Methods

Horse and Cart

horsecartYou can look at a good Scout Troop like a horse and cart.  The horse has to be strong and steadfast.  The horse has to be trained so as not to buck and run when it’s not supposed to.  The horse works as a part of a team and each pulls it’s share of the weight so the load of the cart can be pulled over the long haul.
The horse represents your adult volunteers.  They need to be trained to understand the Scouting program and what their role is in it.  The adult volunteer needs to appreciate the aims of Scouting and move the unit in the right direction.  Adult volunteers need to be steadfast and keep in mind that the unit is bigger than one person.  They need to know that what they do today will have a lasting impact on the units future.
The cart is the units program.  It can be as full as you want or as empty, but the cart is always moving behind the horse.  The program of the unit is the reason for the horse to be there.  It is the “Why” of Scouting.  The Aims, the Methods, and the thing that keeps the boys coming back for more.  The cart can be loaded heavy as long as it has good horses to pull it.
And what drives the horse and cart?  The youth.  Youth leadership makes the horse and cart go.  It holds on to the reigns and steers the team.  It is their cart.  They get to decide how much or how little gets put in.  They are taught to lead the horse team and see the benefits of what is in the cart.  A good horse, cart, and driver make for a good Scout Troop.  When the elements work together, are trained, and understand how it all works together there is no where the unit can’t go.  There is nothing it can not do.
The cart can not be put before the horse, the horse can not function without the driver, and the driver has not purpose without the horse and cart.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Boy Led or Lord of the Flies?

lord-flies-william-golding-paperback-cover-artI often have discussions with Scoutmasters about what constitutes a “Boy Led Troop”.   There seems to be a misunderstanding as to what that means and it is executed in different ways depending on the unit.  But there is a right way to have youth lead and a wrong way.  Finding balance and understanding of the roles of the Adults and Youth in the Troop becomes the difference between Boy Led and Lord of the Flies.
Youth leadership is the method that we use to teach and provide opportunities for the Scouts to learn, develop, and practice leadership.  It is an opportunity to learn styles of leadership and challenge personal growth, communication skills, and working as a member of a high performance team.  Leadership in a Scout troop is shared.  Shared between other Scouts and with adults.  They share experiences, learning, and responsibility.
A Boy Scout Troop is Boy (or Scout) led but it is Adult run.  We do not expect our Scouts to administer the Troop, maintain the checking account, resource seat belts, or make camp reservations.  All items that certainly would fall under most leadership descriptions.  We also do not allow the Scouts to discipline one another, that to would be a leadership role in most organizations.
We use a technique called Guided Discovery when teaching leadership and expectations with our Scouts.  This keeps them from becoming tribal.  It removes the conflict between Ralph and Jack (the principle characters in Lord of the Flies).  It is done by asking leading questions and offering the Scouts the chance to find solutions in their leadership challenges.
Guided Discovery is all about coaching the youth to find success.  Not doing it for them, but keeping them within the limits.  It allows for the Scouts to set boundaries and learn from mistakes in a safe environment.
A few weeks ago I stood in the back of the meeting hall with some parents.  Mom and Dad were concerned that our Troop did not allow the boys to do “Everything”.  Their idea of Boy leadership was that adults monitored but did not get to involved with the operation of the Troop.  They wondered why the Assistant Scoutmasters were working with the Scouts on advancement.  One of the Assistant Scoutmasters was signing off a Scouts handbook.  Dad asked why the Scouts were not doing the signing.  I suggested that when the ASM signs the book he can take that opportunity to get to know the Scout, understand the Scouts knowledge of the skills, and keep his (the ASM) finger on the pulse of the unit.  This allows the Adult leadership the opportunity to know what is going on and understand how the Scouts are doing in the their Scouting experience.
We teach the Scouts through Guided Discover what leadership is and how to lead.  We allow them to ask questions and test their leadership skills.  If they feel that they are totally left to their own devices, they will feel overwhelmed and not learn.  Scouting is a safe place to practice these valuable life skills.  It is an environment where the leader gets mutual support from both the adults and his Troop mates.  If you recall in the book “Lord of the Flies” the conflict between Jack, Simon, and Ralph and the division between the biguns and littluns came when they lost the ability to resolve simple issues.  When and were to hunt, building shelter, and protection the tribe from the beast.  Simon rises as a leader bound to protect the littluns from the biguns.  Piggy becomes an outcast and the butt of pranks and laughter from all of the boys.  They did not understand the concept of leading to serve and without adults on the island to assist in decision making and conflict resolution they quickly turn on one another.  Without learning from mistakes and being led in reflection the boys turn on each other develop a lack of trust and paranoia.  Their experiment in civility is crushed.
This can easily become analogous in the life of a Troop without guided discovery and the ability for Adults to step in and drive the learning.  It does not mean that the adults do everything for the Scouts, but it does mean that the development of young leaders is conducted in a meaningful and focused way.
100% youth led does not allow for learning.  They just don’t know what they don’t know.
The argument of “Well, have the older boys be the guide” is valid.  But like the Lord of the Flies, the older boys will also have their agenda and reasons for wanting to lead.  I am not suggesting that we allow agenda driven leadership, that is where guided discovery comes in.  When we can direct the learning and keep it all focused on achieving the goals of Scouting we can eliminate the Lord of the Flies.
So where is your unit?  Boy Led or somewhere on the island?  Guided discovery can fix that.  Learning, developing, and growing as individuals and a unit is dependent on the shared leadership of youth and adults.
If you have not read Lord of the Flies recently, it is a good study on human nature and leadership among youth.  It is a great study on what we can become.  Worth the read.
Check out Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

