one state FFA executive secretary, and three national FFA staff members develops the editorial calendar.


Most people, young and old alike, do not become terribly excited when an organization's constitution and bylaws are under consideration. However, these written guidelines are essential for smooth chapter operation by student members. If the FFA members themselves are to actually direct the activities and make the decisions in a chapter, a workable constitution and bylaws are a must. These documents are also helpful in teaching FFA members the nature of the organization.

The local constitution should conform to state and national constitutions. The bylaws, which contain the detailed procedures of how the organization will function, are more likely to need regular revision. Chapter officers and leaders should be very familiar with the local constitution and bylaws. In addition, the general membership should be required to examine these documents periodically. Since the constitution and bylaws of other school organizations are often weak or nonexistent, the FFA serves as a primary training ground for youth to learn how organizations are developed and operated. Many FFA members will find themselves involved in business or community organizations later in life, and their earlier FFA experiences with a working constitution and bylaws can be very valuable. Above all, a chapter's constitution and bylaws ensure that the organization conducts its affairs in a democratic, fair, and consistent manner. Members also learn that organizational change is a result of membership action and opinion. A chapter's constitution and bylaws are not meant to be developed and then laid aside; these documents should be updated periodically and used to govern the ideas and business procedures followed by the organization. Some chapters establish a regular schedule for review of their constitutions and bylaws, although care should be exercised in changing these rules too often or too drastically. The constitution and accompanying bylaws serve as the guiding principles and operational rules of the organization. As such, the constitution should be difficult to amend, which is why many organizations require at least a two-thirds vote to amend. A copy of the National FFA Organization Constitution and Bylaws can be viewed on the website.


The activities of the FFA organization provide many opportunities for educating youth which would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide in other ways. The FFA gives students opportunities to compete for local, state, and national honors. Its program develops interests, desirable attitudes, and understandings. Every department of vocational education in agriculture should have a local chapter of the FFA.

Obtaining a Charter

Opportunities for organizing new chapters sometimes occur, and advisors should be aware of the procedures for obtaining a chapter charter. State FFA associations may issue charters to newly organized local FFA chapters. A charter establishes the local chapter as an official affiliate of the state and national FFA organizations. Since the FFA is an integral part of the agricultural education program, local charters may be granted only in schools where systematic instruction is provided in agriculture.

New advisors should study recent FFA materials to become familiar with the programs and goals of the FFA. Materials for obtaining a charter may be acquired from the state FFA advisor. The local advisor should help students, parents, and school administrators gain a working knowledge of the FFA and how it contributes to the overall development of individual student members. Special orientation programs can be scheduled for this purpose. FFA members from nearby chapters, as well as state FFA officers, may be invited to address members of the newly organized chapter. After students have studied the organization and considered how affiliation might benefit them, a local constitution and bylaws should be developed in harmony with parallel documents at the state and national levels. A program of activities must then be developed and local officers elected. An application for a local chapter charter should be forwarded to the state FFA advisor, along with state and national dues for each member of the new chapter.


Leadership development has been a function of agricultural education since its inception. Many definitions of leadership exist. Some focus on the development of the individual and the skills that should be developed. Others are more focused on group development. The FFA focuses on both--the development of the individual and of the group, whether defined as a committee, chapter, association, or community. As such, leadership can be defined as a process through which an individual influences others in accomplishing the goals of the group.

The FFA has undergone tremendous change in its 75-plus years of existence. With its beginnings as an organization for boys who were planning to return to the farm, the FFA continues to adapt to the changes in the industry of agriculture and to the needs of its members.

Legislated by the U.S. Congress and governed by the U.S. Department of Education, the FFA is a unique youth organization. The headquarters of the FFA are in USDE offices in Alexandria, Virginia. However, the operational center of the organization is housed in the FFA Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. The organization is governed by the FFA Board of Directors, which includes student-elected officers, state staff, and teacher educators. Within the organization, there are various types and degrees of membership, with degrees offered for students in seventh and eighth grades, secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and students who have completed all levels of schooling, as well as honorary membership. A constitution and bylaws govern the actions of the group at each level of the FFA organization.


1. Why are there so many different definitions of leadership? Which definition of leadership do you believe most accurately describes what is done in the FFA?

2. How does FFA instruction fit into an agricultural education program? How much instructional time should be spent in preparing students for CDEs?

