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Jenn

Questions about a "boy led" troop

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Five months ago my 11 year old son joined a very small Boy Scout Troop.  He was in Cub Scouts for 5 years and I have been very involved as a den leader and Pack Committee Chair.  I have no prior experience at the troop level.  

The troop we joined had only one patrol with 6 boys.  My son and 5 of his Webelos friends joined together and formed a new patrol (doubling the size of the troop).  The troop has been in existence for 40+ years and has two ASM who have been around for a long time.

The problem is that although they claim to be "boy led",  the boys have no idea how to run a meeting, plan an activity or actually lead anything.  They had an election, but the new PLs received no training and have not had any opportunity to act as  leaders.  There does not seem to be any system for training the boys to take on various jobs/positions.

Everything is very disorganized.  Meetings are boring.  Older boys stand in front of the room and lecture the younger boys about various topics.  No one is using the EDGE method.  Boys are getting signed off on requirements without actually completing them.  (Instead of "demonstrating" various things, they just have the boys explain, regurgitating what is written in the handbook).  The ASMs quiz the boys at length on skills, asking them to describe or explain when the requirement clearly says "show" or "demonstrate".

The SM recently stepped down for personal reasons and one of the new parents has taken on that role.  He's a great guy, but has no experience at the troop level (previously volunteered as a den leader).

I'm willing to pitch in and volunteer to help make the troop better.  But I honestly get the feeling that they don't want to improve.  So I'm wondering if we should simply look for a better, more organized, well run troop.   

My biggest concerns right now are the lack of training for the scouts, and the way they are addressing the requirements.  Is this typical for a Boy Scout Troop?

Appreciate any advice.  Thanks!

 

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What you are facing is normal, this is what almost all new scout troops face.  The boys need to be trained, before they can lead. The scout master is the key person that needs to get the SPL trained and up to speed.

There are some books that would really help your new scout master with some much needed insight, I suggest:

The Scout Masters Handbook

The Boy Scout Handbook

So Far, So Good!  A New Scoutmaster's Story  by Clarke Green

The Scouting Journey, by Clarke Green

The Scoutmaster's Other Handbook, by Mark A. Ray

 

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I would add the Patrol Leaders Handbook; an edition printed prior to 1970. They are cheap on ebay, and provide concrete examples for an inexperienced PL to try.

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So you have 11 Scouts and two patrols? You have one small patrol of experienced Scouts (sort of) and one small patrol of new Scouts? What you have is two completely different programs with a SM that doesn’t know how to run either.

Of course the 2 smaller patrols isn’t the elephant in the room (SM with no experience), but I would personally start by mixing the two patrols together for one program. 

I think a small troop like yours is an ideal place for scouting. Actually perfect. Older Scouts run the program, which requires pulling the the younger Scouts along on adventures. It gives your more experienced Scouts a chance to show off some real scouting stuff. The problem is your troop isn’t doing adventures.

Shake things up a bit; do a small hike at the next troop (patrol?) meeting. Show how to use the compus, stars, and gps. Stop at a local park and pull out the makings for s’mores from your backpack. Start a fire and enjoy the flaming marshmallows. Let the Scouts relax and laugh. This should be fun, so step back, watch and enjoy older Scouts and younger Scouts mixing it up a bit.

i agree with the resources from the other posters, really good stuff. But I feel your SM is everwhelmed. I would call the DE or District Commissioner to find an old retired grey beard who would enjoy volunteering a little time. You don’t need him to lead, just support and build some confidence. 

Our troop came from your situation. Learning how to be a good scout leader is part of the fun. I made mistakes more than I did it right. But we had fun. fun has to start somewhere and I think it should be with adventures, not advancement. 

You can help, look for something, an opportunity, to take the Scouts somewhere fun. Anything, it doesn’t have to be outdoors. Call the SM and tell him you got some discount bowling tickets for Troop meeting night. It gives him a break and makes for a fun night. Then, everyone can re-evaluate how the meetings can change, at least a little, torward more fun stuff.

I don’t know, just some quick thoughts.

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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9 hours ago, cocomax said:

What you are facing is normal, this is what almost all new scout troops face.  The boys need to be trained, before they can lead. The scout master is the key person that needs to get the SPL trained and up to speed.

There are some books that would really help your new scout master with some much needed insight, I suggest:

The Scout Masters Handbook

The Boy Scout Handbook

So Far, So Good!  A New Scoutmaster's Story  by Clarke Green

The Scouting Journey, by Clarke Green

The Scoutmaster's Other Handbook, by Mark A. Ray

 

To add, ANYTHING WRITTEN BY WILLIAM "GREEN BAR BILL" HILLCOURT (emphasis). Hillcourt took B-P's Patrol Method, and improved upon it with BP's, and after his death Lady BP's, blessing. The bulk of his writings were published from circa 1929 -1972 when the "Improved Scouting Program came out. It was a disaster. Hillcourt came out of retirement to write another edition of the BSA Handbook in 1979. He also wrote numerous articles for BOYS' LIFE MAGAZINE where he got the sobriquet "Green Bar Bill"

 

Also Eagle dad is spot on with going to Traditional Patrols, aka Mixed Aged Patrols. They were the norm from 1910 - 1989, and many troops still use them because they work.

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Hi @Jenn,  welcome to the forums!

As the other scouters have noted, You all are in a good place with room to grow.

One way to break the cycle: offer a weekend activity for your son's patrol. If you have a campfire, great! But it could be to carve/paint pumpkins, bake pies, or make-your-own pizza. Invite a couple of adult leaders to come enjoy the pie.

