Patrol Method

Ask you shall receive…

sm_conf-2Guided Discovery is the process of asking questions to achieve a learning objective.  The Senior Patrol Leader comes to you and says that Tommy Tenderfoot has a leaking tent.  You being a good Scoutmaster immediately takes action and checks out the tent.  Finding the leak you move the gear and find an extra tarp and place it over the tent. problem solved.  Nothing learned.
The learning objective has been left for another rainy day.
On the other hand when the Senior Patrol leader informs you of Tommy Tenderfoots dilemma the first thing to think is ask questions.  This is not to prolong the agony or make the Scout feel bad, it is all about teaching and coaching and Guided Discovery.
Why do you think the tent is leaking?  Where is it leaking?  How do you think it can be fixed?  Is Tommy going to be ok?  What can you do to make the situation better?
Again, not to remove responsibility of the adult leadership, but teaching leadership and responsibility to the youth leaders.  Leading questions allow the Scouts to find solutions and realize that they do have the answers.. they just need to find them.
Of course if there is an emergency, you can do the question session as a reflection after the situation is resolved.  But 9 times out of 10, a rain soaked tent is not an emergency and is, like most of the situations our Scouts find themselves in, a great opportunity to discover and achieve some learning objectives.
Learning objectives are important in the Guided Discovery process.  Like vision, if you have no objectives then you are wandering through the activity.  In this game with a purpose, every activity or event should have some opportunity to learn or develop.  Express the learning objective within the Patrol Leaders Council so that they are aware of what it is that they are trying to accomplish.  This will help the youth leader when the Leading questions start coming at them.  It should get them in the mode of finding solutions and not looking for blame or excuses.
This can be a long and frustrating process.  Play it all the way through.  The reward will come in the end when you ask and then receive a look of satisfaction that the Scout has learned.

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!

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!

Troop Leadership Corps

tlcpatchFrom 1972 to 1989 the Boy Scouts of America had a program called the Troop Leadership Corps.  This program was designed for Scouts 14-16 to serve their Troop in leadership roles.  They were not a member of a Patrol within the Troop, but held direct leadership within the Troop.  They served as guides for new Scout Patrols, they served in traditional leadership roles and they were charged with being skills instructors and role models to the Troop.
In 1989, this program was replaced with the Venture Patrol within traditional Troops.  At this point the older Scouts now became a patrol and Troop positions of leadership were created to fill the void.  The Instructor and Troop Guide Positions were created and added to the leadership roll of offices.
Since 1989 many Troops however have held on the Troop Leadership Corps (TLC) as a foundation of leadership in the Troop.  It is also a great way to maintain older Scouts keeping them active in the Troop and engaged with the younger Scouts.
Our Troop is now among them.  We are rebuilding the Troop Leadership Corp, with our own spin on it.  during the heyday of the TLC the Scouts that made up the Corps left their patrols and entered the group of leaders to form a patrol.  In our situation the Scouts will remain a part of their Patrol.  The TLC will be made up of those Scouts that demonstrate leadership and leadership potential.  They will be Scouts that buy into our leadership philosophy and are willing to step up and lead.
This is an incentive program.  The Scouts that choose to belong to the Troop Leadership Corps will have high adventure opportunities and time set aside for them to be teenagers.  We have a group of Scouts that are taking the lead on this.  They are motivated and willing to lead.  They all believe in our core values and leadership philosophy and want to see the Troop become more successful.
We are doing this to keep the older Scouts engaged and maintain them longer as members of the Troop.
Here are the 5 leadership principles (philosophy) that we maintain in the Troop.  It is these 5 principles that the Troop Leadership Corp will center their leadership on.  It is these 5 principles that they will use to teach and coach the troop to success.
1.  Never Stop Learning, Be a life Long learner.
2.  Focus on the Little things.  Focusing on the little things make the big things happen.
3.  Model Expected Behavior.
4.  Communicate Effectively.
5.  Be a Servant Leader.
When we do these 5 things the Troop works like a well oiled machine.  Leadership is not a chore, and everyone finds success.
So we are bringing back the Troop Leadership Corps.  We will report back on how it is going.
Does your Troop use the Troop Leadership Corp model?  How is that going for you?
Have a Great Scouting Day!

13 year old Eagle.

