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How to run a troop meeting – need help from Experienced Boy-Led Troops

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I am SM for a troop that is about half way through the transition from adult led to boy led. (We are about a year into the transition.)


I feel I understand how a boy-led troop is supposed to be run according to BSA (I read a lot and have taken training). Unfortunately, nowhere does BSA tell you how to transition from adult-led to boy-led. You can’t just proclaim that, starting at the next troop meeting, we are going to go by the book.


Existing boy-led troops have a huge asset that they may not recognize they have. They have a natural way to teach incoming youth (and adult leaders) how a boy-led troop runs – a self-sustaining process. I am still having trouble getting this going.


What we’ve done so far:

1) PLCs are regularly happening (although not very productive, adults help out too much because the boys don’t really know what to do).

2) Patrols camp as patrols – they cook and clean as a patrol. Adults form their own patrol. Some parents were appalled when they first found out that the boys were camping in separate groups away from the adult group – but they are ok with this now. (Parents have really been understanding of my efforts – for the most part).

3) Troop meetings are no longer classroom merit badge sessions – this is probably the biggest change for the parents to accept

4) We are transitioning from troop-wide games toward interpatrol activities/competitions.


We have about 30 active boys, evenly spread out from 6th graders to 9th graders. No active scouts in 10th grade or higher. The current 8th and 9th graders like campouts, but have no interest in higher adventure activities (backpacking, lengthy canoe trips, etc). Several scouts are in the troop just because their parents make them attend. I’ve seen troops that have a Super-Scout or two that they can build their program around – I don’t have any of these scouts.


One of my biggest problems is that I don’t know what to do to keep the older boys (First Class, Star and Life scouts) engaged at troop meetings. I squash the idea of merit badge classes. Sometimes the behavior at meetings deteriorates because the older boys don't have anything worthwhile to do. I spoke with some area scoutmasters at roundtable, and, of the ones I consider most boy-led – it seems that all they do is have the patrols take turns doing presentations to each other. In one troop they have an active Venture Patrol - which helps with troop morale. At times, my older scouts do help the new scouts at meetings, but they don’t like doing this every meeting because they see nothing in it for them. The older boys keep bringing up merit badge classes.


I realize that I need to continue to strengthen the patrol method in my troop and help the boys completely take-over in planning the meeting. But, at times, it feel like the blind leading the blind. I need some ideas to help me guide the scouts into making the troop meetings more interesting and worthwhile for the older scouts.


What do you do in your typical troop meetings?


(We've tried to use Troop Program Features but have not been successful so far.)

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I am a few years removed from volunteering at the troop level but here is what I remember:


1) If you haven't done troop leadership training yet, make sure you have one soon! The Scouts in my troop loved TLT because it was a day of leadership training, pizza, and (relevant) games. The allure of the "Trained" strip didn't hurt either. ;)


2) If you have Scouts who enjoy teaching, make sure they have the opportunity to be instructors-- Instructor is a leadership position and it allows Scouts to focus on presenting the skills that interest them.


3) Definitely pursue the Venture Patrol option: Some of the older Scouts in my troop formed one and had an absolute blast with the "high adventure" options they found in our area.


4) Inter-patrol competitions are a great way to keep Scouts engaged. My troop had cook-offs, mousetrap car races (every patrol was given a kit with the same materials), and other wacky activities that kept the Scouts engaged. The best way to run them? Have a different patrol run the competition/game every week!


5) Write a survey for the Scouts and ask what they want to do during the coming year. Refer to it during the annual troop planning meeting (or help the Scouts run their first troop planning meeting).


I hope these help!

