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The "Patrol Method" Presentation in SM-Specific Training

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This week our Training Chair asked me to staff "Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster Specific Training" again so I asked him to photocopy for me the "Patrol Method" presentation from the 2008 printing.


The following observations are strictly limited to the "Patrol Method" presentation on pages 53-61 of the 2008 printing of the course outline for "Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster Specific Training."


When I looked at the "Teaching Objectives" I finally realized what was wrong with the presentation: It uses the term "Patrol Method" to describe "Adult Association."




Simple solution: Rename the "Patrol Method presentation" to "Adult Association."


Problem solved!


This is how Bill Hillcourt once explained the Patrol Method to Scoutmasters:




"The Patrol Method is not ONE method in which Scouting can be carried on. It is the ONLY method!"

-Roland Phillips


Take any thirty boys, turn them loose in a closed street, a playground, or in a sports field--and you know what happens. Shortly something will be under way. A clatter of many eager voices raised in discussion--and out of the large group will evolve a number of smaller groups, in gangs, ready for game or mischief.


Such are boys. The impulse of forming gangs is natural to them. They cannot help themselves.


What Constitutes a "Gang"?


In its simplest form the gang is merely a group of boys who habitually play together after school or after work. Accidents of various sorts--age, neighborhood, similarity of interests--bring together a somewhat random group. Immediately the boys react on one another. One or more leaders come to the fore. They take their positions naturally, with little form or ceremony.


The gang organizes itself, finds or makes its meeting place, begins to do things. Usually it has some particular objective in which it is interested, such as baseball, football, going on trips, or--in bad gangs--stealing. Gang spirit is strengthened by this common pursuit, and gang honor and gang loyalty thrive. The gang develops a collective mind, and sets forth as a unit to carry out schemes and activities which would hardly so much as enter the head of one boy alone.


The gang is, in short, a little social organism, with a life of its own, reaching beyond the sum of the lives of its several members.


The Gang Becomes the Patrol


This gang, this natural unit of boys for boy activities, is the all important unit in Scouting. It changes its name, it is true, from gang to Patrol, but it is a "gang" just the same, a small, permanent group of boys allied by similar interests, working together under the responsible leadership of one of its number--the Patrol Leader.


Contrast that Patrol-based description of the Patrol Method with the current "Patrol Method" presentation:


The Patrol Method


Time Allowed: 25 minutes


Teaching Objectives:


Show how to establish an environment that is safe both physically and emotionally in which Scouts can learn, grow, and enjoy Scouting to the fullest [Adult Association].


Explain that listening well is the first step in using appropriate [adult] leadership styles.


Show how positive reinforcement is among the most valuable contributions adults can bring to the lives of young people.


Employ various supportive [adult] leadership styles, matching them to the needs of each Scout and to the patrols and troop as a whole. Among the most effective styles are explaining, demonstrating, guiding, and enabling.


It is interesting to note that this "modern" version of explaining the Patrol Method to Scoutmasters borrows the introductory quotation from Bill Hillcourt's version of explaining the Patrol Method to Scoutmasters, but changes it to a fake Baden-Powell quote, presumably to give the new Patrol Method "Adult Leadership Styles" the patina of historical legitimacy.


Note also that the new fake quote inserts "Boy Scout troop" into the "Patrol Method" twice!


"The patrol method is not a way to operate a Boy Scout troop, it is the only way. Unless the patrol method is in operation you don't really have a Boy Scout troop" --Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.


One easy way to spot a fake Baden-Powell quote is that Baden-Powell used the term "Patrol System" and never "Patrol Method." In fact some BSA editors have now started to change "Patrol Method" to "Patrol System" in the fake Baden-Powell quotes!


Three more things bother me about the "Patrol Method" presentation in "Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster Specific Training."


1) It does not include ANY mention of a Patrol Leader.


How can you explain the Patrol Method without mentioning the Patrol Leader? Well, through the magic of the new Patrol Method "Adult Leadership Styles," of course!


This is still true in the 2008 printing. There are NO Patrol Leaders in the "Patrol Method" presentation, pages 53-61.


The closest the text comes to mentioning a Patrol Leader in the Patrol Method presentation is on page 56, where the participants are asked to imagine an entire Scout Troop lost in the woods (the Troop Method always works best for bypassing Patrol Leaders). It gives various Patrol Method "Adult Leadership Styles" that could be used: "With some groups, a Scoutmaster may find it best to delegate to the senior patrol leader or other boy leaders..."


2) Gives an example of the Patrol Method as adults telling random Scouts to put out the campfire.


OK, this example is still there, but it is not as evil now!


In the previous printing, bypassing the Patrol Leader was given as an example of the new Patrol Method Adult Leadership Style of "Directing:"


"A Scoutmaster can fill that need through directing-- that is, giving clear guidelines. Telling Scouts, 'Have the members of your patrol use buckets of water to put out the campfire, and then we can remove any traces that it was here.' is one example of directing."