From the Facebook page of Steve Harvey

I thought I would let it simmer for a bit before I weighed in.. and now I just can’t keep my blog silent on this.
So, at a risk of pissing a bunch of folks off.. here it goes.
By now, if you are an active Scouter, you are aware of the young man named James Hightower III.  He was presented his Eagle award on the Steve Harvey show.
This ambitious Scout earned his Eagle award at age 12.  (he is now 13) He earned 61 merit badges, the last of which, the ever so tough Fingerprinting on the Steve Harvey show.
He is a member of the Order of the Arrow and appears to rank among the young genius’ of our time.  Band, Leadership in his Church, etc etc.
OK.. you all know that I am one that believes in maintain standards.  First, there is no age limit other than 18 for earning the rank of Eagle Scout, I get that.. but let’s do the math.
He crosses over at a minimum of 10 1/2 years old.  Earned his Eagle rank at 12.  From First Class to Star the Scout must be active with his Troop for at least 4 months.  During that 4 months, he needs to serve as a leader for that time period.  Then from Star to Life, the Scout needs to serve as an active member of his Troop for 6 months.  During that time, he needs to serve in a leadership position and do service.   We are up to at least 10 months… not to mention the 30 days it takes to earn Tenderfoot and at least a few months to get to First Class.  Since joining, he would have participated in 10 separate troop/patrol activities (other than troop/patrol meetings), three of which included camping overnight.  In most Troops that would represent at least 3 months.  So the simple math is 14 months.  He is now 11 1/2 or 12 depending on when his birthday is.
Then he must serve for another 6 months as a Life Scout to earn Eagle.  We are now 20 months into this young mans Scouting life.
20 months.
Some one please tell me.  Has he really practiced real leadership?  How much leading has he done?  Was he the Librarian and Historian for his leadership?  I know they count, but really.. we are talking about an Eagle Scout here.
Yes I know that this wunderkind is active in many areas of his life.  Which begs the question.  When did his have all this time to lead, earn merit badges, rank, perform service projects etc?  Band, Church, Junior National Honor Society, active in the Order of the Arrow, Top Teens Program… 20 months as a Scout.  Just think about the Scouts in your Troop.
OK.. 20 months… Most Troops camp 11 times a year and go to Summer camp in that 11 months.  He needs 20 nights camping for the Eagle Required  Camping Merit badge.  That’s 6 camp outs plus a 6 night summer camp.  So that’s the first year.  12 of the 20 months got the basic nights out-of-the-way.  I assume as a leader he attends most if not all camp outs.. after all, that is where leadership and the Patrol method are really practiced.
10 1/2 to 12 years old is one and a half years.  That’s 18 months.  Now we don’t know when his birthday is, but the numbers do not add up.  From a math point of view and a practical point of view.  What has this young man got out of the Eagle experience.
The article says he plans on staying in Scouting.  That’s awesome.  Maybe now he will become the Eagle that he is.
I am sorry if I seem to be bashing this young man.  I am not.  I am really bashing his Adult leadership for not ensuring that the process is producing Character, Citizenship, and Fitness.. not just Eagle Scouts.
I applaud this young man for his achievement… I don’t know how he did it… 61 merit badges alone takes time.. when did he find all that time in 18 months.  I am sure he has friends, school, and eats and sleeps on occasion.
When people see the Eagle badge, they think leadership, accomplishment, self-reliance, the ability to serve and accomplish tasks.  When I see a 12-year-old.. I think HOW?  I wish I could applaud and not question.  But I have been a Scoutmaster for a long time and just can not see how this works.
For me, it takes away from every person that has earned the award and has come through Scouting with Knowledge, experience, and the ability to lead as a servant.
Again, I am sorry if I question this young mans achievement.  I just can’t see how this math works, which makes me believe that those standards are being manipulated some how.  And that my friends, I can not tolerate.  I never hold back a Scout, but I do make sure that he does it right.  I make sure that he is completing the requirements without short cuts.  I do not add to or take away any requirements and produce no false road blocks.  As a Scoutmaster, I just make sure that the experience is more important than the badge.
Congratulations?

Have a Great Scouting Day! 

 

