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  • rebuilding a troop

    Through various responses to posts over the last couple of years, I've hinted at and danced around fully describing a situation -- when my older son joined a troop, it became really clear, very quickly, that the troop was in need of assistance. It was an adult-led, advancement-oriented troop with only passing mention of patrol method (the SM said "we're working on that", but it was getting no closer as the months went on). After awhile, it became pretty clear that he was the dominant player (the troop committee wouldn't do anything without his approval) and that he was content at being the World's Oldest Senior Patrol Leader. Patrols were non-functional, and most PoRs were do-nothing jobs. Scouts who didn't even show up to meetings were given credit for fulfilling PoRs, just because they had a title.

    Two things stuck out to me: the first was that the only reason why Scouts were going to summer camp was for merit badges. They'd go one or two summers with the troop, and then go one or two summers to "Eagle Week" (provisional troops, focus on Eagle-required merit badges) and then after that, they would be done with summer camp. They'd forgotten how to have fun at summer camp. There was no need to go to summer camp, because summer camp was about getting merit badges and if you already had enough, why bother going?

    The second was that outings were haphazard. They might get cancelled at the last minute from lack of participation, no details would come out until the week before, and most Scouts and families would not commit to attending, because they were unsure if an outing would happen or not. My older son's first year in the troop -- there were exactly six nights of camping, in addition to five nights at summer camp. That was it. There didn't seem to be any call for more camping, because most Scouts in the troop didn't need to, for advancement reasons.

    Most advice that I read (on this forum, Ask Andy, and other places) said that it wouldn't be worth the effort to try and fix it. I guess I'm hard-headed enough to think that I could help change it.

    As I've always said, I couldn't do it alone -- another WDL/crossover dad, an Eagle Scout (and he's on this forum) thought the same thing, and we were able to team up and facilitate changes. It also helped that the "old guard" were ready to cede control of the troop, as their sons got closer and closer to Eagle. By the way, this WDL/crossover dad is our new SM, and I am now the CC of the troop.

    Of course, it wasn't easy to do, and there were issues along the way. One of them I summarize this way: it is near-impossible to improve standards in a troop without actually improving standards. I say this because there were some dads that took exception to their sons being delayed advancement until they actually put some effort into a PoR. One of them started shouting at a committee meeting, because he felt his son was being singled out. Wasn't really true -- it's just that his son was the first case (BoR) coming up after all older Scouts had been told at their prior BoRs that they'd had their free pass and that they'd be expected to actually function in a PoR.

    So, in no particular order, here are some of the steps we took in order to rebuild the troop:

    - set an outing schedule, and stuck to it -- a fixed weekend every month, no cancellations

    - we prevented a couple of older Scouts from running for SPL, because we knew that they wouldn't be participating -- they were part of the "old guard" that looked for credit when doing nothing; that left us with one viable candidate who we knew could be coached into running things properly

    - rebuilt the PLC, and gave them actual responsibility for planning the annual schedule and planning monthly outings; we let them fail (case in point: one Scout, responsible for planning an outing, just looked up a campground online; he didn't read the fine print or call; when the troop arrived after dark on a Friday evening, they found that the campground was closed for the winter; all ended up well when another nearby campground was actually open -- in another case, our PLC set a June outing for camping on a Boston Harbor Island, but I knew from reading the fine print online that it wouldn't be open as early as our normal outing weekend; when they finally got around to figuring that out, they attempted to move to a later weekend, only to find that it was already booked).

    - we set expectations that our PLs would actually attempt to function as PLs during their tenure, and we held them to it at BoR time; at least two were delayed advancement, and extra effort was put into coaching them

    - we set up weekend PL training, and we said it was mandatory to attend (or to attend a PL training session at the annual University of Scouting) if they wanted to hold an SPL/PL PoR. That was how we prevented the two older Scouts from running for SPL.

    - at the weekend PL training session (and credit given to Kudu, Bryan Spellman and Bill Nelson for their resources for setting up this training), we did back to the basics. We didn't stick solely with the base TLT or JLT materials, but we went all the way back to "how to" sessions: how to plan a troop meeting, how to plan an outing, how to set up an annual program calendar, etc.

