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Proposition A: If the BSA "model" program and recommendations were consistently used and followed, many common problems in Scouting would be eliminated and the average quality of our programs would be higher, with a consequent growth in membership.


Proposition B: The main obstacle to accomplishing "A" is an insufficient number of good solid adult leaders -- too many Scouters are untrained, undertrained, untrainable, unenthusiastic, uncommitted, or enthusiastic but lacking skills, knowledge, experience, or ability to work with youth; the quality of adult training and mentoring is uneven; and Chartered Organizations don't do enough to recruit "the right sort" of leaders.


If these propositions are true, then what can we do about it? If the answer is "try harder," how do induce Scouters and Chartered Organizations to do that on a consistent, long-term basis? If we can't really do anything to make a consistent, long-term improvement in leader quality, are there other possible answers? For example, is the "model" program simply too difficult or complex for the average volunteer? Do we actually have enough good leaders but they are just poorly distributed? Could some roles and responsibilities be split up and spread around to ease the demands on individual leaders, such as Scoutmasters?


Or are we just stuck with what we've got?


Dan K

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A lot of the problem isn't the guys and girls who come home from trainings, they really would like to at least give doing it right a try. Unfortunately when they get back to their home units they are never given the chance.

The Troop that my son is in has a lot to learn about using the methods of Scouting. The Scoutmaster has been there for a very long time and has adapted parts of the program to "His way". The Troop has 16 ASM's, nearly all have attended training. But they never get an opportunity to put any of it to use.

There is one outstanding guy who is an ASM, he took Wood Badge in 2000 and served on staff last year, he is in his own little way trying to change things.

The Troop does not send any of the members to JLTC, it never has, but OJ my son was asked to serve on staff last year and the year before.Last year he served as SPL for the Troop and with him and this ASM working together some things did start and are starting to change.

The Scoutmaster is Wood Badge trained (Yes Ed He went to Twin Echos for the old 3 weekend course!!)

The youngest troop in the District, is only six years old. The Scoutmaster (Who served as Assistant Cubmaster to yours truly) was never a Scout, in fact out of 5 ASM's only one was ever a Scout.

At Round-table one night I overheard someone say "They only do it by the book because they don't know any different!"

I am not for mandatory training. My feeling is that if someone wants to learn and do the job right they will attend. If they don't they are just wasting their time and the time of the training team.

Do leaders need to attend training to know that we have a uniform? Do Leaders need to attend Training to know not to add a bunch of stuff to the requirements?

Of the 16 ASM's in OJ's Troop over half don't wear full uniform and the main reason for them being there is to keep an eye on one Scout - The one that calls them Dad.

They sat through training knowing that no matter what was said their Scoutmaster was doing it the 160 way!!

The Troop is in a small town:

Population (year 2000): 842, Est. population in July 2002: 821 (-2.5% change)

Males: 418 (49.6%), Females: 424 (50.4%)

Ancestries: Polish (33.7%), German (15.3%), Irish (11.8%), United States (8.9%), Italian (6.9%), Slovak (3.3%).

High school or higher: 74.8%

Bachelor's degree or higher: 7.2%

Graduate or professional degree: 0.5%

Unemployed: 2.8%

The Troop and the Scoutmaster are one of the biggest things going for the entire town. The Scoutmaster is looked upon as a local hero.


With committee members they have approx 5% of the men who live there involved in the troop!!

(This message has been edited by Eamonn)

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Mandatory training is not the answer, We are all familiar with at least a few people who have more than ample training to be able to follow the program and yet they choose not to.


Selecting good adult volunteers from the outset is the key. What you need is to seek and find adults willing to learn and follow the program. Better to have an adult with with right attitude and witha thirst for learning, than a leader who attends training and then goes back to the boys and only follows what they want to.


for the adult that wants to learn, the scouting training curriculum is outstanding, for volunteers who want to do things their own way... no amount of training will help.





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Bob White wrote:


Selecting good adult volunteers from the outset is the key. What you need is to seek and find adults willing to learn and follow the program.




Agreed. And yes, we already have good practices and procedures written down and readily available that tell us how to find and select good people. We know how to do it -- that isn't the problem.


