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Zaphod

What does it take to be a good MBC?

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At our first troop meeting, my son's new troop asked how we wanted to help out. Merit Badge counselor was tossed out there and after looking into it, it sounds appealing.

 

There are actually quite a few merit badges that I think I could tackle. But I run into some holes in my knowledge/ability when I read through the requirements. For example, I love water sports -- I have a river in my back yard, 4 kayaks, and a canoe. I would happily lend the necessary equipment to the boys and their parents and show them how to use it. But I don't actually know all the strokes listed in the book, etc. I am willing to watch youtube videos or attend council training, but after reading some past threads and seeing how it can be annoying for scouts to get a dud counselor, I just want to make sure I am prepared. 

 

What do you all think makes for a fun and effective merit badge counselor? And what do you all do when you need to plug the gaps in your own experience? Thanks!

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I'm not an MBC, but in some ways being a crew advisor is worse because the amount that I'm really good at is a small fraction of what my venturers want to do. In that case, I surround myself with good people, keep numbers of who I think are the best outfitters, most reliable trainers, etc... I do my part by trying to keep my lifeguard certifications up to date.

 

So, pick one or two of the badges you are most interested in and focus on those.

 

A fun counselor can give a boy some idea of what he knows, but also refer him to people or groups who will really make for an enjoyable experience.

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@@qwazse is correct, find resource personnel that fill in your knowledge gap.

 

I always get the MB book and work through all the requirements and master them before I take on boys.  I did teach Bugling at one time, I don't play brass, all woodwind in my history, but I did know bugle calls, when to use them, how to use them, the understanding of how a bugler in the troop works, etc. and I can MAYBE actually be able to play and make noise.    I can however, teach the boys now to make noise and change notes, it's up to them to practice and make it work.  Always turns out okay, the boys do well in the field.  Those boys who are brass players do better than those with no musical background.  They HAVE to practice for band and that builds up their ability to play the horn.  Those that don't have to practice, don't and usually can't finish the MB.

 

Believe it or not, there are actually boys that want the MB requirements pencil whipped without actually having to do the work.  :)

 

 

 

I find that if one knows the requirements and how to help the boy accomplish them, and one enjoys working with kids, they'll do just fine.

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Forget about being a good Merit Badge Counselor - aim for being a GREAT Merit Badge Counselor.  Knowing the strokes is a technical thing - you probably do most if not all of them already, you just don't know the names for them - that'll come (the best teachers are those that admit that they don't know everything they need to teach at the start of their careers but have realized that they'll not only learn it but master it as they're teaching others - and then once they master those, look for new things to teach for the challenge of learning and mastering new things.

 

So what makes on a great merit badge counselor?  Anyone can pick up a merit badge book and learn the requirements - what makes a great merit badge counselor is someone who is excited about what they're counseling, and is enthusiastic about passing that knowledge on - and has the patience to work with boys of various skill and physical strength levels to make sure the Scouts have a great experience.

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IMO, there is a fine line here.  The way I have looked at it, a MBC isn't really the teacher.... necessarily.  Many times it seems like they have evolved into that though, with MB "classes" and all.  If that's the goal, then I suppose it does become a teaching role.  Some have requirements to "demonstrate", so there is an element of teaching going on.... but mostly a MBC is a mentor, a guide, and an examiner... that will advise an instruct a bit, depending on how much the scout needs to be spoon fed....

 

Look at SCUBA, as an example.  Nothing says the MBC must be certified and current as a certified SCUBA Open Water Instructor, or any other kind of certified instructor for that matter.  In this case, the MBC will help, mentor, and advise.  The MBC will help the scout find an instructor. And the MBC will verify that the specific BSA requirements have been met.  The MBC doesn't even really need to get into the water with the scout.

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Hiya @@Zaphod (Beeblebrox!)!  Welcome to da forum.

 

I reckon da most important things for a MBC are a love of the thing they're counselin', and joy in workin' with young people.  In da long run, the best thing I've seen MB counselin' do is ignite a new interest in a lad - something that might go on to become a career or a lifelong hobby.   The only way that happens is if the boy sees your own deep interest in the area, and if you're willin' to share that interest well beyond checkin' off requirements.

