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I'm spinning this off because I think it warrants a separate discussion.


Any reader of this forum, or "Ask Andy" (BTW, does Andy read and contribute to this forum?) knows that one hot topic is the Board of Review being treated as an exam.


My son joined a troop a few months ago, and I've joined as a committee member as well. The SM is an Eagle, but I think the rest of the troop committee and ASMs are relatively inexperienced. We have monthly boards, for whomever is ready for rank advancement. I've sat in on four or five so far, mostly second class and first class, and one Star board.


The SM explained to my son, for his Tenderfoot board, that "it's like a test." And it is. This board grills fairly well, and isn't afraid to "fail" a scout until the next month, and the scout is given pretty direct feedback ("you need to work on ---"). In fact, the Star board that I sat in on was such a re-test, and in particular, this scout could not properly tie a bowline during his first board. For the re-test, he said that he was ready, but in fact he was quite nervous, and was failing miserably with knots. He kept tying and asking "is this right?". He still struggled with the bowline (he was handling both ends of the rope, and I finally asked "may I assist?" and held one end of the rope to try and re-focus him), but ultimately he was passed.


The CC and ASMs usually sit on the boards, never the SM, and in one case a scout (a recent Eagle) sat in on a board. Questioning on all ranks covers the ranks earned to date. So, the bowline is considered open season at a Star board, for example.


So, here's the issue...this all makes me very uncomfortable. I don't like the policy and the implementation. But I'm new, and I'm sensitive to the fact that I shouldn't go in and try and change any aspect of the troop culture. When possible, I've jumped in with what I consider to be positive questions, not exam questions.


On the other hand, I see scouts that do horribly with these exams, and in lots of cases, these scout skill questions are really stumping them. I'm not so sure they are learning these things properly.


As a side note, the SM admits that the patrol method in this troop is weak, and that they are trying to change. On the other hand, weekend outings have been, roughly speaking, six dads and six scouts (even though the troop has about 20 scouts total). Definitely a father-son type method.


Does anyone have any experience with re-orienting a troop that follows this path?

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Is it the same 6 dads/scouts on a lot of the camp outs?


If yes, and if you can (gently) get them to buy into re-orienting themselves, then you have a positive core of folks to work with. Buy your SM and CC a friendly cup of coffee (or whatever) and chat about what you are seeing. Ask for them to help you understand where things are at, what their plans for the troop are, and what you can realistically do to help them move the group back toward "true north."


On the other hand, if those 6 dads who go on most of the outings don't want to change and like things just fine the way they are, if they acknowledge that they do things differently because they "know" their way works "better" than the BSA methods, then forget it, they won't change. Then the question becomes, just how far out of bounds are they? Is it that they go camping with the boys because hey, camping is fun, but they more or less leave the boys alone once they get there? Or is it that they are hovering over the kids every minute, pitching their tents, cooking their meals, telling them when to stand and sit, etc.? The first is easier to manage than the second scenario.


In the latter case you need to decide whether you can stick it out until/unless the family camping club moves on because you aren't going to change them. (You know the joke about teaching pigs to fly? a waste of your time and just annoys the pig?) And also whether your son is happy with the troop, and whether there is a core of newer guys who are willing to do things differently. 20 scouts isn't that many so the addition of even a few new folks with a common set of expectations can change the group dynamic fairly rapidly. But barring that, it may be that you find yourself pulling back a bit if your son is happy where he is but you are not.



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As an assistant Scoutmaster you have no authority to make changes except through the example of your own behavior. Does the scoutmaster attend Roundtable. If so you can ask the Roundtable commissioner to do some training on the proper way to do boards of review.


Has the committee been trained? It would not seem likely considering their bor procedures. One thing you could do is offer to arrange for them to take the Troop Committee Challenge training together. Let the trainer know of the problem with the boards so that it can be emphasized during that portion of the training.