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Hi @Jenn,

I suspect that it's not that your troop doesn't want to improve.  It's that the troop is a bubble.  They don't know what they don't know and don't realize that there is a bigger world out there that is honestly a whole lot more fun.  If this was a troop with a long time leader doing this, then I'd suspect the Scoutmaster doesn't want to change.  But, in this case where there are leadership changes, I suspect it's a lot more about simply not knowing. I'm guessing that they figure they're going along just fine.

There is an intro level course - ILST (Intro to Leadership Skills for Troops).  It is designed to be taught by older scouts to younger Scouts at the troop level.  I'd look to see if you could get this going for your troop.  Simple exposure to the materials will get some wheels turning.

There is an second level scouts - NYLT (National Youth Leadership Training).  It is taught at the council level. Often a troop will send the SPL and upcoming SPLs to this class.  It is a very good way for your older scouts to learn leadership skills in the context of a well structured course.  I would highly recommend this.

If your Scouts are not active in the OA, I'd encourage that too.  I've seen this be a way for older Scouts to intermingle with other older Scouts.  By osmosis, they'll see how they lead and emulate some of that.

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Thanks for all the thoughtful suggestions!  

I am trying to encourage more training for the scouts.  I think that would be really helpful!

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Another thing came to mind

One of the single best Scouting courses I've taken was a two hour University of Scouting session on Troop annual planning.  What that thought me was to focus for a small amount of time on your big goals for the year.  Is it a trip to Philmont, a three day canoeing trip, a beach camping experience, or something else that's new and exciting.  From there, start planning your monthly camping trips.  If your troop is going to Philmont, it will need some warm up hikes, so plan that into the calendar.  From there the Scouts then need to start figuring out what has to happen each week to support that.  i.e., if you're canoeing this month you might need some skills instruction - then build that in.  You'll need time to plan food, gear, supplies, etc.  

I mention this because I find that a very common mistake of both adults & scouts is that they look at the troop meeting as an event to plan.  They then try to figure out 90 minutes of stuff to do.  Given the limited experience of most scouts (and most adults), that leads to lots of elongated lecture time.  However, I think that's backwards.  Instead, they should look at what they need to accomplish the month and then figure out how they can leverage the troop meetings to get it done.  I see troop meetings as a gift - they give the scouts a  3-4 hours of meeting time a month to make their camping trip the best thing ever.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen a PLC have a lackluster meeting only to then see an email that says "come 30 minutes before the meeting so that we can plan food for the campout this weekend."  This mistake results in boring troop meetings and then underwhelming camping trips.

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In my experience first year parents should ask a lot of questions before coming to conclusions. The SM should have a vision of how the program should function and should be able to share it with any parent and the committee. You should ask questions like:

What is the strategy for patrols - same age or mixed. what is the benefit

How are leaders trained?

What meeting framework is provided to the scouts to make their planning more focused?

How/when does the troop use EDGE to teach?

Do you think the troop is on the right track or do we have some work to do to get the there?

 

And last but not least - for those things the SM agrees need to change or has no answers - ask how can I or we help? Can I order PL and SPL books for you? Can I do some research ILST and help you set it up? What can I do to save you time so you can focus on the scouts?

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I'd add http://scoutleadership.com/

"Working the Patrol Method." It's an easy read, digestible book. 

The Scoutmaster is the top guy, so if you want to effect change, you have to lead from behind, or below, without undermining him. The ideal position for you to be in is an ASM, where you can serve as an adviser to the Scoutmaster and potential work with the Scouts, with the Scoutmasters approval. 

The issues your troop are having is common for troops. There are few extremes from my experience. There's what I call "Webelos 3" which is where the adults treat Boy Scouts like cub scouts, and smother them with advancement and doing things for them. There's "Lord of the Flies", where the adults are overly hands off with the Scouts. The Scouts flounder because they have no training and no framework to operate in. It's much like trying to play a game where you don't know the rules, only nobody's refereeing anyways. 

In a situation like your's I advise Scoutmasters to start from the SPL down. Get the SPL trained and proper coaching from the adults, and allow him to build up his patrol leaders, who will in turn build up their patrols. A few ASM's to support and coach other troop leadership positions are helpful so the SM can focus on the SPL and PLs. Your troop is small enough that really the Scoutmaster and another ASM or two are sufficient. Too many cooks in the kitchen can cause confusion for the Scouts. 

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On 10/20/2018 at 8:00 AM, DuctTape said:

I would add the Patrol Leaders Handbook; an edition printed prior to 1970. They are cheap on ebay, and provide concrete examples for an inexperienced PL to try.

Which edition do you recommend?  There seem to be a lot of different years' versions available cheap second hand.   What is a good one?

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1 hour ago, Treflienne said:

Which edition do you recommend?  There seem to be a lot of different years' versions available cheap second hand.   What is a good one?

My favorite is the 1967 edition.  Timeless insights.  Well written, well organized. 

Page 87, Chapter 6, Lead Your Patrol on Hikes:  "Scouting was intended for the outdoors.  Most of your patrol members joined to go camping and hiking...."

Next para:  Learn Hike Leadership.

"Planning a varied hike program."

"Knowing what equipment to take."

"Being courteous...."

"Observing safety precautions on trails and roads."

"Knowing how to keep from getting lost (and what to do if you get lost)."

"Practicing the rules of health and sanitation."

"These all add up to training yourself in hike leadership so your Scoutmaster can have confidence in your ability to lead your patrol."

Good stuff!

PS DuctTape is correct, avoid anything after 1970.  The one from my era as a scout, '72 edition, is very watered down.

 

Edited by desertrat77
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