3. If the FFA is an integral component of an agricultural education program, must all students in such a program receive leadership instruction? Should everyone be a member of the FFA? Why or why not?

4. Should FFA membership, and all its benefits, be extended to students in private schools who may not be eligible for federal or state funding for agricultural education programs? To home-schooled students?

5. What role does a constitution serve? Bylaws? How often should either the constitution or bylaws of an organization be reviewed and/or changed?


(1) Gardner, J. W. (1990). On leadership. New York: The Free Press, p. 1.

(2) Maxwell, J. C. (1993). Developing the leader within you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, p. 1.

(3) Fleishman, E. A., Mumford, M. D., Zaccaro, S. J., Levin, K. Y., Korotkin, A. L., & Hein, M. B. (1991). Taxonomic efforts in the description of leader behavior: A synthesis and functional interpretation. Leadership Quarterly, 2(4), 245-287.

(4) Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass and Stogdill's handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: Free Press.

(5) Northouse, P. G. (2004). Leadership theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Tenny, A. W. (1977). The FFA at fifty--A golden past--A brighter future. Alexandria, VA: Future Farmers of America.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Stensland, J. K., & Berkland, M. (1989). The history of 4-H. Retrieved January 19, 2005 from http://www.

(10) Nierodzinski, C. (2005). History of 4-H. Retrieved January 19, 2005 from

(11) Stensland, J. K., & Berkland, M. (1989). The history of 4-H. Retrieved January 19, 2005 from http://www.

(12) Balschweid, M. A., & Talbert, B. A. (2000). A comparison of agricultural education students to the "typical high school student" as quantified in The State of Our Nation's Youth: By the Horatio Alger Association. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

(13) Park, T. D., & Dyer, J. E. (2003, December). Contributions of agricultural education, FFA, and 4-H to students of agricultural colleges. Paper presented at the National Agricultural Education Research Conference. Orlando, FL, 133-145.

(14) National FFA Organization. (2004). 2004-2005 Official FFA manual. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Tenny, A. W. (1977). The FFA at fifty--A golden past-- A brighter future. Alexandria, VA: Future Farmers of America.

(17) National FFA Organization. (2004). FFA history. Retrieved January 2, 2005 from

(18) National FFA Organization. (2004). Key moments in FFA history. Retrieved January 2, 2005 from

(19) Institute for Youth, Education and Families. (2005). Youth leadership and youth participation in municipal government. Retrieved January 19, 2005 from

(20) Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Retrieved January 19, 2005 from

(21) Tenny, A. W. (1977). The FFA at fifty--A golden past--A brighter future. Alexandria, VA: Future Farmers of America.

(22) National FFA Organization. (2004). Public Law 105-225 (formerly Public Law 81-740). Retrieved January 2, 2005 from

(23) National FFA Organization. (2004). 2004-2005 Official FFA manual. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

(24) National FFA Organization. (2004). Retrieved January 2, 2005 from

(25) National FFA Organization. (2004). 2004-2005 Official FFA manual. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

(26) Ibid.

(27) Ibid.

(28) National FFA Organization. (2004). Retrieved January 2, 2005 from

(29) National FFA Organization. (2004). 2004-2005 Official FFA manual. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid.

(32) Ibid.
TABLE 23-1
FFA membership from 1928 to 1929 and 2004 to 2005.

                                     1928-1929       2004-2005

Members                                   33         476,732

Chapters                                   7           7,223

  * Members                               0%             38%
  * State leadership positions            0%             50%

Race/Ethnicity of members
  * Caucasian                           100%             77%
  * Hispanic                              0%             17%
  * African American                      0%              4%

Members live in:
  * Rural, farm areas                   100%             27%
  * Rural, non-farm areas                 0%             39%
  * Urban or suburban areas               0%             34%

School grade level
  * 7-8                                   0%              6%
  * 9-12                                100%             89%
  * High school graduates                 0%              5%

(SOURCE: National FFA Organization. (2004). 2004-2005 Official
FFA manual. Indianapolis, IN: Author; National FFA Organization.
(2004). FFA history. Retrieved January 2, 2005

TABLE 23-2
Key events in the history of the National FFA Organization.

Date   Event

1917   Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act establishes
       vocational agriculture courses.