You say the troop does not use the patrol method very well. You could look for opportunities to counsel the Scoutmaster or Spl on ways to do things as patrols rather than as a troop. Be consistent in your use and support of the proper BSA Methods and procedures and over time some of it is likely to be absorbed.


Hopefully as an assistant Scoutmaster you have been given specific responsibilities such s ASM as ASM for New Scout Patrols, or ASM for the Venture Patrol, or perhaps you mentor an ASPL? What have you done in your specific role to use the Methods of Scouting?


Your personal example is the best tool you have to change others.



(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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Sounds to me like they could use some training. THE BSA website has an on-line modules on BORs. You can download a .pdf version for them to use at:



Beyond that, by BSA policy, when a Scout "fails" a board of review, the reasons must be provided to him in writing. Also, the appeal process must be explained to him. The board needs to be reminded that this is part of their duties. In the case of the Star Scout, his denial the first time would have been overturned in a heartbeat at the district level, since tieing a bowline is not a requirement for Star.


While I know a BOR is not supposed to be an exam, I am not adverse to asking a few exam type questions, not for the purpose of passing or failing the Scout, but to detect trends. One Scout who can't tie a bowline is not a big deal, multiple ones who can't indicate a program issue.

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As an assistant Scoutmaster you have no authority to make changes except through the example of your own behavior.


If ya read the original post, you will see that GKlose is a committee member, not an assistant Scoutmaster.


Please explain, GKlose, what you mean by retest? I think that is where we need to start. Some examples would also help clarify.




Ed Mori

1 Peter 4:10

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I'll be interested to see GKlose's definition, but here's my example:


Scout comes into Board of Review


Is handed a piece of rope


Is told "Tie a bowline."


Knot is examined by members of the Board of Review


Is told "That's wrong. You fail the Board of Review."

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I would get a few minutes with the CC and have this exact discussion. Unless he is or was an active participant in the past with BORs, he may not realize what is going on or maybe how far this has gotten since he was involved. If you are observing a trend that is nearing the edge of or already fallen outside of the scope of how the BOR should be performed, then it needs to be addressed. You are right about being concerned over the new guy trend that wants to change the way we do things here. So keep it low keyed but back your inquiry to the CC with supportive information. Usually there are District level folks that are dripping with anticipation to come and train your committee on these types of areas, so ask the CC if you could take some initiative and set up one of these trainings. There doesnt need to be a lot of hoopla over it, but its interesting to watch the group dynamics when during training they collectively realize they are doing something wrong

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Just some comments and observations based on the OP and subsequent posts:


1. According to BSA policy, the BOR is not a test or re-test. I totally agree.


2. If only 6 of the 20 scouts seem to regularly participate in troop camp outs, it is no wonder why some of the scout aren't proficient in some of their skills. Only repetitive use of scout skills will allow a boy to become proficient in them. Camping provides a great opportunity to practice those skills.


3. Who is providing quality control to ensure a scout knows his skill(s) prior to the advancement requirement being signed off on? This is where competency of the skill needs to be checked. If the scout is not competent in the skill(s) then he needs to be retrained and re-evaluated prior to having that advancement requirement signed off.





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Yah, GKlose, interestin' tale.


I think yeh approach this with patience and sensitivity as "the new guy". The question to ask yourself is this: "What is the single most important issue to address for this troop, that I have the time and talent to contribute to?"


If yeh need some guidance, ask your son (and some other lads durin' their BOR's :) ) what they think their troop's weaknesses are.


My guess is it isn't BORs, eh? Practically speakin', lots of troops ask skill questions at BORs and run fine programs. Done well, it can improve confidence, and reinforce learning.


Sounds like Eagletrek might be on the right track, eh? If campouts are lightly attended, patrol method is weak, etc. then my guess is that the BORs are detectin' a real weakness in the program. Kids aren't learnin' and experiencin' what they should. A committee's job in that case is to sit with the SM & ASMs and find out what they need by way of support to improve in those areas.