 

In terms of some of da water sports MBs, be aware that da BSA does have some requirements of counselors in terms of skills and background, eh?  It varies by badge.  It takes a little bit to get used to BSA watersports way of doin' things.  For example, from what yeh say yeh probably wouldn't be qualified to counsel canoeing at this point.

 

IMO good counselors should be good examples for da boys by always learnin' new things themselves, eh?  So why not go take an ACA canoe and canoe instructor course?  It'll be fun, you'll learn some stuff, and you'll pick up on all sorts of things that will help yeh teach boys.  Then go watch a BSA waterfront at camp and talk to da waterfront director about how things work, just to get familiar.  After you've done a few rounds as an MBC, go back and do a higher level ACA course.  Keep learnin' and you'll inspire the lads to be adventurous and to keep learnin' themselves.

 

Now one final thing that yeh need to be aware of.  In da broad world of Boy Scoutin' there are sort of two versions of MB counseling.  In one version, yeh proceed sort of like school, eh?  There's a scheduled "class" or bigger group of boys.  The lads have worksheets, they might expect powerpoints, yeh teach to the requirements, yeh often test/check off things as a group.   Yeh can finish in a Saturday morning or in 4 hours at camp.    Some boys, and some adults/parents will be used to this system and expect it, eh?  If yeh try to do anything else they'll consider yeh a bad counselor who is "adding to the requirements" or somesuch. 

 

In da second version, counselin' is a relationship where the boy gets the full benefit of the attention and expertise of the counselor.  He and a buddy make their own appointments with yeh, you share all sorts of things about the discipline and have a lot of fun with it.  Along da way they just happen to meet da requirements individually while they really get excited by the field and learn some good stuff.  Some kids and units expect this sort of approach, and if yeh are offerin' the class thing they won't come/won't allow their kids to come to you.

 

Da second one is da traditional way MBs are done, and actually reflects da official policy of the BSA.  The first way has become the more common way things are done in da real world.   It requires less commitment by both da counselor and da boys.   Yeh might be able to tell I'm an old traditionalist.  :D   

 

My point, though, is yeh have to know yourself and know the unit(s) you're servin' and try to work out things that are a good fit, eh?  Yeh want to be able to spend your time well, and yeh want to work with boys who are lookin' for what you are offerin'.    It's good to be aware of da two approaches because yeh might decide that counselin' badges for some kids/units/badge fairs is not what yeh personally want to do.   It's OK to turn down boys as a counselor, eh?  In fact it's a kindness to do that up front, rather than spend their time and yours lookin' for different things.

 

In the end, though, da answer to your question is love of your field, and joy in workin' with da lads in the quirky, amusin' world of young people.   Good luck!

 

Beavah

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I'll echo the sentiments provided by others.  You don't need to be an expert, just willing to put the effort into the merit badge to become an expert.  

 

I've always loved cooking (taught myself to cook in law school to save money).  My wife and I used to spend weekends cooking gourmet meals -- before we had a kid and our jobs became increasingly demanding.  However, I've never really cooked in the outdoors other than using a barbarque.  Fast forward three years -- I have cooked everything in a dutch oven including babyback ribs, roast beef, baked ziti, Italian spareribs, chicken caccitore, chili, stew, corn bread, hot pretzels, dump cakes, two layer chocolate cakes, cheesecake and more.  I've learned about foil cooking and learned to barbarque over a fire (we had some delicious marinated skirt steak on the last campout).  I've started dehydrating my own food and jerky for backpacking treks.  The safety and diet requirements were easy to learn.  Now, I know more about camp cooking that most long time scouters.

 

I've always loved camping as a kid, but wasn't in scouts.  When my son crossed over, I read everything I could find on camping and backpacking gear and talked to everyone I could.  Got a subscription to Backpacker magazine.  I studied everything I could find on survival skills.  Started "doing" it.  Three years later, I've camped out around 70 nights and hiked or backpacked around 250 miles (with another 50 planned this summer).  I've taken Wilderness First Aid training twice.  Now I'm an MBC for Camping, Backpacking and Wildnerness Survival.

 

I'm a lawyer and in college I majored in International Relations and Speech Communications.  Being a MBC for Law, Citizenship in the World and Public Speaking is easy.  I'm a dad and work in the tax field, so being an MBC for Family Life and Personal Management also was easy.  I've been playing chess since I was around 6.  I've never learned the history, the nomenclature or the various "scenarios" that need to be taught, but it just took a weekend of research to fill in what I didn't know (most of it I knew but didn't know what it was called).