1926   Henry Groseclose, a university agricultural educator and
       former high school agricultural education instructor, helps
       organize the FFV for boys in agriculture classes. The FFV
       would be used as a model for creation of the FFA in 1928.

1928   During the National Livestock Judging Contests, 33 students
       from 18 states establish the Future Farmers of America in
       Kansas City, MO. During this first annual convention, Leslie
       Applegate of Freehold, N. J., is elected president and dues
       are set at 10 cents annually. The national convention is
       held in Kansas City from 1928 to 1998.

1929   The official colors of national blue and corn gold are

1930   The official FFA creed is adopted at the 3rd national FFA
       convention by the all-male delegation.

1933   Official delegates vote to adopt the blue corduroy jacket
       as the organization's official dress.

1935   New Farmers of America (NFA), an organization for
       African-American boys interested in agriculture, is formed
       and eventually included 13 states.

1944   The National FFA Foundation, Inc., is established in
       Washington, DC, to raise money in sponsorship of FFA programs
       and activities. Business, industry, government, individuals,
       and other sponsors form the foundation. Located at the FFA
       business office in Indianapolis, IN, the foundation
       raises more than $7.3 million annually.

1948   Celebration of National FFA Day is changed to FFA Week. The
       celebration is set during George Washington's birthday to
       recognize his pioneering contributions to American
       agriculture. The national FFA supply service begins.

1950   The U.S. Congress passes Public Law 81-740, which grants a
       federal charter to the FFA, making it an intracurricular
       part of an agricultural education program. The law also
       stipulates that a U.S. Department of Education staff member
       be the national FFA advisor.

1952   The National FUTURE FARMER magazine, the official magazine of
       the National FFA Organization, is first published. The title
       is changed to FFA New Horizons in 1989.

1953   President Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes the first president to
       address a national FFA convention. Since that time, Presidents
       Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan
       have addressed the FFA.

1959   The FFA headquarters is established in Alexandria, VA, on
       land which was part of George Washington's estate. During the
       dedication, members participating in the first national
       leadership conference for state officers place a handful of
       soil from each state around the flagpole.

1965   The New Farmers of America (NFA), the organization for
       African American agricultural education students, merges with
       the FFA, adding 50,000 members.

1966   The FFA national agricultural career show, a trade show
       especially for students, first opens during the national FFA

1969   The FFA constitution and bylaws are amended to extend
       membership to females. Today, 35% of FFA membership is
       female, with 47% of state leadership positions held by women.

1971   The national FFA Alumni Association is founded, providing
       opportunities for former FFA members and other supporters
       to become involved with their local student chapters. Today,
       the association has over 42,000 members.

1974   The first African American national officer is elected
       national FFA secretary.

1981   The FFA TIMES is first published at the national convention.

1988   The name "Future Farmers of America" is changed to the
       "National FFA Organization" to recognize the growth of
       agriculture and agricultural education to encompass more
       than 300 careers in the science, business, and technology of
       agriculture. FFA membership is opened to middle school

1990   The delegate structure for the national convention is
       changed to 475 delegates. Each state is allowed a minimum of
       two delegates, plus additional delegates based upon the
       state's percentage of national FFA membership.

1991   The Virgin Islands and Guam are granted association charters
       and five chapters from Micronesia are granted affiliate
       chapter charters.

1996   FFA Web site, National FFA Online, is established.

1998   The National FFA Center is moved from Alexandria, VA, to
       Indianapolis, IN. Members participating in the state
       presidents' conference placed a cupful of soil from their
       respective states at the base of the flagpole. The new
       center houses the National FFA Organization, National FFA
       Foundation, National FFA Alumni Association, and FFA

1999   The national convention is first held in Louisville, KY.

2000   The National FFA Archives officially opens at IUPUI in I

2006   The national convention is first held in Indianapolis, IN.

(SOURCE: Tenny, A. W. (1977). The FFA at fifty--A golden past--A
brighter future. Alexandria, VA: Future Farmers of America, and
National FFA Organization. (2004). Key moments in FFA history.
Retrieved January 2, 2005 from
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Title Annotation:UNIT 5: Youth Leadership Development
Publication:Handbook on Agricultural Education in Public Schools
Article Type:Organization overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 22: Teacher professional growth and improvement.
Next Article:Chapter 24: The FFA as a youth leadership development tool.

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