The problem is that we have a lot of Scouters, and units, and districts, and Chartered Organizations who can't/won't/don't follow those good practices and procedures and don't select good volunteers from the outset. Okay, so we have to do a better job selecting COs and district and unit leaders so that they will do a better job selecting other leaders. But that is the same problem, no matter how far up the chain you take it. However far we go, at some point we still run into people or committees or whoever that (a) aren't using care and best practices to operate the program or to select the best volunteers to operate the program, and (b) can't be or won't easily be replaced -- we're essentially stuck with them, and © can't or won't learn how to do it better.


At some point, the "get better people" answer doesn't work anymore. Often, that happens at the unit level.


Dan Kurtenbach

Fairfax, VA

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The unit is not the end of the chain it is the beginning, poor leadership selection doesn't begin at the Council level and trickle down, in starts at the unit and spreads. Most volunteers in scouting begin at the unit level.


The solution is simple, if you are a CR then take a good look at the people leading the committee and unit, make sure they are making an effort to do their role correctly. Are they following the program? Are they attending trainings? Are they obeying policies? Is the unit setting and meeting good scouting goals? Are they getting along with each other?


If not you need to, ask them to change. If they don't, then you need to select people to replace them.


If you have a good chairman and program leader then use them to help you. But ultimately, the responsibility for good unit scouting is in the hands of the Charter Organization.


If the Co is not willing to take that obligation seriously then there is nothing anyone else can do about it until that individual is out of the unit level.


This has always been the structure of scouting. The problem isn't that it doesn't work, the problem is that many units do not take it seriously. Just think about the number of units that recruit by standing in front of a rom full of adults, many of them virtual strangers, and announcing "We need someone to be a (fill in the unit position of your choice). They show no regard for an individuals skills and abilities, no regard for a persons character or background.


You wouldn't choose somebody to come into your home while you are on vacation and feed your fish without more information, but people will allow the folks who will mold their childrens values to be selected like that!


When districts and coucils look to "experienced" leaders to serve units at the District/ council level and they don't look to dee if that person actually did their job correctly then they shoot themselves in the foot.


Selecting trainers who didn't use the program, and commissioners who didt follow the program, is inane and yet it happens.


The best way to avoid such deadwood is for the unit to stop picking it up to begin with.


The people who will make good scout leaders are good people even before they get into the program. They are good with kids, happy, dependable, law abiding, reverent.


Pick anyone else and you will get exactly who you pick.



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I've never been a part of a Scout Troop that really operated by the book. The three troops I have worked with have all had significant compromises built into them.


Twenty odd years ago, I was AS for a year, then SM for five years or so. I took the training offered through Wood Badge, and ran a pretty decent program.


But there were still important compromises. The biggest was the inability to recruit new Scouts. I got no help from the Troop Committee or boys, and my own efforts were ineffective.


The Troop Committee (parents) left as much as they could to me, and I became overloaded and overwhelmed. When I eventually dropped out as a leader, the Troop failed after a fifty plus year run. Very sad.



A year or so ago, I rejoined Scouting with a struggling Troop. It had some good and experienced leaders, and one in particular who left a lot to be desired, to the point of being dangerous, despite his endless self confidence. I left because I was uncomfortable with the program, and this troop is about ready to fail after fifty years or so of existance.


I asked the DE to refer me to another troop that was struggling to exist. This troop has about ten boys, six or so of whom regularly attend outings and meetings. My preferred area of responsibility in this troop has been to work on recruiting and FOS, although I've been drawn fairly heavily into program related activities.


My AIM has been to push the existing adult leaders towards (1) having a consistantly excellent troop program and (2) developing a troop committee that functions as it should.


Unfortunately, the Scoutmaster isn't very capable of planning things, and the SPL can't plan a good program on his own. Too often, the program has been poor, which has led several Scouts to leave the troop or quit attending.


For that reason, I was drawn into planning and executing a good program for a while, hoping to show the adult leaders how things could be done. They liked the results, but their reaction was to try to saddle me with being SM, which I refused to do.


We just had the first PL meeting since one I held several months ago. A decent effort has been made to plan a program for the summer, so perhaps that vital function is at last being performed.


That leaves me with some time and a decent program to use to try to recruit some new Scouts. I have 15 or so names and addresses of new 6th graders, and will be visiting their homes to invite them to a horseback riding outing scheduled for August, for example.