In other words, "Of course we use the Patrol Method! We bypass the Patrol Leaders and use the 'Directing Adult Leadership Style' because that best matches the 'Needs of our group'."


The same example of bypassing the Patrol Leader is still there in the 2008 printing at the very bottom of page 58, but the previous Patrol Method "Adult Leadership Styles" (Directing, Coaching, Supporting, Delegating) have been replaced by the new "EDGE" Patrol Method "Adult Leadership Styles" (Explaining, Demonstrating, Guiding, Enabling).


So in the new printing the Patrol Leader is bypassed so that the adult can "explain" something to the Patrol: "A Scoutmaster can fill that need by explaining--that is giving clear guidelines. He can tell Scouts, 'Have the members of your patrol use buckets of water to put out the campfire, then we can remove any trace that it was here'."


In other words, "Of course we use the Patrol Method! We bypass our Patrol Leaders when we need to explain something to their Patrols!"


These nifty new Patrol Method Adult Leadership Styles are also used to bypass Patrol Leaders in Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca's current "Reinventing Scouting" media blitz:


He dismisses Scoutcraft as "rubbing two sticks together" and says, "Our goal is not to teach someone to rub two sticks together and make a fire. But when you rub two sticks together and make a fire side by side with an adult of good character, you're going to learn about who you are and go on to lead men."




"You can teach a kid about character and leadership using aerospace and computers. The secret is to get them side by side with adults of character."




3) Equates the word "Patrol" with "Troop" as an object upon which "Adult Leadership Skills" act.


OK, this has changed in the 2008 Printing. The Patrol Method presentation is still about Adult Association in the Troop Method: The term "troop" is used about 32 times, but the term "patrol" only appears around 9 times.


In addition to the three examples cited above, the term "patrol" is used in the following six sentences:


Page 55: "In a large group, this activity [adults talking] may be done by patrols" [of adults].


Page 58: "Matching [Adult] Leadership Styles to the Needs of Scouts, Patrols, and Troops" (note the serial comma formulation. Patrols are just one object upon which Adult Leadership Styles act. This is all about Adult Association, not the Patrol Method).


Page 58: "a Scoutmaster can get a sense of the style of leadership needed in a given situation by a boy, by a patrol, and by a troop" (Adult Association).


Here are three new mentions of a "Patrol" that are introduced with EDGE theory in the 2008 printing:


Page 59: "Demonstrating as a[dult] leadership behavior comes when Scouts are still new to a task and are not together as a patrol or team" (bypassing the Patrol Leader).


Page 59: "You [as an adult] are not providing feedback on their skill or behavior; you are still showing how to make sure their patrol understands and setting the example" (bypassing the Patrol Leader).


Page 59: "As Scouts, patrols, and a Troop are becoming more comfortable with their new roles and activities, a Scoutmaster can begin to step to the sidelines and allow boys to assume more responsibilities" (generic "boys" rather than Patrol Leaders).


In conclusion, the above notes are intended for only for those who actually sit down and read the "Patrol Method" presentation on pages 53-61 of the 2008 printing of "Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster Specific Training." If you believe the Patrol Method and basic adult training are important, why does that not include you?


I understand that if nobody actually reads the "Patrol Method presentation" then it is easy to argue that the "context" justifies changing the term "Adult Association" to "Patrol Method."


However, for most volunteers this is the only direct, specific, official explanation of the "Patrol Method" they will ever receive. Most volunteers do NOT go to Roundtable, Wood Badge, or read Internet discussion groups. As for references to the Scoutmaster Handbook, I believe that EagleDad once conducted an informal poll and found that only 10% of all Wood Badge participants ever sat down and read the Scoutmaster Handbook. I suspect that the real number is closer to 1%, but I am amazed that Barry's skills convinced 90% of them to tell the truth! :)


No matter how you spin it, when business managers define the "Patrol Method" as "Adult Leadership Styles," it is the exact opposite of Bill Hillcourt's description of that "little social organism, with a life of its own, reaching beyond the sum of the lives of its several members."


This will be my last post in 2009, see y'all somewhere down the trail!




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You're the PERFECT one to teach the course! Just get through the blather quickly and expand using your own real-life experiences about concepts and methods which can really help them.


Just about anyone could drone on using nothing but the canned materials (thereby sending the course into a coma and making them all vow never to return for more BSA training). You were selected because you have much more to offer.

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If Kudu or any other scouter chooses to teach a course "their way", they are not the perfect person for it. Of course the folks responsible for the training program at the council and district level want folks with knowledge, experience and expertise to lead training. That being said, those who are responsible for training and those who are on the training staff have an obligation to present the BSA training material as designed, pure and simple. Otherwise, BSA would tell the councils that they all need to design their own SM Specific, IOLS, WELOT, BALOO, etc. training and what you learn in council ABC would be totally different than what they are learning in council XYZ. A person being asked to train has two honorable choices. Follow the syllabus or decline.