Improvin' those is hard work, eh? Takes a lot of time and changin' of approach. As yeh get there, though, kids will be able to answer skill questions on BORs easily because they've really learned. Then the board will naturally shift to bein' a more complete BOR that addresses the other purposes. But if yeh just change BOR's so they don't check to see if the scout has learned the skills, yeh might allow the weak program to continue and the troop to become an adult-run, non-patrol-method advancement mill, eh? :p




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I went through this exact problem when we joined the troop. It took three years to fix the problem.


At the time, both BoRs and SM conferences were grueling retests. What really opened my eyes to the problem was riding home with my son from his Second Class Scoutmaster's conference. While he passed, he said he couldn't do the lashings and needed to work on them. (Those of you who are paying attention will note, as did I, that lashings are a FIRST CLASS skill.) An added issue our troop had was that many of the committee members doing the BoRs really didn't know the material themselves, and were going by handouts, some of which were outdated and included incorrect information.


Ultimately, the solution was a combination of all the things suggested above, including having a committee training session conducted for the troop. Initially, I spent a lot of time politicking with various committee members and selling the proper way to do boards. I kept a printed copy of the online BoR training with me and would whip it out as needed. When I became SM, I immediately changed SM conferences from a retest to a conversation. My approach as ASM and later as SM was to focus on Scout skills with the boys so that retesting would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, as the level of skills within the troop improved, the Board members felt like they needed to raise their standards, too. Ultimately, it all came to a head when I had two very qualified Scouts turned down for fairly picky things. One Scout was turned down because he included heat stroke as a hurry case. The next month he was turned down again because he left heat stroke off the list. Actually, the board was going to let him slide the second time, but didn't because he seemed to have a bad attitude. No kidding! They're lucky the kid did slap somebody!


At that point, I had been SM for two years and had the clout to go to the committee and force a change. By then I had enough support on the committee. It did, however take a that final push to get it done.


I think the best thing I did was to start by focusing on improving the Scouts' basic skills. Obviously that is a good thing in any case, but it let the committee folks know that I wasn't just trying to pencil-whip advancement.


One issue you have to look out for is the feeling among committee members that you're trying to gut Boards of Review and turn them into a rubber-stamp. Everyone wants to feel like what they are doing is important. Many BoR members feel that their job is to be the gatekeepers of advancement and that, by golly, they're going to make sure the boys have really earned their advancement. Folks with that mindset see a proper BoR as a touchy-feely cop out. Understanding the nuiance of what a BoR is really about can be a tough sell. But the key is to make the BoR members still feel vital. They have to understand that they are still in a gatekeeper role, but they should be judging the quality of the troop's program, not the long-term memory of individual Scouts.


You also need to find support at the Council or District level. Make sure the people who are running the training support the proper procedures. Our first try at the committee training thing was to send three committee members to a Council-run committee training course. The instructor basically blew-off the official Board of Review syllabus and taught the class "how we do it in my troop." My guys came home and reported that we were already doing things the way they were taught. I blew a gasket and called my buddy on the training committee who went to the training committee and blew another gasket. They then arranged for our troop to have another session with an instructor who knew the program.


Good luck, be patient. Be confident that you are headed in the right direction.(This message has been edited by Twocubdad)

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Wow, thanks everybody. I think you're zeroing in on exactly what I think has been going on.


Several additional points (I didn't want to bog down the original note):


I am a committee member, not an ASM. To date, while my son has been growing into the troop, I've avoided going camping with the troop. So, the six dads, six scouts thing is sort of anecdotal. Yes, it seems to be the same core, and from what I hear from my son, the dads are very involved (cooking, tenting with their kids in some cases, etc). I'll know more about that once I start attending.