What are you?

knowledgeIn the last blog post I shared my answers to the first four questions of the 20 questions that we ask participants of Wood Badge to consider before they get to their course.
Who you are and what you learn about yourself gets you started in discovering your life’s Vision and Mission.  In other words it sets you on a course for a life with purpose.  I will be sharing more about myself in this post as I move through a re look of the 20 questions building toward a better future for me and those close to me.
Before I get to that however, I would like to ask you all a few questions.
First.  Does this blog help you?
Second.  Do you find value in this blog?
Third.  What would you like to see more of in the blog?
Finally.  Do you share the content of the blog with other Scouters?
I ask this not to determine whether or not to continue, I am all in.  I ask this to make the blog better.  A blog with content worth sharing and a blog that keeps you coming back for more.  I truly want to help deliver the promise of Scouting in whatever way I can.
One thing that I think most of the readers of this blog have in common is a desire to make Scouting great and build fantastic experiences for the youth we serve.  Scout training is often not enough.  Round table is typically not attended by those that really need the coaching.  The internet has opened so many pathways to information and I want to use this tool to teach, coach, mentor and inspire other Scouters.  Is that happening?
I am not a numbers guy, but I do look at the blog stats on occasion to see trends and where impact is happening.. or not.
I have noticed a drop in subscriptions to the blog.  That is a natural thing.  And do not worry I do not lose sleep over it.  It is what it is.  In my perfect world I would have millions of subscribers, not to pad my ego, but to help Scouting.  But holding at 1630ish subscribers, I will go with it.  I don’t understand how it all works sometimes.  I think that site identity and recognition have a lot to do with it.  During the time when I did the blog and podcast I had the most views and subscribers.  The podcast is not coming back anytime soon, so I need to build this brand to the best it will be.
That may mean that I never see 2000 subscribers.. and that I will live with as long as this blog speaks to those that need it, want it, and keep coming back.  And to all of you I say Thanks!
The title of this post is “What are you?”  I selected that title because in answering the 20 questions you should also learn about what you are in relation to your relationships and activities.  What you are to other people, a leader, a parent, a friend, a partner.. you are identified by not only who you are but what you are.  Leaders are often viewed in this manner.  Their leadership style is not so much who they are but what they act like, what their actions are, and what they do for the group.  So what are you?  Understanding what you are is an important part of seeing your vision and building your life plan to get there.
Here are a few more questions and my answers:

5. Who is a person who has made a positive impact on my life?
My Dad.  We learn by watching others.  My Dad has always been a role model.  Teaching me many of the attributes to being a good Dad, Husband, and worker.  My Dad is not perfect, but his imperfection has been great lessons in leading, and living.  He instilled in me the importance of family, hard work, and taking care of others.  He taught me how to interact with people and when to filter my thoughts.  He has been a constant part of my life and I appreciate him.
6. Why was that person able to have such significant impact?
He is a good teacher.  I think that teachers teach more so by their actions than lecture.  For good or for bad what they do models how to be, know, and do things in your life.
7. What have been my happiest moments in life?
Watching my children find joy and success.  I have always loved watching as my kids grew up.  They had something that I never had growing up and that is friendships that have lasted their entire lives.  I grew up moving just about every three years.  They have lived on the same street their entire lives.  I have grown to know these kids (the friends of my kids) all their lives.  Seeing their relationships with one another is amazing.  Through sports, school, band, and scouting they and their friends have all grown to be good people.  Watching them will always be happy moments.
8.  Why were they happy?
Because my kids always bring me joy.  Through good times and tough times, they have always been my greatest success.

Well, OK.. there are the next four questions.  I hope that you are taking the time to answer them for yourself.  As you do, look for the opportunities for personal growth and understanding.  When we get to the end, go back and read your answers.  You never have to share them with anyone.  But as they say ‘knowledge is power’ and you will have the power to make your life better.
Please share the blog with your friends, Scouters, and whomever you feel will get something out of it.  It’s not about numbers, it’s about Vision and the mission of helping where I can.
Leave a comment below with the answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of the post.  I really do want to know what you think.  It is all about the assessment of this process and I do want to make it better to serve you.
Thanks for coming back time and again.  I sincerely appreciate it.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Living or Dying

r1933A Scout Troop is a family.. and it’s either living or dying.  It’s either growing or shrinking, viable or withering on the vine.  There are many reasons for this, but the point of the matter is that if we are not watching for it we will let units fail.  It isn’t always easy to pinpoint one thing or another, but the more you focus the clearer the issues become and the faster a unit can recover when it finds itself dying.
I find that a close examination of the how the unit is using the methods is a great start.  Oh and by the way, this is important for units that are living and living well too.  You may just find that you are slipping in an area that down the road can lead to a cancer that can not be cured in the unit.
Is the unit using all eight of the methods or just picking and choosing which ones are important to them?  I liken that practice to picking and choosing which of the values in the Scout Law are less important and need not apply.
A strong program relies on the methods to achieve the goals of Scouting.  Too many units favor advancement over other methods.  I have seen those units race their Scouts to Eagle and then die.. they lost the older Scouts and leadership.  The families disengage once their son “Eagles Out” [a term that does not have any place in Scouting].  There is no longer a dog in the hunt for the family and the Scout feels as though he has reached the end.  NO NO… he has just begun.  Now it’s time to give back and be a leader.  But with the emphasis on advancement, the Scout and his family see no other needs that the unit can provide.
Some Troops believe that the Patrol Method is all you need.  While I agree that the Patrol method is everything to the Patrol and health of the Troop, it is certainly not all you need.  Where do you practice the Patrol method?  At Troop meetings?  Sure, some, but its the Outdoor program that makes the Patrol method come alive.. so no the Patrol method is not all you need.  How do you put into practice the Ideals of Scouts, you know those ideals and values found in the Scout Oath and Law?  You need a well planned and executed Service program in the life of the Troop.  Service opportunities that engage the Scout and teach him to be a selfless servant to others.  This is a wonderful leadership trait as well.  Being a servant leader will certainly get the young man farther and reinforce the ideals of Scouting.
I once heard a quote, and I want to say it came from Baden Powell, “Show me a poorly uniformed troop and I’ll show you a poorly uniformed leader.”  The uniform is an important part of Scouting.  I have talked about this before so I won’t beat that horse to death, but the uniform is an essential part of Scouting.  It builds the team.  It helps with discipline.  It is a great equalizer.  The uniform connects us in the World Brotherhood of Scouting and is the most visible part of the Scout in public.  It should be worn completely and correctly.  Many adult leaders make a choice to allow jeans and other parts of the uniform to be exchanged.  They claim that it is a money issue.  It isn’t.  A Scout is thrifty.  He can always go mow a lawn, rake some leaves, or even sell popcorn to buy a new uniform or pants for it.  Taking the easy way out on the uniform reflects the attitude of the leader to not use the methods of Scouting completely.  “Attitude reflects leadership” so says my favorite quote from the movie Remember the Titans.  This attitude of pick and choose can do more harm than good in the long run and it has been my observation that it can ultimately lead to a unit dying.
And no.. it’s not about the uniform.  It’s about the methods.  Those tried and true methods that lead our youth to a better understanding of who they are and what they will become.  It teaches Character, Citizenship, and Fitness.  And that my friends is why do Scouting.  We believe this works and that is proven daily, weekly, monthly in units all across our country.  It is proven in the Eagle Scouts that go on to do great things in their lives and in the Scouts that go into the world and become Dads that raise wonderful people.  Scouting works, but we need to keep it alive.  Using the eight methods will keep it from dying.
The methods need to be visible in your annual plan, in your interactions with the Scout, and in your attitude.  That will reflect great leadership.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Gear Alternatives