This Troop has a core of parents who care about the program and are willing to do quite a bit to support it. They have also been willing to accept a good many of my suggestions, or give them a try in any case. We are now having regular outings every month, often more than one. The Scouts are coming along, discovering that they can take pride and enjoy the new skills they are learning.


Add some new boys, and keep the ones we have, and the Troop has a chance of being succesful and more stable.


While it's been on the edge of failure several times, this Troop has a chance to recover. The keys to that recovery will be (1) an excellent program to attract and retain boys and parents and (2) a Troop Committee that identifies the functions it must perform and does so effectively.


I spent a lot of time and effort to identify these problems. The adult leader weren't able to figure out how to deal with them on their own. The SM has complained bitterly that he didn't understand why boys were leaving ---he thought the program was fine, when it wasn't. Efforts by other parents to improve the program were sporadic, and not especially effective (merit badge classes, for example).


The Troop Committee Chair had carved out his own idea of what he was willing to do, such as managing the finances of the Troop. But he opposed (and still opposes) having monthly Committee meetings since he considers them a waste of time, when they are an opportunity for the involved adults to identify problems and decide on ways to solve them. I've worked a lot on recruiting, with little to show for it so far. But results will come, but only because of persistant effort despite repeated disappointments.


So that's my analysis of how a failing troop might have a chance to turn itself around. While the SM doesn't have the natural talent for leadership and planning that he should have, he's beginning to take responsibility for Doing His Best in program planning, which is a big improvement over being unaware of the problems.


The other adult leaders are putting a shoulder to the wheel to improve the program. That frees me up to work on recruiting and to give me attractive features to sell to potential Scouts, and to keep the Scouts we have.


Based on my experience, I'd say that the key to saving a failing program is to correctly identify the problems and have people who are willing to correct those problems and work hard to correct those problems.


Lots of people wont recognize the problems that confront them. Others may be unwilling to try new things to correct problems. Still other units may lack sufficient number of people willing to work hard to solve problems.


A good Unit Commissioner ought to be in a position to help diagnose unit problems and point leaders in the right direction. But too often, there are no Unit Commissioners or they aren't doing the job or unit leaders aren't willing to follow their advice.


Anyway, that's my update from the unit level trenches.




Seattle Pioneer



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Meriam-Webster defines

To volunteer

1 : proceeding from the will or from one's own choice or consent

2 : unconstrained by interference : SELF-DETERMINING

3 : done by design or intention : INTENTIONAL

4 : of, relating to, subject to, or regulated by the will

5 : having power of free choice

6 : provided or supported by voluntary action

7 : acting or done of one's own free will without valuable consideration or legal obligation


I would submit that all the adult volunteer leaders chose just how involved they wish to become at any given time in the BSA. No one is under any obligation to "put your whole heart into it", or even to show up, for that matter.


By the same token, I volunteer how much time and effort I am willing to expend to help leaders to be prepared and properly trained for the position for which they have volunteered. As the Cub Scout Training Coordinator for my district (a position for which I have volunteered) I basically setup, organize, coordinate, and run the Cub Leader Basic Trainings. I can put as much or as little effort into these trainings as I wish. It is a lot of hard work. We hold these trainings only twice a year because of the enormous efforts required by the training staff and others to provide a quality training. And yet, only a small percent of new volunteers actually attend these trainings. What makes it worthwhile is those few who do attend return to their units as an asset, no longer dragging down potentially high quality leaders.


Let us, as trained leaders, start becoming the solution instead of the problem. This is what it means to take what we have learned from all our trainings, and ultimately from Wood Badge, and start giving back. What do I wear these beads for anyway? What are they really worth? Do I prance around, adorned with all my awards saying, "Look at me. I'm a woodbadger", or will I take what experience I have and impart that to a new leader?


I can complain all day long about how leaders don't do their jobs, no one seems to care, and boys are getting cheated from having a quality program.


... But what have I personally done about it.



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Good points, Eagle Pete.



As I see it, the biggest advantages I have as a trained and experienced Scouter are in evaluating the problems and recomending possible solutions to the problems I see. The second big advantage is the ability to avoid being mired in day to day problems and instead focus on the longer term, more critical problems.


Most adult leaders are mired in the problems of the unit they work in, and have little perspective to bring to problems. They also tend to focus on the day to day problems of a unit, with limited ability to focus on longer term goals.