So far, my primary focus has been membership. It is something I've paid attention to since my son was transitioning over the course of this last year. I have ideas that I think can help the troop, and the first one of which is providing a joint Webelos-Scout overnight this fall. I'm hoping to turn over the actual program of the day to scouts, and try to pull the adults aside with the Webelos parents attending.


The CC seems to run all BoRs, and he is the first one turning it into an exam. I'm not entirely sure about his training, but I think he and several ASMs did the fast start, leader specific and outdoor leadership program about a year ago. All are less than two years in their roles, and other than the SM, I think all were not scouts as kids.


The incident with the Star candidate and the bowline: I wasn't at the original BoR the prior month...he was asked to come back the following month knowing the bowline. He was most likely handed a piece of rope and asked to tie a few knots from the basics list. Going in to the next month, I heard that he was returning for the "re-test", and they were specifically looking for a few things, including the bowline. We're around a round table, and I'm sitting next to the candidate. He's says that he's practiced, but comes across as very nervous (honestly, at that age I may have been nervous too). He's asked for two half hitches, he ties it looking confused, and asks "is this right?". With the bowline, he's struggling by working with both ends. After a few aborted attempts, I step in and ask "may I assist?" and do so by holding one end and telling him to try it with just the other end. He struggles a bit more, and I can't honestly say that I felt he knew it, but I didn't see the point of belaboring the issue. The board moved on, and he was signed off.


And thanks, I've tried a few gentle questions, offering opinions along the way. A few days ago, we had a planning meeting (there isn't a PLC, so there is no PLC planning session -- I know, that's another red flag, but I can't bulldoze through here, can I?) and they were debating a high adventure outing for next summer. I finally suggested that the group of older scouts that are likely to attend be asked to come up with a plan, and also give their preference of activity, say canoeing or backpacking.


The last thing I want to do is try and take on True North as my project. There are just way too many red flags, and that would be rather presumptuous of me. I wouldn't want to come across as the guy coming in from the outside trying to change everything.


Maybe my best strategy, for the moment, would be to ask if they've done the BoR training (I haven't either, so maybe that's the opening needed).


Again, thanks for all your input. I really like reading of others' experiences and anecdotes.



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Your profile says you are currently an ASM and District Committee Member.


Your Committee Chair has taken the wrong training (he needs YP, NLE, and Troop Committee Challenge as does the rest of the commmittee)(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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Re: troop committee challenge, having had the same type of lousy training experience TwoCubDad describes, I find myself encouraging people to do the online version so that they at least get the proper information. However, it does lack the interaction with others that has the potential to make training a great experience.


So, if you think that your district's training is suspect, or if there's just no way in the world that your committee members will commit to attending a "live" training, the online version is at least competent and may be a non-threatening starting point. Maybe it could be followed up by a group discussion at a committee meeting (assuming your CC is on board of course).



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Thanks GKlose.


Yup sounds more like an exam than a BOR. What should be happening is the BOR asking the Scout how he learned the knot & what it can be used for instead of having him tie it! Sounds like this is more of an adult led unit than a boy lead unit!

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Sorry, BW...I'll correct the profile. I had assumed that I was being registered as an ASM, but when I got my card last week (finally!) it said I was a committee member. Sorry for being misleading --


I have no idea if the CC has taken the Troop Committee Challenge (I did it online), but I'm pretty sure he did the weekend training that everyone else did. It could possibly be they had a Troop Committee Challenge component (I'm training in a few weeks, and my session does break out that way with the leader specific part). But I understand your point -- I am posting assumptions here, when I don't really know the full and correct answers.


And lest I be understood -- these are a great group of adults with the troop. They're friendly, and welcoming, and they really seem to enjoy being with the troop. I just think they have a lot of tribal knowledge and folklore built up over time.


Here's a story: I went to a roundtable session where the presenter on the topic of "annual troop planning" was the former SM (and now COR) of this same troop. He waxed poetic about PLCs running the show. But, today, in this same troop there is no PLC in sight. So I think something was lost along the way on leadership transition.



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