    - we sent two Scouts to Brownsea 22 training (this isn't NYLT -- this is the old "All Out For Scouting" era curriculum that our council still uses); we sent another this year, and hope to send at least two every year from here on out.

    - we started attending a patrol-oriented summer camp (we're lucky in that it is nearby); the first year, only six Scouts attended (others didn't go because they couldn't get piles of merit badges), the second year, eight attended. This last month, 15 attended. We're on a good path. During the same time period, fewer of our Scouts have attended the local council's "Eagle Week". I would just like that program to die.

    - one of my tasks has been to concentrate on talking to prospective troop parents and to new troop parents, with many of the ideas I've gleaned from this forum. I try and be extra clear what our goals are (this last year, I started specifically saying "it isn't our job to turn your son into an Eagle Scout; it is our job to put together an active and vibrant program where advancement happens naturally, and your son can turn himself into an Eagle Scout"). I'd been getting too many parent questions like "how soon can my son become an Eagle Scout?".

    We still have plenty of progress to make in terms of instituting patrol method and rebuilding patrol functionality. Part of this has to do with an old car-camping culture in the troop. Most outings are at campgrounds where everyone is bunched together. We were at a summer camp in Quebec just a couple of weeks ago, with mixed age patrols, cooking on their own. I noticed that with a common fire ring, we still have older Scouts gravitating towards older Scouts, and younger ones gravitating towards younger ones. We really do need to get them spread apart. That means we need to find some new camping spots.

    By the way -- the collateral effects of rebuilding the troop? A couple of years ago, we were 24 Scouts and dropping. I personally thought the troop was doomed, that once our older Scouts aged out (this year and next) that we'd be down to 8 or so, and that we'd really be fighting. Part of that is because of a "super troop" in town that is now up to 65+ Scouts. They do really well at recruiting. But a strange thing happened -- once we started building an active program, with good future plans (for example, we're looking at a 5-year high adventure plan), our recruiting has picked up. As of today, I think we're at 39 Scouts (and we're kind of at our equipment limits at the moment). Outings have gone from 6 to 8 participating, to 24 or so on every outing.

    As others have mentioned, communication with parents is the key. I still get calls asking "what does Fred need to bring to this outing?". This last spring, at the new parent's meeting, I said, "every time you call me with a question, you are depriving a patrol leader a chance to practice his communications skills." :-)


  • #2
    Congratulations on your achievements!


    • #3
      If you build it, they will come.

      This is a great example of how the vision of the adults leads to a successful program.

      It takes time to shift away from the program of the old guard, but it can be done. Sounds like you approached it well. Congratulations.


      • #4
        nice job!


        • #5
          EXCELLENT article here!! Our troop is going through a reformation of it's own right now, with pains. New SM, brand new, just out of woodbadge and new scout son. But he knows what he wants to do with and for the troop. The Scouts are with him and the parents totally against. They do not camp, he will get them camping. Numbers are dwindling down dnagerously at 15, but he plans on bringing in at least ten next spring, from where, don't know, but he will try.

          It gives me hope that our new SM can turn things around and make our troop viable once again. Lots of internal woes, the parents want the control and SM wants the boys to have the reigns, within reason of course.

          Thanks for the great article. You made my day.


          • #6
            Thanks, everyone -- I appreciate it.

            I just thought of one of the negative aspects that has been going on. Service projects. In my mind, I think there are three cornerstones to an active program: (monthly) outdoor activities, service projects and conservation projects.

            We do schedule about six service projects a year, but participation is limited. Sometimes 4 to 6 Scouts, on rare occasion, we'll get as many as 12. Part of that was the "old guard", who kept billing them as "get your service hours in" for each project. Well, with that kind of mindset, no wonder attendance was so sparse.

            We've decided to scrap a couple of the projects -- not because they aren't worthy (my family, for example, will probably still volunteer at them) but because attendance was just down to the same sets of people, year after year.