SAM_0008As you know by reading the blog, I am a fan of gear.  I like to play around with gear, test it, try it, and change it often.  There are pieces of gear that I love and pieces of gear that I am always looking for the newer, better, more efficient, or just cool.  Lately I have been in a few discussions about some gear like knives and stoves.  What is significant about these discussions is the idea that for a lot of Scouters there is little knowledge about what is allowed, what is not, and what is out there to show to your Scouts as gear choices.
Take a look at all the old Field books and Hand books, Peek into the Boy Scout catalogs, it’s all the same stuff.  All the old-time tested and true gear.  It all works well and is super reliable.  I don’t have a problem with any of it, but just because it has always been there and done that way does not make it the only or best way to do it.
At a few recent Boy Scout break outs at round table we have talked about gear and gear alternatives.  Much of the discussion focusing on stoves and knives.  As discussed in my recent post “The Great Knife Debate“, it amazes me that many Scouters just do not know the rules.  They perpetuate a rule that does not exist for what ever reason, but the net result is not the safety of the Scout, but a lack of exposure to new and different ways of doing the same old thing.  The same can be said for alcohol stoves.  The BSA has prohibited the use of “Homemade” stoves.  And I can see that the BSA does not want some Scout to get hurt because his leaders failed to train him on how to do it right.  But the use of alcohol stoves in general is not prohibited.  Manufactured of purchased stoves are not prohibited and I am glad for that.  I exclusively use an alcohol stove and scouts in my troop are using them also.  I teach them how and make sure they do it right.  There is nothing unsafe about them, well, they are about as unsafe as using an MSR Whisperlite.  It comes down to training them to use it correctly.  Stores like REI and many online outdoor outfitter are selling alcohol stoves.  And the fact is you can use them to cook anything.
I can bake, fry, simmer, and of course boil water with them.  Here is the point.  They are an alternative way to do the same old thing.  Camping, Cooking, sleeping in a shelter, whether that is a tent, a tarp, or a bivy sack is all the same.  Camping is camping.  There are many methods and ways to go about it, but in the end it’s all the same.
You also know that I am a big fan of wood stoves (like the Solo Stove).  They are a great way to cook.  It takes a little skill and you can absolutely cook anything with them.  I have had Scouters tell me that one can not use them because you can’t turn them off.  Huh? What?  First Class Requirement 4 e states; On one camp out, serve as your patrol’s cook. Supervise your assistant(s) in using a stove or building a cooking fire. Prepare the breakfast, lunch, and dinner planned in requirement 4a. In the most previous edition of the Boy Scout handbook Second Class requirement 2g required the Scout to;  On one camp out, plan and cook over an open fire one hot breakfast or lunch for yourself, selecting foods from the food pyramid. Explain the importance of good nutrition. Tell how to transport, store, and prepare the foods you selected.
So in one edition of the hand book, we have decided to dumb down the Scouting experience not make it a requirement to cook over an open fire, but it’s a choice.  But it’s still there and it always has been.  But in checking the Guide to Safe Scouting I can’t find anywhere that suggests wood stoves are prohibited or cooking over an open flame is prohibited because you can’t put it out.  You see, to me that is just a way for Scouters to impose a rule that is not there when it comes to gear.
There are lots of great gear alternatives out there.  Allow your Scouts to explore them.
Many of the Scouts in my troop are moving to camping under tarps.  Some are using you standard 10X10 Wal Mart tarp, while most are going to good camping tarps.  SilNylon tarps that are light and easy to put up.  Some even have built-in doors and can be pitched between trees or using their trekking poles.  I love the idea that the Scouts are exploring different gear and ways to camp.  It keeps it fun and exciting for them.
I suppose the bottom line is that there are many options out there, as a Scouter you should gain an understanding and knowledge of that gear and not push it aside just because you don’t like it.
We had this same debate during the 2010 National Jamboree.  Many ‘older Scouters’ did not like the idea of allowing the Scouts to bring and use “Electronics”.  There was a misconceptions that electronics are not allowed in Scouting.  No where is this found in writing.  I allowed the Scouts of my Jamboree Troop to bring their “electronics”.  Cell phones, Ipods, and of course cameras.  I wanted them to be able to communicate with me and other Scouts, I wanted to be able to shoot a text to the troop when I needed to make quick contact with them.  I wanted the Senior Patrol Leader to be able to get everyone on the bus on time and sent group texts to better communicate with his Troop.  We established “No ear bid zones”  Touring at Arlington National Cemetery for example was a No Ear Bud zone.  Sitting on the bus for two hours however was not.  As long as the Scouts obeyed the rules, I allowed them to use the electronics.
The same goes for their gear.  As long as they use it as intended, be it a stove, knife, or any other piece of gear, I allow and encourage them to try new things.
This is a big part of the adventure of Scouting.
Get to know some new gear.  Pick something to try with your Scouts.  Try something new.
Allow the adventure of Scouting to happen.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