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To a casual observer, I don't know that our troop meetings are significantly different from yours. The big difference is the boys are planning and executing whatever is going on. As far as the content of troop meetings, we don't do merit badge classes either, but we very frequently use merit badge "topics" for troop meetings. The programs are based on the merit badges but don't specifically cover the requirements. If a Scout is interested in earning the badge, paying attention and taking notes will get him a long way down the road of earning the badge. But each Scout still has to pull a blue card, meet with the counselor and complete the specifics of the requirement. You know -- show a little initiative and put forth some effort. We will frequently do merit badge topics as a troop but then have NO ONE actually earn the MB. At first, that's a hard pill for the adults to swallow, but the adults have to realize that not every activity has to result in a badge. If the boys had fun and learned something, it was worthwhile.


One thing which makes this successful is understanding that the program can be boy led, but still involve an adult standing up making the presentation. Last year we did engineering as a month-long topic. The boys planned it but invited different adults -- all of whom were already affiliated with the troop -- to talk about their particular branch of engineering. Face it, having a 14-year-old stand there and try to talk about engineering would have been bloody boring. The youth leadership came in the planning and organization. The patrol competitions which accompanied this included the patrols using what the learned to build a popsicle stick bridges and seeing which bridges held the most weight. Yeah, that's also a Webelos activity pin, but in we had the boys do 100% of the design and construction themselves.


Keeping the older boys engaged is going to be tough. If they have been taught to passively sit back and be entertained and collect MBs for doing so, they're probably going to be unhappy with the new system. Leading the troop is difficult and frustrating. If the boys haven't been brought along in the troop looking up to older guys in leadership positions, they may very likely only see the down side of being a leader. And you may lose a few. Sometimes that is the price of change. You have to see the value of change and stick to your vision regardless of the losses.


If you are looking for a check list of syllabus for making the change, I don't think you are going to find on. You have to keep the pressure on and everytime the boys relax, you push them a little further toward boy led. Your job is to clearly communicate what the end result looks like and keep that vision in front of the scouts and adults. You will get there eventually.

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troop planning meeting boys pick out places to camp and troop activity for that campout.


PLC meets each month and plans out meetings until meeting after next PLC... they take in what the campout is and if training is needed then some of the meetings leading up to that campout will focus on that.


as an example our next campout is ice fishing (weather permitting - not often that you wish for cold weather) so our next meeting is all about ice fishing. We have the owner of the pond coming to talk about bait - best bait to use when ice fishing but also what bait he will allow in his pond because he won't allow live minnows in his pond. The SPL and our 18 year old ASM will talk about dressing for the weather. And they will practice ice rescues.


since cooking is going to becoming eagle required and because our boys tend to always eat the same things over and over again usually every couple of months someone will teach a new recipe - some times it's stove, sometimes dutch oven, and sometimes backpacking. Sometimes it is an adult leading, sometimes it is an older scout, but we break into patrols and each patrol makes their own as it is taught and then at end of meeting they get to eat.


And while we do NOT have merit badge classes - if a boy is needing to get with MBC they can do so before meeting as we have 30 mins before meeting starts, and they can meet during meeting off to the back of the room. Also if we are working on say first aid in the troop meeting nothing says a boy working on first aid merit badge can learn there at meeting and then speak to MBC and demonstrate their skill.



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Eliminating merit badge classes in troop meetings was the first thing I did as Scoutmaster. But we do have adult scouters offer to do merit badge counciling outside of a meeting or on camping trips. Amazingly, not many badges are earned, as many boys do not follow through and do the work. I council wilderness survival, and yearly the boys choose to have a Wilderness survival campout where we do all the activity and skills described in the MB book. But I have the boys schedule a time to do the requirements where they discuss this and that. Only a few take the initiative and prepare to do this by reading the appropriate sections in the book and get ready to discuss it.


When I get a newly elected SPL and PL's, I tell them to watch what I do very carefully and get ready to take over next time. So I will do the first meeting in front of the troop with the SPL standing right by me. But the next meeting he has to do it. After that, I can ask what his plan is, but he has to come up with it. At PLC meetings, I will chair the first one, and the SPL will do the next meeting. After that, I mainly talk to him, and he takes over the presiding of the meeting. I tried to just throw them into the frey, but they did not know what to do. They need to see it done once or twice to get the feel of it.