I work with a Cub Pack that has come back from the edge of dissolving when the previous Cubmaster "who did everything," left. Now we have a degree of stability, with three skilled adult leaders guiding the program. What they don't see is that rather than having ONE person ho "does everything," they have THREE people who "do everything." That is still not a stable program, long term.


I have been pushing them to focus on getting more parents to be a part of the program, with some success. The problem is that it's usually more work to get a new volunteer to do a small job than to do the small job yourself. Long term, though, it's deadly.


At present, the most valuable contribution I can make to this unit is to keep encouraging leaders to recruit new parent volunteers. If they keep working at it, we might get to a good position in another six month period of time or so.



With the Scout Troop I described in an earlier post, my aim is to strongly encourage leaders to focus on having a consistantly very good-excellent program, while I focus on recruiting needed new boys. In this unit, both are critical problems.



I use these units to describe why I think good judgement in identifying problems and solutions is a vital skill that's too often absent.




Seattle Pioneer

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Public schools have paid and well trained professionals interacting with the students. There is typically an army of behind the scenes staff that reviews and prepares programs. Books are designed to be stimulating and fun to read. National commissions are funded to look for ways to improve the country's youth education system. Yet kids still fail, dropout and otherwise don't achieve.


We are just stuck with what we have. Its a bigger issue than just one component.




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Another aspect of this issue that I haven't seen discussed in this thread is the "number of units metric". Even with the best procedures for identifying and enlisting good adult leadership, the fact remains that there are only so many interested, able, and willing candidates in a given area. The problem I see in our area is that the District types are measured by how many units exist and are created in their area rather than on the quality of those units.


For example, in the small geographic boundary of my son's elementary school, the PTO charters a cub pack, a Catholic church charters a pack, and a Methodist church charters a pack. The PTO pack will next year graduate half it's membership and almost all of its leadership. The Catholic pack is only a handful of boys and has huge problems recruiting leaders. The Methodist pack is folding due to lack of leaders. It would seem to make the most sense to combine these packs so that you would end up with one pack of around 40-50 boys and a full complement of terrific adult leadership. Instead, what is coming from the higher-ups? The push is on to start a fourth pack at a community center within the same geographic boundary.


Until District stops measuring the job performance of their staff based upon the "number of units metric", all of these packs may end up folding, primarily due to lack of adult leaders.

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One negative factor seems to be the significant amount of ego in the leadership of some units. Some individuals want to hang on to their position as CM, SM, CC, or SA regardless of their abilities or performance or the growth (shrinkage) of the unit. They get to wear their uniforms and be important.


Unfortunately, this drives away other potential volunteers who see that their time could be spent more productively elsewhere. Of course, it also drives Scouts away.

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Student, that is a good point, though it is not unique to Scouting units. I've worked in various non-profits, and they often rely heavily on volunteer time and donations. It can be hard to recruit new volunteers, though I have actually found that far easier than dealing with the volunteers who drive others away and are either in the wrong roles or have the wrong motivation.


I'm not sure I agree that getting volunteers overall is much harder today that it was about 20 years ago though. The key seems to lie in recruiting leadership right from the start who are willing to work on the program using the program materials. The reason using those program materials is important (well, one of the reasons :)) is that it puts everyone on the same page. Even when several of us look at the same page of a book we tend to interpret it differently, but we've a much better shot at maintaining a common goal/focus if we use the materials than if we don't. All it takes one person to try a different way, to sell others on it, and then it's hard to get back to the "should bes".


When I have recruited in any organization, one thing I've learned is this: when I sincerely believe in it, can share how time and/or finances invested in that agency served the people it was there to help, then others get excited about it too. Enthusiasm is contagious, support it with case histories to bring the "work" of the particular agency--in this case Scouting units--alive, and the hurdle can be overcome. The opposite is true too; if we make ourselves known to others as having to work hard, as being frustrated, as wishing the program could be different, that too will be contagious.


Dan K, back to the post that started it all: I'm not sure I have answers, but I honestly believe that if we can get leaders in place at all levels who can talk up the program, help others learn it, and keep up that enthusiasm, then we can improve on what we've got...even if stuck with it.


My disclaimer: I am not against change or discussion of frustrations; I simply am trying to look at the postives here too :)

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That certainly makes sense, bbng. One consequence would seem to be that change in units is driven internally rather than from external forces. We can't make "those guys in that unit over there" do better, but we can influence what happens in our own units.



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