The Membership Discussion

WSJpic1Lets talk about membership.
We all know that we need members to keep Scouting alive.  There are many different angles and directions to answer the membership question.  I am not going to solve this issue in this post, rather, I am opening up the dialogue to see what you all think.
Scouting in the United States if a bit different from the rest of the World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM).
First, we are not Coed, until you get to the Venturing Program.
Second, our programs are not connected.  Yes, Cub Scouts go to Boy Scout etc… but in most cases outside of the US, a Scout group is made up of youth from 7 to 21.  The units are formed from a group.  This allows for continuity in the program and allows for leadership and example to be promoted from within the group.  Personally, I like this idea.  I think it solves a few of the issues we have in Scouting in the US.  Namely keeping youth in Scouting.
I have become pen pals of sorts with some Scouters from outside of the United States.  While they do have their own issues it seems that young people stay in Scouting longer and have a great Scouting experience along the way.
Starting off as a young 7-year-old and staying in Scouting till they are in their young adulthood.  I think this creates a better Scouting life for them.
Anyway, as stated, I am not going to answer the question, just start the discussion.
I think that the BSA will need to explore the COED option sooner than later.  With declining membership and the Girl Scout program not what most girls want… I think that opening the doors to a COOED program may go along way to saving Scouting in America.
So how does that work?  Will we lose our values and program?  I don’t think so.  I think we can move forward with the program we have.  We need not tailor the program to girls, they will fit right in.  Look at the Venturing program as it is?  It would be much better if it were filled with young people and adventure.
OK, membership at the core.
I think that our professionals at the National and Council level have the very best of intentions when they talk membership.  It is a simple equation.  Get more youth in and membership will fix itself.
A few things that I know for sure.
You will never be able to out recruit your losses.  You will never be able to keep Scouts in a program that is floundering.
When I was a young Scoutmaster I was told the three keys to a successful troop were Program, Program, and Program.  If you build it they will come.  Boys do not join Scouts for Monday night meetings.  They join for cool programs and camp outs.  Parents bring their sons to our program.  Not to our meetings.  They need to be able to see value in the program.
Program will drive membership.  So I think sometimes we put the cart before the horse.  The horse is our program, the cart is membership and money.  Now, you can’t have one without the other, but if your priority is not program, you won’t get members.  That, I know for sure.
So where is our effort more effective?  Building programs or recruiting?  I think we build programs and let them come.
There are more factors to this discussion to be sure.  It is not always that simple I understand.  At the unit level programs need to be the priority.  Build it and they will come.  Recruiting efforts need to be a part of the annual plan.  Focusing on Cub Scouts is not the only answer.  We need to sell Scouting to all eligible youth.
This is where I see other WOSM get it.  They appeal to youth of all ages and keep them in longer.  There is a coolness factor about hanging out with their peers and they longer they stay, so do their friends.  I think this is an important part of our membership issue.
So.. lets take a few posts and explore this issue?
What do you think?  Let’s discuss this.
Here is a little video I stumbled on that really got me thinking.  It is from the Scouts in Germany.  I would love to see our youth in American Scouting like this one day.  I got to see Scouting like this when I was a kid in the Transatlantic Council as we did many International Scouting activities.
Also take a moment to check out the Kandersteg International Scout Center videos.  See what they look like and lets see how we can implement some of this here.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