I like the idea of venture patrols, but I think they can take the older boys away from the rest of the troop. The patrols need them, but they also need their own venue. Try this. Have a venture patrol that scouts older than 13 can join, and let them have dual membership in this patrol along with membership in a regular patrol. They will camp for two months with their regular patrols, but quarterly, let the venture patrol go on its own outing, It can be age appropriate; a longer backpacking trek, a 3 day conoe trip, a harder climbing trip. That can be their time. They will need it. When my son was in our troop, he said once, "Dad, our troop is now full of these little kids." He needed time with guys his own age. It is a bit more of an administrative challenge to have two outings on the venturing month, but it may solve your problem of bored older scouts.

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Much depends on your direct mentorship of the SPL and ASPLs. Hopefully they are fairly mature young men, who can handle management of the meeting itself.


Work directly with them to help them develop their meeting plans, from service patrol set-up to service patrol tear-down.


This is a good time for a working breakfast at your place, with your lead ASM as your second deep.

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Read more of your stuff ...


For keeping the senior boys engaged, have them...


1) Plan their own independent campout as an ad-hoc patrol (14 and 1st Class). That's the old Venture Patrol idea, but keeps them in their basic patrols for the monthly campout. Let them do something grander than the standard campout weekend (hike a chunk of a major trail, take a boating class, special weekend at the range)...


2) Make sure all the older youth have PORs ... and have them working to help other Scouts develop skills.


3) Have the SPL give them specific tasks to do within meetings: Run the game, do the instruction, ad infinitum.

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The only thing to add to the advice above is:


1. Have a plan. Pick what aspects of troop operations you want boy-led and have an idea what you want that to look like. Get the senior boys to buy in and make sure you get adult leaders to help with keeping the plan in place.


2. Pick your battles. I tried to go more boy-led but quickly realized I needed to take baby steps. My plan was too aggressive so I developed a staged plan putting those things I wanted boy-let most in the front of the plan and so on.


3. Be open to suggestions. Even after the plan is in place re-tooling the plan or scraping things that looked good 6 months ago but don't now is always a good idea.


4. Train in layers. By this I mean train the guys who will perform boy-led roles first. Then make sure you train the next two layers underneath them. Send who you can to NYLT. TLT is good but the materials stink. The old JLT manual is still out there and you can find Powerpoint decks that will walk you through how to teach the course. Do this once a year at least.


Hope this helps!

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It's never too early for the younger boys to begin to learn the EDGE method and to assume responsibility for their own patrols. The PL and APL for our new Scout patrol assumes the responsibility for tracking progress towards rank advancement for the entire patrol. I had a talk with the boys about how to address the issue of reporting on the patrol's performance and let the boys come up with the idea of building a spreadsheet that tracks the advancements. The PL is responsible for querying the others boys for their updates and then he turns them over to one of the leaders for entry in Troopmaster.


We're also very fortunate that the older boys in our Troop enjoy teaching the younger boys and look at it as their responsibility to teach Scout skills and signoff their books.

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Thanks for the suggestions and ideas. Some of these are general ideas that I’ve heard before (and some we’ve tried to varying degrees of success). But the detailed suggestions you all provided are very helpful – some of these I will suggest for the boys to try.


The problem with assigning everyone a POR is that not every one of these scouts needs a POR all the time – leaving some idle during troop meetings. And Den Chiefs, QM and History POR scouts don’t usually have a lot to do for their duties during troop meetings.


I guess what I think would help me most is if you could provide me an overview of four troop meeting plans – especially for the First Class and higher scouts but not Venture patrols. (I’m pretty certain we have a good program for the younger scouts.) Do your plans look like the Troop Program Features examples?