Scouting happens at the unit level. If you want to put your "flavor" on the program, that is the place to do it.

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I didn't intend to say ignore BSA's program and invent your own. What I meant was use your experience to expand on it and make it more relevant.


I am a unit leader and, like all of us, I have my own flavor which works for the unit I serve.


I am also involved with training at District level. The number one complaint we have from leaders after the training is that it was too high level, not relevant enough, and doesn't help them deal with the realities of the task they face. The training team members are all willing volunteers and work hard, but some of them have little or no experience in unit leadership, hence very little to offer beyond reading the BSA materials. As Kudu points out, these can be vague and confusing when a new SM wants some concrete advice on how to get a PLC to take charge of their program, etc. In our District, its been hit or miss at getting experienced leaders to commit to supporting full training weekends, so were working to develop some extra material with more ideas which leaders have said they need. (Were also working to get experienced leaders who can participate in substantive discussions to assist with just a few hours at a time and this is helping a lot.) This extra material idea is already in place in our Cub Leader training and has been very well received.


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While I don't advocate what one of my teachers in grad school did on occassion, "forget what's on the syllabus for tonite and let's talk about what you will encounter in the field, let's talk about..." i do think it is important to provide info from experience to highlight or emphasis parts of the training. Or when questions are asked.



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In most councils less than 10% of the scouters ever step foot in a roundtable. That is why it is crucial that their training be intense and complete and sticks with them the first time around cuz it is doubtful you will ever see them again at another training, which is sad.


Kudu- I for one will miss your input.

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Something that makes the job of getting folks to attend training of any kind even harder are the folks who like to constantly and consistently tell everyone they meet that BSA training is worthless.(This message has been edited by sr540beaver)

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I was the SM Specific trainer for our District for four years and I ran into the very same challenges Kudu mentioned. I also was of like mind with Beav that we couldnt stray away from the subject at hand. There are many important reasons for that, but just staying consistent with the training of other districts was important at the time. We discussed that these courses could not become a lecture about Barry Boy Scout program, or Bobs Boy Scout Program or Carols Boy Scout program. It was the BSAs and we needed to respect that to the fullest possible.


I must admit that I was asked to take on the course to make the nine hours more palatable. SM Specific is by far one of the most boring adults courses presented by the BSA. We tried a lot of ideas to make it a better course including using three different very experienced scouters who were also very good presenters to break up the tone during the nine hours. Just having a different voice and face can be a relief. The reason we insisted on experienced presenters was we wanted a lot of actual experience stories backing up the subject lines, and to break up the lecture. And that worked very well. Our district developed enough of a reputation that we were getting a few participants from other districts.


It was a bit a struggle not to make comments or criticize some parts of the program and we worked hard to push the BSA intent of each subject. For example I absolutely despise the way the BSA presents the Venture Patrols. Our troop had a very successful older scout program at the time that wasnt a model of the BSA Venture Patrol. Still I presented the subject the way the BSA had it in the text, and then I followed with experiences of our High Adventure Program or Older Boy Program. Truth is while I think the differences in the BSA program and our program is significant in performance, they dont appear all that different in definition. Another area of difference between the three presenters was Uniform. The uniform, believe it or not, is discussed in different context at least three different times through course. But I must admit that while all three of us use the Uniform method a little differently in our programs, the differences were not far enough away from the course text.


I also admit I had the Patrol Method section and I didnt fully present it as adults taking such a big part.


But here is the thing, we found that 99 percent of the participants dont really care what its called or how it is defined, they want to know how to do it. It doesnt really matter the subject, training, uniform, leadership, Patrol Methods, they really want to hear more about the hows than the whats.


Patrol method is very difficult to get in the BSA text, so 20 minutes of how to work with boys goes a lot farther than just reading the text. The number one question that was always asked and complained about in all training is that the BSA doesnt do enough training on is how to work with misbehavior. Misbehavior is perceived as the biggest challenge by many of these folks. So I presented real life scenarios of dealing with Misbehavior in a patrol method application. I did the same thing when they asked about leadership or teaching or planning and so on. I also gave examples of how to combine the eight methods. I also spent a lot of time discussing the boy run part of the SM Handbook text during the patrol method. Its a pretty good place to air out and let participants ask questions.


We purposely did not present anything that contradicted the BSA text. In fact we tried to used real life stories to color in a better picture of what the text was trying to say. We had three different leaders from three different units that kept the real life applications in balance and in within the intent of the text. That is how we did it and I think it worked out really well.


I love this scouting stuff.