 

So, you really just need to be interested in a subject and have some experience.  A reasonably smart person can fill in the gaps.

 

@@blw2 is correct.  The MBC typically isn't supposed to be a "teacher" but a mentor.  I find myself somewhere in between -- maybe a "guide."  I find that I provide the base knowledge, we have a discussion about the "why" and then it is up to the scouts to show they know it by doing.  

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Now one final thing that yeh need to be aware of.  In da broad world of Boy Scoutin' there are sort of two versions of MB counseling.  In one version, yeh proceed sort of like school, eh?  There's a scheduled "class" or bigger group of boys.  The lads have worksheets, they might expect powerpoints, yeh teach to the requirements, yeh often test/check off things as a group.   Yeh can finish in a Saturday morning or in 4 hours at camp.    Some boys, and some adults/parents will be used to this system and expect it, eh?  If yeh try to do anything else they'll consider yeh a bad counselor who is "adding to the requirements" or somesuch. 

 

In da second version, counselin' is a relationship where the boy gets the full benefit of the attention and expertise of the counselor.  He and a buddy make their own appointments with yeh, you share all sorts of things about the discipline and have a lot of fun with it.  Along da way they just happen to meet da requirements individually while they really get excited by the field and learn some good stuff.  Some kids and units expect this sort of approach, and if yeh are offerin' the class thing they won't come/won't allow their kids to come to you.

 

Da second one is da traditional way MBs are done, and actually reflects da official policy of the BSA.  The first way has become the more common way things are done in da real world.   It requires less commitment by both da counselor and da boys.   Yeh might be able to tell I'm an old traditionalist.  :D   

 

I think there is an "in-between" third way.  For example, I do Personal Management during four one-hour session over four weeks which are mostly discussion.  In between the classes the boys are supposed to prepare for the requirments discussed at the next session.  Then, the boys are expected to meet with me separately when the get the various "doing" activities done and then to have a final discussion of what they learned for the badge.  Camping is one four hour session on a Friday night with pizza, backpack show and tell and a tent setting up contest.  The guys need to have at least 12 nights camping to attend.  They already know the stuff, so it is a lot of discussion and everyone learns from each other.  When they get the required nights of camping and required adventures, I have an individual conversation witht he scout.  Cooking is a 1 hour meeting where they plan the menus, a full day of cooking (with discussions interspersed between meals) and a one hour follow up meeting where they do a lot of the paper work.  They show they know the requirements by doing the actual cooking.  Then there is one more separate meeting where they talk about cooking for their family and we review what they learned in the badge.  I've actually done the learning requirements for backpacking merit badge as a series of conversations on a backpacking trek.  No power points and no worksheets used.

 

That being said, I am working on a powerpoint presentation for Wilderness Survival mainly because there is a lot of information that needs to be conveyed and I think the merit badge pamphlet is lacking in many areas.  Also, it allows me to use video clips, music and other gimicks to keep the boys attention.  The 3 hour presentation is followed the next day by a campout where the boys make their survival kits, build their shelters, start their fires, filter their water, etc.  The day after the campout is a group debriefing asking what did you learn?

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Well, I am even more of a "traditionalist" than most traditionalists.  There are several purposes to the MB program, not the least of which is to get boys familiar with taking the initiative to contact an adult they may not know, set up appointments, and complete the requirements without the "spoonfeeding" from parents or unit leaders (e.g. Merit Badge Fairs).  My pet peeve is those units who sign up (or not) parents to counsel MB to their own troop only, which parents may or may not be "experts" in the field.  The program was designed for MB Counselors to be registered at the District level to be a resource for all troops.  Not every troop will have a true "expert" in fields such as Composite Materials, Beekeeping, or Fruit and Nut Culture.  (I know those are "retired" subjects and I'm showing my age here ;)

 

The second purpose is to introduce scouts to potential career fields, learning from true experts by vocation or avocation, who have a passion for the field and can effectively communicate that passion to the scout.  Not just someone who can read the MB requirements and verify that they were completed.  It's the journey, not the piece of cloth.

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Thanks for the advice everyone. Looks like with all the training needed it will be awhile before I can actually be an MBC. But I'll get started and hopefully will be able to work with the boys before the river freezes over!

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