Have you as a Scoutmaster ever asked your PLC for reports from the patrol leaders only to be met with silence or hesitant thoughts? If the patrol leaders had effective meetings with their patrols, why do they have nothing to share?
I would suggest part of the problem is that scouts believe that ideas at PLC’s need to be delivered in a manner similar to school. They might believe that they should remain silent unless they have a perfect answer. If they are asked to brainstorm, they may believe that they need to start from scratch. They may not have had the concept of serving as a representative from the patrol to the PLC clearly enough or frequently enough repeated to have it fresh in mind at key times.
All of these problems are a philosophical problem. These all need teaching to overcome. An active Scoutmaster sitting in a PLC should encourage his Senior Patrol Leader to use this silence as an opportunity to educate on the philosophy of the PLC. Something like a 30-second reminder would be ideal.
But these patrol leaders often don’t have a philosophical misunderstanding. They just took terrible notes or more typically no notes on the topic at hand. The topic may have been thoroughly debated by the patrol. The patrol leader may struggle to put the range of debate succinctly before the PLC.
Clarke Green of ScoutmasterCG.com has a solution to this problem. He recommends that a Patrol Log Book be maintained. The log book is more than the Patrol Scribe’s Minutes Book. It is a chance for scouts to write their own “roses, thorns, or bud.” The Log Book is passed around the patrol meeting. Each scout is encouraged to offer his own rose, thorn, or bud. He then writes it down in his own words in a short sentence or phrase. Now the Patrol Leader has a series of notes from his patrol to carry into the PLC.
Look at Clarke’s website for a sample PDF to download.
Personally, I prefer the new Scout Leader Guidebook’s vocabulary of “Stop, Start, Continue.” Both methods encourage scouts to look at good, bad, and new ideas. Stop, Start, Continue puts an emphasis on actions and moves away from debates about current status of persons, places, or events.
Whatever your preferred vocabulary, encouraging each scout to speak his voice in the patrol meeting and having a sense that his voice is being accurately represented to the PLC is a powerful method of teaching citizenship and active participation.
Many scoutmasters do not enjoy the start of a new Senior Patrol Leader’s term of office. The new youth leader has a lot to learn. The scoutmaster has to spend time teaching him the ropes, which may feel annoying, since the last SPL had gotten it all figured out. He had not required so much of the scoutmaster’s time as the new guy does.
Sometimes it is is useful to find an ally in getting the new SPL.
Clarke Greene recently posted a podcast about advice to a new SPL.
Take a look at the support materials and additional resources he points out.
A phrase I hear often is apparently heard many times by other scouters, too.
Clarke Green writes, “Many Scouters claim, ‘We have a boy-led troop’ but what does that really mean? ‘Boy-led’ is not what adults do, it’s what they don’t do.”
He goes on to write,
Defining what we should not do is nowhere near as useful as sharing what weshould do, but before I do let’s address one common misconception;
Boy-led is not boy-defined.
Every once in a while I’ll hear something like; “We don’t have patrols because the Scouts decided they didn’t want them, we are boy-led after all.”
Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; “the players all decided they’s rather play this way.” Can you still call that game “basketball”?
Just like any other game Scouting has limitations and definitions. We all play the game within those definitions and limitations, the players don’t re-invent the game.
Adults should help Scouts maintain focus on fulfilling the promises of Scouting and understand the limitations and definitions of the game we are playing.
One of the commenters, Richard Andersen, adds, “I personally don’t like the term ‘boy-led,’ I prefer scout-led.”
Mr. Andersen really helps to clarify Clarke’s point extremely well. If the troop is “boy-led,” there is not inherently a strong sense of limitation of what the “boys” can do in defining the troop. On the other hand, describing the troop as “scout-led” always requires that the scouts revisit the idea of what it means to be a “scout.” Using the word “scout,” emphasizes the importance of working the system of scouting. It clarifies the difference between a scout’s choice following the Scout and what their friends would do outside without the Scout Law guiding their choices.
As modern-day scouters, we often see scouting as another extracurricular activity that a boy does.
When Baden-Powell opened the first scout encampment at Brown Sea Isle, the first thing he did was to put the boys “on their honor” to live within the scout system. For Baden-Powell this oath of honor set scouts apart from other boys.
Bobwhite Blather blog has a great article about scout troops that believe they are running a successful patrol method.
Frank questions whether this is truly an example of running a successful patrol method.