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I have completed two WB courses and every class a SM,CM and Crew Advisor can take including Powderhorn, and have been on staff several times teaching them. Training is important and necessary for every leader in scouting in order to lead a great program. Some of Kudu's objections, when you get past all the arguments, concerning certain training are valid ones.


We as scouters and trainers should never be so afraid, arrogant and closed minded to believe there is only one way to train people. Yes Kudu is very passionate about the patrol method as defined by Hillcourt and whats wrong with that? Bill learned from BP himself and probably had better insight to what the true vision of scouting was to be, certainly much more so than the current CSE does. When Mazzuca stated that, "scouting is more than learning to live in the woods and sleep in a tent", I think he misses the point that scouting is indeed first and foremost an outdoor experience and to deny that is denying true scouting. The less we emphasize outdoor skills in scouting the more likely it is that scouting will indeed continue to shrink in numbers and influence.

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I too have complaints about he quality, substance, and practicality of most BSA syllabii. Times allocated are often barely enough to read through the text and far to short for an "interactive discussion." Aims and Methods in one syllabus manages to never list the three Aims of Scouting, perhaps because only 15 minutes are allocated to the topic. Many sections seem written by folks who simply do not understand the material very well.


But why decide the extent to which the Scoutmaster SA Specific Training syllabus supports or weakens the Patrol Method by deliberately ignoring most of the syllabus or the documents that it incorporates by reference?


Patrol Modeling


Participants will be formed into groups identified as patrols. To model the patrol method, the ideal group size will be six to eight participants. . . .There are enough patrol/team activities to allow the participants to experience firsthand the feel of belonging to a patrol and to allow the instructors to model the patrol method both in theory and by example. P. 9 of syllabus


Nearly everything you need to know about being a Scoutmaster is in the Scoutmaster handbook. P. 24 of syllabus


(That would include Chapter 3 The Boy Led Troop: He [the Patrol Leader] takes responsibility for the patrols activities and represents the patrol as a member of the patrol leaders council.


That would also include Chapter 4 The Boy Led Patrol. Wanna guess if that chapter insists that the Patrol and Troop mean the same thing?)



The building blocks of a Scout troop are its patrols.




A patrol is the basic organizational unit of a Scout troop. Composed of six to eight boys, it is a good size to plan and carry out projects, to hike, and camp together, to taker part in troop games and events, and to practice leadership on a manageable scale. P. 33 of syllabus.


(Participants can find more information on patrol leaders in The Scoutmaster handbook, Chapter 4, The Boy-Led Patrol. P. 35 of Syllabus.



The troop meeting plan [Troop Meeting Plan] involves seven distinct steps.

. . .

Patrol Meetings [its time for each patrol to go to its designated meeting area p. 45]

Interpatrol Activity


P. 43 of Syllabus.



The patrol leaders council allows the senior patrol leader , patrol leaders , and trop guides to plan the troops program. P. 64 of Syllabus.



At a minimum, Scouts should spend at least 10 days and nights outdoors each year. Among the opportunities for making that happen are:

Troop and patrol hikes

. . . P. 79 of Syllabus



Lead participants through the experience of a patrol planning for an outdoor activity. P. 95 of Syllabus


Each patrol leader presents the general plan and options to his patrol for discussion. . . . After the patrol leaders have gotten the input of patrol members, the patrol leaders council and other key troop leaders are ready to meet. P. 123 of Syllabus (GETTING PATROL INPUT)



And, as further context, the distinction between the Patrol and the Troop is also portrayed in the Patrol Leaders Handbook, The Boy Scout Handbook, and the BSA website.


I believe that you are correct on an overall tendency over many years to elevate the centrality of the Troop over that of the Patrol. That could be seen in many Troops in the late 1950's where I Scouted and is certainly true today when many Scoutmasters do not conform to the idea of boy-leadership in any sense. A few years ago, by show of hands at a Roundtable, ony 40% of the Troops had PL's elected by the Scouts and less than 20% had SPL's elected by Scouts - any Scouts. To a control-freak adult, patrols off doing their own thing are a nightmare. In Wood Badge terms, they never get past directive or prescriptive approaches to getting things done -- or they try to do it themselves.

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we have two conflicting things going on


"Take any thirty boys, turn them loose in a closed street, a playground, or in a sports field--and you know what happens. Shortly something will be under way. A clatter of many eager voices raised in discussion--and out of the large group will evolve a number of smaller groups, in gangs, ready for game or mischief. "




"Show how to establish an environment that is safe both physically and emotionally in which Scouts can learn, grow, and enjoy Scouting to the fullest"


any gang of 30 boys, left to their own devices, will eventually turn on the weakest or oddest of their own. It happened 100 years ago and it will happen today. The difference is that 100 years, those 'weaker' boys either got stronger, or stopped participating. Today we don't demand that they get stronger, we demand acceptance of their 'weakness'.



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