Make recommendations simple

As the new school year begins to unfold, so too does the to-do list of every agriculture teacher. 

I remember sitting in teacher PDs at the beginning of the school year and colleagues commenting…

“How is your to-do list already that long? Students do not arrive until Thursday.”

And at some point one item I could expect to be on that to-do list multiple times were letters of recommendation. 

Not that I ever dreaded writing these recommendations. In fact, I always felt honored students respected me enough to use me as a recommendation as they applied for their dream school or filled out that scholarship that was going to greatly impact their financial situation in college or trade school.

However, it is something that takes time, and we all know time is of the essence for agriculture teachers!

So how do we make the process of writing a thorough letter of recommendation efficient, while not compromising quality which could make or break a student receiving a valuable opportunity?

Here are the steps I used to streamline this process:

BRAG SHEET - When a student asked me to write a letter of recommendation for them, I provided them a Letter of Recommendation Brag Sheet. Students filled out information such as their GPA, agriculture course they completed, FFA involvement and future plans. This forced the student to take some ownership of the task and did not make me recall information about the student.

 LETTER OUTLINE - I never reinvented the wheel with letters of recommendations. I organized my letters into four to six paragraphs depending on the involvement of the student. The first paragraph always introduced the student and my relationship to them, and the last paragraph always stated why they deserved the opportunity and provided my contact information. 

The middle two to four paragraphs were organized into their involvement in FFA, CDEs or LDEs they competed in, their SAE project, or community service they completed. This organization allowed me to quickly take the information from their brag sheet and build it out into a letter.

BE HONEST & REALISTIC - Not every student in your program deserves the same recommendation letter. Let’s be honest - some students work harder in their four years of high school and their letter should reflect this hard work. By exaggerating what a non-active student completed, you are doing an injustice to a student who put their heart and soul into the program. 

Here is an example of an Active Student Letter of Recommendation and a Non-active Student Letter of Recommendation. Although both were students for four years, they dedicated different amounts of time and energy into the program which is reflective in the letter. 

By streamlining your process and allowing your students to take ownership of the process, you can make this time consuming process more efficient so you can focus on the countless other items on your to-do list!