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Bearclaw wrote: The problem with assigning everyone a POR is that not every one of these scouts needs a POR all the time – leaving some idle during troop meetings. And Den Chiefs, QM and History POR scouts don’t usually have a lot to do for their duties during troop meetings.




I recommend working to bring a change of thinking to the troop from "not every one of these scouts needs a POR all the time", to "the troop needs scouts to do things and contribute regardless of whether they need a POR or not". Perhaps a sublte difference, - the first view is self focused, the second is group focused.



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Do your plans look like the Troop Program Features examples?


That is exactly what we use. Took a while to get the PLC to learn how to use it. They saw it as extra work but when they realized that having a plan, and back up activities in case something fell through, really helped things run smoothly.

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>>Existing boy-led troops have a huge asset that they may not recognize they have. They have a natural way to teach incoming youth (and adult leaders) how a boy-led troop runs – a self-sustaining process. I am still having trouble getting this going.<<


I really like your wording here, a Self-Sustaining Process (SSP) is one of the great virtues of a successful “boy run†program. In fact it’s probably a good measure of a successful boy run program.


The main obstacle for creating a SSP type program is the adults not really trusting that the scouts can do it. Adult fears are the biggest contributors to limiting growth of a boy run program. The way we tried to get past that mindset was by following the philosophy of the adults training themselves out of a job.


Scouting isn't so much about just training scouts to just be independent, but developing them with a level of skill and character that the adults can trust them to be safe. While watching your troop at the next troop meeting, ask yourself if you think the scouts could run the meeting without any adults attending. Could they lead a five mile hike? Could the SPL lead a PLC without any adults? If your answer is no, those are places where the limitations of scout independence can be expanded. Create a program where the adults don’t have to show up for the scouts to have a program.


It may be that while your scouts are following the motions of running the program, the adults are still filling in enough to keep the program moving forward. The result is the scouts aren’t truly relaying on each other to get from A to Z. You won’t get a self-sustaining process until the scouts start looking ahead to improve their performance or at least maintain the program in the future. We adults tend to look at training younger scouts to get them ready for leadership months or years down the road. Does your SPL do that? Does he fill small leadership responsibilities with inexperience scouts with the purpose of developing them for the long future? Does the SPL use leadership training to fix deficiencies in the leadership corp?


By giving scouts independence in their responsibilities, they learn the weight of responsibility and develop pride in the accomplishments of hard work. Their pride doesn’t want to see their hard work wasted, so they try to continue their performance by replacing themselves with qualified mature scouts.


Another big problem I find with most troops that can’t get to the SSP program level is that the adults don’t expect or train the scouts with good management habits to run meetings and control the groups. They get only enough training to get by with the help of adults, but not enough to perform completely independent of the adults. In most cases, the adults just don’t know the skills themselves and get by with intimidation of being an adult to control group behavior. You will find that scouts in a SSP troop are taught skills of controlling behavior without using intimidation and practice basic fundamental management skills to maintain high performing activities and meetings. You only have to let a new SPL lead his first PLC meeting without adults in the room for 15 minutes to understand the importance of those skills.


Also, don’t ram a boring program on the scouts, be creative and make it more fun. If scouts consistently dread some part of the program, change it. Our SPL leads a PLC every week 30 minutes before the Troop meeting because we found most scouts are more attentive for 30 minutes every week than 2 hours once month. Adults too.


Your older scout problem is very common and indicative of your problem of trying to build a SSP program. It is my observation over the years that the main problem with troops that have bored older scouts is the program isn’t mature enough for them. I believe 70% of all troops are boring for older scouts because their basic program is wrapped around first class skills development and advancement. Oh sure they include a few non-first class skills activities like rappelling through the year, but on the whole the weekly, monthly and yearly programs are themed around a first class skills and advancement. Older scouts have the maturity of young men that require adult level mental and physical challenges to be stimulated and feel satisfied with their decisions. Physical and mental challenges for most troops end around 13 year old scout maturity. No wonder older scouts quit at 14.