            We did have seven or so Eagle projects this last year (in addition to the six scheduled service projects), and two more Eagle projects this summer, with one or two more to start up this fall. I suppose it could be argued that the Eagle projects were draining "labor", but I don't really think that was true. They would typically get about 4 to 6 Scouts volunteering, depending upon the project leader's popularity. Interesting note -- we did have a couple of Eagle candidates that found it difficult to get volunteers from within the troop. They didn't really put it together that since they hadn't been all that active, none of the younger Scouts really didn't know them, and didn't volunteer for their projects. Older Scouts, some who were already Eagles, have kind of moved on. Funny how that works, huh? :-)

            By the way -- another side note. When I first joined the troop committee, and noticed the issues, I didn't just jump in and start suggesting changes. In fact, I first volunteered to be membership chair. It just seemed natural to put together a membership plan. I started out by making a list of every single aspect I could think of that would somehow affect or improve membership growth. The list included many things like improving our image with the C.O. (and getting publicity in the C.O. newsletter), improving visibility in the community (service projects) and improving communication with our "feeder pack" and other Cub Scout packs in town. It was just a couple of pages, and I couldn't institute all of the changes myself, and not all of them have been instituted yet. But at least there was a plan. Some of the activities in the plan (prospective parents' meeting, an overnight with the Webelos Den, etc) are still very important for us.



            • #7
              It sounds like you have the same up and downs that we have with projects. The more you have the more spread thin you are. My rule is that if there isn't a youth to head up the project, we won't do it. That's not as tough as it sounds. Usually all we need is a youth willing to talk up he project at meetings.

              Also, linking projects with an overnight opportunity helps boost numbers.


              • #8
                Thanks qwazse -- that makes a lot of sense.



                • #9
                  >>My rule is that if there isn't a youth to head up the project, we won't do it. That's not as tough as it sounds. Usually all we need is a youth willing to talk up he project at meetings.


                  • #10
                    Nice work ... only comment is don't use the BOR to evaluate the POR. BORs should not be a surprise. If the scout is not performing, remove them from the position. Otherwise, it's pretty much credit for time served.

                    I know others will argue. I can only reflect what BSA wrote. BSA also addresses this specific case in an video posted by their national advancement team.


                    • #11
                      Fred -- I understand your point. There is a whole story that goes along with the point I was trying to make. It started with telling youth, at their Boards, that they were done getting freebies, and that they'd be expected to actually fulfill a PoR to earn the next rank. Went through pretty much a whole cycle of Star and Life Scouts with that (the ones who were advancing).

                      The next touchpoint was a statement at a committee meeting. The advancement chair made the statement that we'd pretty much gone through the cycle of those advancing and that we were approaching the first candidate who was coming up for a board. So at this point, a Board had not been withheld, or no surprise had been sprung on a Scout at a Board. It was more of a question of here is the situation we are facing. What happened is that we had a very irate dad shouting at us, upset that his son was being singled out.

                      Turns out that his level of upset was because of a misunderstanding by him. We were only doing Courts of Honor two or three times a year, and he thought that if his son had missed a Board at the next meeting, then he wouldn't be able to become Life before the next Court the following year, and that he'd still be on track to earn Eagle prior to turning 18. The situation was cleared up a week later, with an explanation and a troop policy change. The explanation was that ranks are earned as of the Board (not the Court), and the policy change was to award the physical badge right after the Board (then recognition is received at the next Court, whenever that is). That's what we do now -- I chair our Boards, and I let the SM know immediately after that the Board is done, and then at the close of the same meeting, the badge is awarded. All problems disappeared.

                      We had a stickier situation though -- let me describe it. We had a Scout that earned Life in April '09. He had one of the do-nothing PoRs at the time. His next outing was August '09. We saw him exactly twice in the next two years (up to August '11), when he was meeting MB counselors at our troop meeting. Last August he sent me a question, via email, which led me to believe that he was starting to fill out an Eagle application. I suggested that he needed to contact the Advancement Chair about this, because we didn't have any record of him being around the troop, or having fulfilled a PoR in the time since April '09. He responded to me (not the Advancement Chair) that the prior SPL (who had pretty much been a no-show himself from September '09 onward) had signed off a PoR in his handbook, therefore he felt that he had completed one. I repeated my suggestion that he contact the Advancement Chair, and told him that we would want the details of the PoR that he had allegedly fulfilled.

                      The email trail exploded from that point. It started with the Scout sending email to the Advancement Chair that he'd like to meet and reconcile the troop records with what was signed off in his handbook. The Advancement Chair is pretty much a direct guy, and responded with a note that listed everything that the Scout had not finished yet, for Eagle. I was CC'd on it, along with the dad, and the Committee Chair. Dad exploded. Lots of stuff happened, including contacting another troop, looking to transfer.