This is especially a waste of great learning opportunities when there are so many resources for improving the patrol method. Clarke Green has an entire section of his website dedicated to this one question and its philosophical reasons. He even has written a book about the process of implementing the patrol system from the scoutmaster’s perspective.
The recent Eagle Scout turned blogger Enoch Heise has a wonderful post on the real basics and purpose of the patrol. Not too many months ago (from an adult’s perspective), Enoch was an SPL. Now as newly minted adult scouter he uses his practical lessons to teach other adults.
Read more about the patrol method. Become a believer.
As Thanksgiving arrives this year, we begin considering more time with extended family and friends. Scouting tends to be put on the backshelf. Even so, Thanksgiving is a great time to think about the philosophy and lessons of scouting. (While this article is focused on boy scout troops, the same lessons of unit cohesion apply to Cub Scout Dens and Venturing Crews, too.)
The history of Thanksgiving is not often as it is represented in the media. To truly learn the lessons of Thanksgiving, we need to return to the the true story of Thanksgiving.
When the Plymouth colonists arrived and were moored alongside shore, they entered into the famed Mayflower Compact, effectively the first constitution written in North America. The Romans had previously had their Twelve Tables, the Swiss their agreement of confederation, and the Jamestown colony their royal charter. All of these were written agreement of government organization, but were all written in Europe. The Compact did not emphasize powers and duties like the US Constitution. It emphasized that all the colonists agreed to be subject to a common government as it was constituted from “time to time.” (That phrase is lawyer-speak for changes that occur every once in a while.) So they agreed to stick to the colony as the rules changed.
This agreeing to be part of the group and be subject to its changing rules is the first similarity between the Compact and a boy scout troop. While the rules for troop organization and management are far more detailed in the Senior Patrol Leader’s Handbook, the new Troop Leaders’ Guide Book (which replaced the Scoutmaster’s Handbook this year), and the Scout Handbook than the Mayflower Compact, neither these scouting handbooks nor the Compact define the daily rules of performance. Neither tells who cooks food, cleans, or organizes the day’s activities. Those are left for future decisions. Consequently, both systems leave lots of room for future lessons to be built into the future activities and organization of the band of people participating.
The Patrol [or the Den] is the character school for the individual. To the Patrol Leader it gives practice in Responsibility and in the qualities of Leadership. To the Scouts it gives subordination of self to the interests of the whole, the elements of self-denial and self-control involved in the team spirit of co-operation and good comradeship.
Lord Baden-Powell, October 1936.
Hat tip to Clarke Green.
Many of our Boy Scout troops I have elaborate systems for keeping track of records and attendance. But even bigger question is who will be attending a weekend outing.
Many trooms rely on electronic means of collecting the information. In a recent article Frank Meynard of Bobwhite Blather suggested we may need to look at this a little bit differently. Take a look at his article for a different point of view.
UPDATE 10/7/15: Retitled.
This Fall Camporee is going to be fun but very busy. It may require a special emphasis on preparing your SPL.
Does your SPL know about these items:
- The Friday night meeting at 9:00 pm.
- The new Commissioner’s Awards for patrols and SPLs.
- Encouraging older scouts such as OA and Firecrafters to be involved in managing troop events.
- The requirements of the Willy Award.
- His adult leaders’ plans to attend District Training at Camporee to better manage contingencies.
- The time and place for the Saturday SPL meeting.
- His troop’s contribution to the Saturday night campfire.
The goal of all of these events is to offer opportunities to lead while having fun. Help your SPL focus on the fun and avoid unnecessary stress. If he is prepared, it will work well.
If problems arise, at least he will have stories to tell.
We, as scouters, are all familiar with the emotional growth that scouts obtain from being involved in outdoor activities. How do you describe why it works? Often scouters struggle to explain what they have witnessed to be true. We need to be able to describe why this works if we are to be able to persuade new families to join. Let’s take a look at what types of activities promote personal emotional growth.
Ultimately, well-run scout units are boys-at-play not boys-at-school-outdoors. If that is so, may be this explains why scouting works:
Closely related to the increased pressure to achieve is the decline in play.  Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a continuous and, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom and opportunities to play with other children, undirected by adults. In other essays I have linked this decline to the well-documented rise in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents (here) and to the recently documented decline in creativity (here). Free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their own lives, solve their own problems, and deal effectively with fear and anger—and thereby protect themselves from prolonged anxiety and depression. Free play is also the primary means by which children maintain and expand upon their creative potentials. Now, I suggest, free social play—that is, play with other kids, undirected by adults–is also the primary means by which children overcome narcissism and build up their capacity for empathy.