Training, Nature or Nurture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day I posted my thoughts on training.  I received some great feedback and feel that I need to address a couple of the comments, specifically a question that came up about the leaders themselves in the unit and how our attitude toward training is part of the reason we have great trained leaders.
Bob asked, “I’m curious as to whether you find that this “going the extra mile” is primarily something that a leader brings to the unit (nature), something that the unit brings to the leader (nurture), or some combination of the two.  Or, to put the question another way, do you find that the adults that volunteer for leadership positions already have that “going the extra mile” mentality, or that the culture of the unit inspires a new (or existing) leader to go that extra mile?”
Thanks Bob the answers is simple.  All of the above.
I believe that it is a bit of both Nature and Nurture.  First, I think that our unit has built a culture of trained leaders and an expectation that leaders are trained.  We ask a lot of our adult volunteers.  It is the nature of the unit that we expect the adult to be willing to “go that extra mile”.  Because it is a cultural thing or part of the nature of our unit, the volunteer knows what he or she is stepping in to.  It is not a surprise when they ask that they will be given a list of training courses, materials, and expectations of what training in our unit looks like.  If an adult leader expects to do the minimum, they are quickly encouraged to participate in some position other than that of a direct contact leader.
The culture of the unit dictates that in order to deliver the  very best program to our youth, keeping them safe, and instructing them properly we need to do better than the training that is provided by the Boy Scouts of America.
We agree that the training provided by the BSA is designed for the common denominator and not adequate for high adventure, advanced leadership, and activities that take you more than an hour away from a car.  This is all well and good, but in our opinion we need to do more.  Maxing the minimum is not good enough.
We ask of the Scout to “Do his Best”… so should we.
We also Nurture our adult leaders to want to be “Over Trained”.  Again, this is part of the culture of the unit.  Firm expectations of the training that allows our unit to function at a higher level.  When a parent asks to become a part of the adult leadership of the unit, the parent is invited to participate fully.  But training comes first.  Before an Assistant Scoutmaster for example can function as such, he must complete all of the BSA required training.  He needs to seek advanced first aid training to include CPR/AED.  We ask them to attend Wood Badge.  We take the time to instruct them on being a mentor, teacher, and coach to our Scouts.  We remind them that we do not lead, we assist.  There are not patches in the Boy Scout program for adults that say the word “Leader”.
This nurturing and development of the new adult volunteer leads them toward advanced training.
What this does for the unit is simple.  It opens doors.  We need not rely on any outside instruction or guides for our activities.  If we want to climb, we have certified climbing instructors to facilitate that activity.  Water craft, backpacking, shooting, Orienteering, Pioneering, First Aid, and more are all on the table because of the adult cadre of volunteers that have become the culture of the unit.  We also find that the adults stay active, even when the Scout has moved on.  This level of commitment has kept our knowledge base growing and stable.  The culture of the unit dictates that we do it all for the Scouts and we go the extra mile to make sure they have the very best Scouting experience.
So it is both Nature and Nurture.  It is a culture that expects the adult to set the example by giving more.  Being a model of the expected behavior of a servant leader.  One that reinforces our 5 Leadership principles in the Troop.
Leading ourselves, Focusing on the small stuff, Being the model of expected behavior, Communicating effectively, and being a Servant Leader.
Once that culture is developed and has a strong by in, the unit will flourish with trained leaders.
Allan and Alex, I hope that answer addressed your questions also.
If you have more questions, comments of concerns, please feel free to drop me a note.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

In the Trenches

trenchesI have been giving this some thought lately, especially since becoming our Boy Scout Round table Commissioner.  But Scouting is in the trenches.  To use an overused cliché.
What I mean by that is this.  Far to many units and unit leaders rely on the District and Council to make their program happen.  I do not have a beef with our District or our Council, but it is fair to say that if I received nothing from them our Troop would still be fine.
Now, I understand that we need the Council and District, more so the Council to support Scouting in the area.  We need the Council to maintain our wonderful camps and provide administrative services to us, but beyond that I don’t need the District or Council to provide my annual plan.
In a recent discussion I had with a couple Scouters that are knee-deep in the membership world of our Council and District we talked about why membership is dropping and why we (the Council and District) can not seem to build more Packs.  Yes, I was talking Cub Scout stuff.
I dawned on me that the Council will never be able to build new Packs till they put their money where their mouth is and get into the trenches with.. yes… with local units.  Scouting is in the trenches, in the community, not on a white board in an office.
We do not necessarily need more Packs, we need more strong Packs that can recruit.  That will bring more Packs and more Scouts.
Now, on the other hand, there are unit leaders that are willing to just wait around for the District and Council to make that happen.  They are satisfied waiting for Camporee or Webelos Woods to be their program.  They are content with the idea that the Council will provide Merit Badge weekends or Fairs so their Scouts can put more on their sash.  They are happy with the idea that Summer camp is a cookie cutter event and they never need to think out side of the box, but then wonder why their Scouts are bored and are leaving in droves.
Scouting is in the trenches, in the units.  This is not an indictment on the Council or District.  I am just saying that Units and Unit leaders need to know that Scouting is right where they are… not downtown at the Council office.  Scouting is supposed to happen in the community, not from the Scout Executives office.  Scouting is in the woods, youth led, and sustains itself through programs that are planned and executed at the Unit level.
Resources, administrative support, and fund-raising happens from above.  We just do Scouting!
That is how Scouting will grow and prosper.  Waiting on the Council or District is a bad practice and a sure-fire way to kill a unit.
In a world where membership numbers matter, this is where the rubber meets the road and Scouting Happens… In the trenches.  On Monday nights at Troop meetings, in the living rooms of Den Leaders, at Pizza Parlors with Crew Presidents.  Scouting happens in the trenches.
Don’t wait on the Council.  Get out there and do Scouting where it matters.
Have a Great Scouting Day!