                      The Scout came back to us, after he learned that the other troop was going to expect him to fulfill a PoR there too, and participate in outings (that troop has an actual attendance standard, which we don't have). A compromise deal was worked out, where he would finish his remaining merit badges, work on the project (he had very little troop help, since very few of our Scouts knew him), fulfill a minor PoR (troop historian) and attend at least 3 outings (if you don't recall, his only outing, as a Life Scout, was August '09 -- we pretty much did not see him again until September '11).

                      We have seen the time slip away in the last year. Minimal effort on the PoR, but at least it was effort. One outing -- he came on a day hike. He's finished all badges and his project. He contacted us last week, looking for a SM conference. The SM (who was the Advancement Chair a year ago) reminded him of the 3 outings. The Scout responded, via email, "can we work out a compromise?" The SM responded "I thought 3 outings was the compromise?" and they made plans to meet tonight. By the way, I'm the CC now.

                      At this point, I don't think we're really talking about active/ is more of a question that he made an agreement to attend at least 3 outings, a year ago (and we've had about 15 outings since then), and he's only attended one.

                      Overall, I'm disappointed in the position we are in. But I don't think this is the committee -- I think we've run into an Eagle candidate that is pretty much offering bare minimum effort. The SM and I talked about it last week -- his inclination is to hold the Scout to the two more outings that he originally agreed to, and then if the Scout wants to approach the appeal with National, he is free to do so.



                      • #12


                        • #13
                          >>The SM and I talked about it last week -- his inclination is to hold the Scout to the two more outings that he originally agreed to, and then if the Scout wants to approach the appeal with National, he is free to do so.


                          • #14
                            Barry, we met with the Scout last night.

                            Here is what the justification hinges upon: the present Guide To Advancement has added further clarification to the question of whether or not a Scout is considered active. It says that a troop, in fact, can set a "reasonable expectation" of participation.

                            [side note: the Scout came to the meeting with a hardcopy provided by an old family friend, who used to be on the district advancement committee -- the hardcopy was based on the prior clarification of "active", the one that was derided in this forum and others as being "active = registered". I cooled that debate by saying that the newest Guide to Advancement has further clarified the question.]

                            So even though the concept of reasonable expectation is nebulous, and the troop does not have any sort of attendance metric in place, I am pointing back to this: when the Scout returned to the troop after the extended layoff, he talked with the SM and they agreed upon a couple of things. One was that we would clear a PoR for him (troop historian) and that we had certain minimal goals for him to accomplish, that he would be seen at meetings, and that he would attend at least 3 outings.

                            So rather than debate whether those are reasonable expectations or not, I would prefer to think of it that both parties felt this was a compromise solution, and they both agreed to it at the time. That, to me, kind of says that it was a reasonable expectation.

                            Since that agreement, I think a little over six months ago, our troop has had 9 outings. Offhand, I don't know if the one day hike he did go on was included in those 9 outings.

                            The Scout's position is that he puts family and school before Scouts, and that he had conflicts. He says that he was planning on attending one outing that was cancelled (I don't know if this was included in the 9 or not, but we had planned an overnight with our Cub Scout pack, all of whom dropped out at the last minute after a forecast of severe weather). One of our weekend hiking trips, this Scout was hiking with his family, in another part of the same range of mountains. One of our two weeks at summer camp, he was traveling with his family. That still leaves at least six outings. He has only been missing two promised outings (one of which he could have done this last weekend, unless I'm mistaken).

                            The SM has an interesting viewpoint -- so let me turn this around as a question -- say you have a Life Scout that has attended one overnight in the three prior years to filling out his Eagle application. Would you sign?

                            -- by the way, I'm not really trying to debate here -- I'm really interested in hearing how others would approach this --



                            • #15
                              If I had a Scout who hadn't been participating on a reasonably regular basis, I wouldn't sign off on the requirement.

                              If the Scout wants to appeal and someone else approves it, so be it.

                              I might award him his Eagle badge at a regular Court of Honor, between the Tenderfoot and 2nd Class awards.

                              I'm not very impressed with Eagle Scout candidates whose motivation seems limited to finding the limits on how little they can do.