Play, by definition, is always voluntary, and that means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All normal children have a strong biological drive to play with other children. That’s part of human child nature—an extraordinarily important part of it. In such play, every child knows that the others can quit at any time and will quit if they are not happy. Therefore, to keep the fun going, each child is motivated to keep the other children happy. To do that, children must listen to one another, read into what they are saying, and, in general, get into one another’s mind so as to know what the other wants and doesn’t want. If a child fails at that and consistently bullies others or doesn’t take their views into account, the others will quit, leaving the offending child alone. This is powerful punishment that leads the offender to try harder next time to see from others’ points of view. Thus, in their social play, children continuously practice and build upon their abilities to empathize, negotiate, and cooperate.
Moreover, children, unlike adults, are rarely effusive in their praise of one another. They have little tolerance for anyone who thinks that he or she is “special,” or is in some way above the rules, or is a natural leader who should get his or her way all the time. Playmates are often highly skilled in deflating one another’s egos, through such means as humor and insults, or through outright rejection if those means fail.
Consistent with this view, correlational studies have revealed that children who engage in more social play with other children demonstrate more empathy, and more ability to understand the perspective of others, than do children who engage in less such play. Moreover, several short-term experiments conducted in preschools have shown that when some children are provided with extra opportunities to engage in social play, those in the extra-play groups later exhibit higher performance on various measures of social perspective-taking and ability to get along with others than do those in the control groups.
Boys setting up their own terms of play provide emotional development benefits because they have an incentive to adapt. The incentive is the desire to keep others involved. They don’t seek out or give effusive praise — often quite the opposite. Yet, these unstructured opportunities provide real opportunities to foster empathy and understanding.
What lessons do we learn as scouters? In the last post, I suggested that adult-guided activities, especially in sports, have a much higher incidence of injury, requiring medical attention, including orthopedic surgeries. Now we see that emotional growth is greater where youth-led activities are allowed, including juvenile insults. The more time for unstructured interaction is allowed, the greater opportunity for growth.
While many of the points in the excerpt above focus on “free-play” for young children, the lessons for emotional growth are the same as children become teen-agers. They need time to face challenges together and have arguments where they face the risk of the other kids giving them the ultimate juvenile punishment: non-participation. If a patrol leader is overly controlling and lack in empathy, his patrol will find anything else to do than follow the patrol leader’s instructions. The patrol leader may or may not learn quickly, but he has the opportunity to learn that dictatorial methods fail.
The patrol leader who leads by example will learn to be a better leader. When the duty roster is made, the good patrol leader will give himself the least desirable job first: latrine or KP duty or the patrol’s least favorite. The patrol learns that he has more credibility when he can say, “I understand it is not fun. I did it yesterday. Come. I’ll help you figure out how to do it faster.” His patrol will get tasks done.
So what is going to give your scouts the greatest opportunity for growth? A weekend campout that appears to be completely chaotic and unstructured? A high-adventure trip led by adults and planned down to the minute?
With these tools in mind, how would you explain that the patrol system is the reason that a prospective scouting parent should have their son join Scouts?
Frank Maynard is a long-time Troop Committee Chair. He hosts a blog at BlogWhiteBlather.com. Frank focuses on running the troop and the issues that scout leaders have in working with the parents.
One of the major issues at any campout is the new scout leader who just came from Cub Scouts. He tells a story about the common experiences that happen.
In his Soul to Work blog, leadership author Scott Mabry explains this very well. He tells us that the more we hold on to our old expectations, the more anxiety results and the more frustration ensues. It’s because, as leaders, we have become accustomed to being responsible for our portion of the Scouting experience, and we feel that we have failed if things go wrong. Now certainly we can’t just stand back and let a patrol or the troop flail about aimlessly, but neither is it our responsibility to do it for them. Our job goes from providing the program for the Scouts to providing them with the tools to spin their own program. It’s helping them discover for themselves which way to go, not pointing them in the direction we think is right. We have to let go of the way we did things before, as well as the idea that our reputation is staked on whether we have a snappy troop.
What Cub Scout leaders need to know is that, as leaders of Cubs, they are responsible for putting boys in tents, in the outdoors, and in other experiences that are hands-on experiences. Their job is to assist the Cubs with discovering themselves and their world. Cubs need to know themselves and some basics about the world before they can learn the next step. The Cub leader is the teacher, babysitter, and cat-herder.