Each month we feature a Kansas teacher who has excelled at incorporating agriculture into their classroom curriculum. Check back each month for inspiration and new ideas on ways to share the rich story of agriculture with your students!
John Colle has been a high school educator for 26 years, during which he’s taught chemistry, botany, biology, physics, anatomy and physiology, and environmental science, along with doing some coaching along the way.
Colle began his career in Jewell, Kan. and later taught at Fairfield High School for four years. For the past 20 years Colle has been teaching at Hutchinson High School, focusing on 11th and 12th grade educations. Colle describes Hutchinson as urban, although nestled in the middle of an agricultural area.
“I grew up on a farm, so I’m no stranger to agriculture, Colle said. “In fact, my first Bachelor’s degree was in Animal Science from Kansas State University, later receiving another Bachelor’s in Secondary Education and Master’s in Adult and Continuing Education from Kansas State as well.”
Colle said, looking back, it may have been predictable that he would be a teacher and farmer, his father has been a lifetime farmer/rancher, and my mother taught school for more than 28 years.
Colle has farmed for himself for over 20 years, while continuing to teach. He raises wheat, corn, milo, soybeans and cattle. His farm is about 1,000 acres of dryland and irrigated ground.
He met his wife, Cindy, who also comes from an agricultural background, while attending Kansas State.
“She is truly a soulmate and partner,” Colle said about his wife. “She is a teacher herself, but assists me in running our operation each day, so we can relate to one another on many levels!”
Colle and his wife have two children, Kevin, who is a senior in high school and Kaitlin, who is a junior. Colle said his children are an immense help on the farm and believe the we farm has taught them valuable lessons.
“I talk to my classes about ag careers at all levels of employment,” Colle said. “Certainly, we need great biochemists and genetic engineers in ag, but I also think it is important to highlight a variety of ag-related jobs, many of which are local rather than out of state.”
Colle works to convey the message that ag careers are at least as much about quality of life as they are salary. At the high school level, he shows how teachers gain credibility whenever they integrate careers and college readiness into the discussion.
“When we take field trips, careers are always part of the agenda,” Colle said.
In class, he tries to keep students engaged with activities, which I think they enjoy. Colle believes that the old 4-H adage “Learn by Doing” still holds true today. Sometimes he does exploratory labs with his classes, such as allowing them to determine the best way to grow wheat or soybean seeds with variables they provide, and other times it is more structured if materials are in short supply or dangerous to handle.
Colle also tries to promote all aspects of agriculture, such as real science points toward the safety of GMO’s that farm subsidies are a tremendous value for the consumer – that they help provide relatively inexpensive food in our country. Colle said that some of his students have never heard of those issues.
“I try to make the most of my limited time with them before they graduate,” Colle said. “My advice to other teachers would be to reach out to the agriculture resources in your community and state – most are excited and honored to be a part of helping you educate the next generation!”
Mr. Colle has provided information for a few of his favorite lesson plans here.