However, adults don’t see this problem and feel older scouts should still enjoy the program because of the camping and adventure. They also expect the older scouts to teach the new scouts first class skills because it’s logical for the older scouts to teach the younger scouts. And they are right, but when the older scouts keep repeating the same activities of first class development, they find themselves without any challenges to stimulate their intellectual and physical growth. They need adult level challenges in the program. That doesn’t mean high adventure.


The main cause of boring programs is that the adults still view young adults as boys. We have to start treating scouts as adult equals, not as boys or even sons. I remember one of our 16 year old scouts who drove strait from work 30 minutes after the meeting start frustratingly challenged one of our adults saying “my ASM dad comes in late from work all the time and the adults don’t hassle him about itâ€. He was right. We were treating the mature scouts differently than the rest of the adults. That was very profound and made an impact on us. We strived toward an adult attitude change of treating scouts as adults. We challenged ourselves to quit focusing on self- discipline of follow rules and instead give work toward giving scout the independence to challenge themselves in the program. We were a boy run troop, but I could see we were trying to push adult dreams on the scouts. We tried to make a paradigm shift to pushing scouts to follow their own dreams. And that is when it seemed our troop growth accelerated in all areas.


We started thinking of scouts as equals and treated them as such. The SPL was given a key to unlock the doors for our troop meetings and lock it after everyone else left. If he didn’t show up, the meeting had to go on outdoors. Our Troop Quartermaster owned a set of keys to the troop trailer and storage room, which could only be open by him even if an adult has a spare. Do you really need adults at the PLC meeting? If you think you do, than your adults haven’t matured to the level the program is capable. The older scouts know how to do it.


Independence is key to a SSP program. That’s easy to say, but it is very difficult in this culture when adult fears prevent the scouts from practicing true independence of their ideas and decisions. It takes practice for the adults. It takes time and thinking out of the box, but once you start down that path, your program will mature to the next level toward a program with a Self-Sustaining Process.


Sorry this is long, it’s kind of hard to explain in a few words, but I hope you get the point.


I love this scouting stuff.




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Eagle has it right in that make sure your PLC has gone through TLT (and that each has a PL handbook). A few months after that, send them one or two at a time to the training put on by the district or council.

As far as the PLC meetings being unproductive, you may want to provide a generalized meetings template. First 15 minutes any old business, next half hour decide theme for next month (first aid upgrades, pioneering skills, and so on), next 20 minutes covering next months campout, next 20 future camps, etc. If they don't finish each segment in their time limit, you must end it for them the first few times to impart the idea of time discipline.

Lengthy canoe trips can be scary to the young as imagination can be very creative. You might start with a one day canoe outing, work up to a weekend canoe trip and go from there.

There is always the problem of keeping older Scouts occupied while catering to the younger. This was one reason Explorers was tried. You might ask them what they want to do -- lead community service projects, do the actual grunt work in planning fundraisers, plan their own high adventure outing.

Peer learning is generally accepted. This is one reason we attend Camporees. We encourage our Scouts to visit with Scouts from other troops; while socializing they have a chance to ask how things are done in their troops

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Eagledad, you offer great wisdom. I see your point that a program not fully under the boys’ control can be a primary reason for the low interest of older scouts.


I am working on having the scouts take over even more of the program. Unfortunately the current youth leadership, made up mostly of the oldest boys, is a bit unenthusiastic (bordering on having bad attitudes). Giving them the reins doesn’t mean they will take the reins.


I don’t want to give up on them yet (although the next generation of youth seem pretty darn sharp). I’d like to be able to propose at the next PLC some fresh ideas for a better troop meeting for the older scouts. But remember, these scouts don’t want high adventure. They aren’t very motivated either. I’m hoping that I can get some ideas to offer them at the next PLC to help get them out of their malaise. I’m hoping I could even turn these guys around before the next election.

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