A Sky Full of Scouts from Andreas Herten on Vimeo.

Discuss, Demonstrate, Show

scouthandbookWhen it comes to advancement in the Boy Scouts, it’s not really rocket science.  First, the Scout needs to want to advance.  Second the Scout needs to do the work.  And finally, the Scout needs to be tested.
This process can be easy for some Scouts while harder for others, but what I have learned in 10 years as a Scoutmaster is that it is all up to the Scout.  I have seen Troops in our area that place more value on advancement than in other methods and I have seen some that do not at all.  I think that we view it as one of the eight methods and my philosophy has always been that advancement will come when the Scout is actively participating and engaged in the Troop.
A Scout came to me asking for a Scoutmaster conference.   OUTSTANDING!!  Grab a couple of chairs and let’s have a talk I said.  So how have you been, we haven’t seen you in a while.  Well, I have been busy with other stuff says the Scout, and Scouts just kinda took the backseat, here’s my book, I need you to sign off a bunch of stuff.
Now, I am no drill sergeant when it comes to signing books, but there are some things that just need to be done.  Discuss, Demonstrate, and Show.  If that is what the requirement says, then that is what the Scout needs to do.
So, Tommy Tenderfoot, lets talk about these things that you have circled for me to sign off, I say to the young man.  You mean you are not going to sign my book the Scouts replies looking agitated.   No, that’s not what I am saying, I just want to make sure that you know what you need to know, this process is designed to progressively teach you the skills that you will need to be a good Scout and one day help teach other Scouts.  I went on, You see, here is says to Demonstrate how a compass works and how to orient a map. Explain what map symbols mean.  Did you bring a map and compass with you?  I’m sorry, but for tonight’s meeting I didn’t bring that stuff.  Frustrated, the Scout says No… but don’t you remember that hike that we did last year when we had the map out?  I know how to use it, can’t you just sign it?  No, I am afraid we need to sit down with the map and compass and work this out.  It’s not me being hard, it’s the standard.
Long ago I learned that most things in life can be broken down to three things.  Tasks, Conditions, and Standards.
There is a task to do like demonstrate how to orient a map and compass.  The conditions are that you have a map and a compass and you use them to determine your orientation.  And that standard is that once the task is complete, the map is oriented correctly.  And so it goes with pretty much everything, at least in Scouting in the area of advancement.  The Scout is given the task, the conditions are set, and there is one standard.  The standard is always to do the task correctly.  I always tell my Scouts that there is only one way to do things right and that is the right way.  This can be applied to everything in Scouting and in life.
When the Scout handbook asks the Scout to Demonstrate, he needs to demonstrate.  If it tells him to Show, then he shows, and if the handbooks instructs the Scout to discuss, well, that is exactly what it means.  These are the Tasks, the Conditions, and the Standards.  It is not rocket science, it’s just keeping the standards set.  It is the right way.
So why do I feel the need to share this?  Simple. I believe that we owe to our Scouts to make sure the standards are kept.  We owe it to the Eagle Scouts and Scoutmasters that came before us.  We always hear about “the good old days”  You know, how tough it was when we did it… well, it wasn’t that tough… there are standards that were upheld.  And we need to keep those standards.  It’s simple, it’s not rocket science.
So when the book tells you to do something… just do it, it’s the right way.  It’s the standard.
When a Scout needs a conference, give it to him.  Don’t be hard, just follow the task, conditions, and standard.  The Scout will benefit and so will the troop.  It is fair and consistent and the way Scouting has always done it, why?  Because it is the right way.
Demonstrate the standard.  Show the standard.  And Discuss the standard.  It’s the right way.

Have a Great Scouting Day!