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Cburkhardt

When To Elect SPL in Brand New Units?

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When a new Troop starts from scratch and the Scouts are all inexperienced 11-13 year olds, I think it is best to delay election of an SPL and for the Scoutmaster Staff to temporarily provide a bit more of the “leadership”.  The goal would be to transition to a SPL leadership model as soon as possible, but not so soon as to implode the experience of youth during the earliest months.  There is a lot of this fact circumstance currently in the formation off all-Girl troops.

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yeah. Focus on the patrols as individual units. A SPL is only necessary to help with organizing the multiple patrol patrols. Until the patrols are fully functional within, they need not attempt any inter-patrol organization. Even most established troops do not really need a SPL, most need to focus on the patrols first.

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Model the desired program early.  Don't wait.  Doing anything else creates a program that's not scouting.  Get the scouts ... AND THE ADULTS ... accustomed to scouts being in-front and driving the program and the adults in the background.  ... If you have 10 or fewer scouts, then you don't need a SPL.  Just have a PL.  Or if you have 10 to 15 scouts, have two PLs that coordinate with each other.  But somewhere after the second patrol is created, the scouts should choose a SPL.  

A brand new scout may not be as effective as a fifth year SPL, but that's not the point.  If you want effectiveness, then just let the adults always be up front.  My main two reasons for this is ... scouts use these leadership opportunities to learn how to be a leader.  Second, it's their program and they should lead it.  I see no reason to wait beyond a brief introduction into scouting and what is expected.  IMHO, the best thing is to setup the expectation early that it's a youth program with the adults in the background. 

I'm not saying you let things fall apart.  We as leaders continually adjust to the scouts that we have and not wait until they are picture perfect.  Heck, often scouts move on before that happens.  .... So, a brand new SPL?  Take him aside before a meeting.  Coach him.  Ask him what he wants to accomplish at the meeting.  Ask him what he thinks he should cover.  Ask him what's next on the schedule.  Ask him how he's going to address menu planning.  Maybe some subtle hints, but I've often found the best scoutmasters mostly ask questions and rarely suggest or tell.  The key point is continually adjust to the scouts and find subtle ways to guide the scouts.  

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I agree 100% with @fred8033. Start your program off on the right foot, and it will save you all kinds of headaches later. How you begin a unit will establish its culture, traditions, and values for years to come - and those need to solidly based on the patrol method. Yes, there will be mistakes and failures and setbacks. Those experiences should be treasured as essential learning opportunities. We are what we grow beyond, so give them as many opportunities to try and do and experience and learn as you possibly can.

There are all kinds of great resources for new youth leaders. The new SPL and PL handbooks are great ways to start, as is the Handbook itself of course. There is troopleader.org, a wonderful website that helps guide new leaders, and scoutingrediscovered.com, which features a lot of well-written articles getting into the roots of what Scouting is and how it should look. And for those kids who really want to invest in their future leadership skills, there's always NYLT. 

But don't wait. Elect your leaders, train your leaders, then trust your leaders. The whole point of Scouting, for adults, is discovering the huge potential of these kids and letting them blossom via safe but unhindered leadership opportunities. The first few months will be rough, and they're supposed to be - that's when the learning happens. You've got to trust your youth to figure it out and make things happen on their own. This is how we mould our leaders in Scouting.

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When you have three or more patrols (about 24 scouts), elect an SPL, it's that simple.

What changes is the frequency that the PLC meets. Starting out, you may need it have weekly short meetings. Eventually the patrols will stand independently enough that you can space meetings apart.

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7 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

When a new Troop starts from scratch and the Scouts are all inexperienced 11-13 year olds, I think it is best to delay election of an SPL and for the Scoutmaster Staff to temporarily provide a bit more of the “leadership”.  

When I started a new unit, one of my top priorities was to find a SPL. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of experienced scouts transfer in from another unit. As an first-time scoutmaster, I really needed a good SPL to lead my unit.

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The SPL duties can be rotated by the PLs early on. Election of a POR is not to give a patch, but to fill a role. For example, if there is no gear election of a troop QM is not necessary just to "fill the position". The same with SPL, until the troop "needs" someone to fill a need, it is not much more than a patch position, not a position of responsibility.

Train the scouts to fill needs with POR;  not fill POR with scouts. This begins at the patrol level. Think about how this simple change of how we think about the POR transcends all other scouting structures, and what problems it solves pre-emptively.

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Posted (edited)
33 minutes ago, DuctTape said:

Train the scouts to fill needs with POR;  not fill POR with scouts. This begins at the patrol level. Think about how this simple change of how we think about the POR transcends all other scouting structures, and what problems it solves pre-emptively.

I agree.  Filling PORs with scouts teaches our scouts a bad lesson and can lesson the perception of scouting's value because scouts are checking boxes and getting credit for a title instead of doing something.  

This reflects a comment that I wrote and removed earlier.  Too often leaders get caught up teaching leadership as if it was the only benefit of scouting.  There are lots of benefits.  But those benefits are benefits, not the core focus.  Focus first on the promises of scouting.  Adventures.  Friendships.  Learning new things.  Being part of a gang of friends.  If troop leaders focus on supporting scouts as they pursue the promise of scouting, there will be continuous opportunities for the adult leaders to teach and coach subtle lessons (skills, leadership, etc)

So, get the scouts up and running the program.  Support them.  Continually adjust.  Beyond that, don't worry about having qualified leaders first.  Spend your energy on supporting a great scouting program and finding the next warm cup of coffee.  

Edited by fred8033

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A brand new troop with only enough scouts to fill one patrol, no, SPL isn't a priority and can wait.  When you have enough scouts to have two functional patrols, absolutely have an SPL elected and begin to train the troop on the model of having the SPL lead the way.  Yes, if they are all inexperienced, you as SM are going to have a lot of one-on-one mentoring with that SPL outside and inside of the troop meetings.  But, by watching that SPL, your other scouts are learning what the job entails and why it is important.   

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Posted (edited)

All really good posts. I've helped several new troops get started and each one is a little different because of the skill levels of the adults. Remember, in a scout run program, adults have to learn more faster than the scouts if they don't want to get in the scouts way.

The challenge is to give the scouts as much decision making responsibility as their maturity can handle without taking the fun out of their program. In most cases, the adults don't respect the abilities of the scouts, and the scouts don't understand the purpose of the program. I'm a big believer in the SPL and PL Handbooks because they help the adults and scouts learn the program together. Scouts learn to trust the adults when they feel they are a team. By the way, the troop may not be ready for the SPL yet, but the SPL Manual has a lot of guidance for a new troop trying to build inertia. 

Where adults have to feel their way is measuring the maturity of the scouts. 10 to 13 year old boys (not sure about girls) would much rather play Capture the Flag than plan the meals for the next camp out. Of course part of making decisions is doing the boring stuff, but it wears on the younger scouts quickly. I usually recommend just 3 or 4 months for the first couple of election cycles to prevent burnout. I assure you the an 11 year old doesn't mind handing over the responsibilities if they are truly making decisions for the group because it's hard, very hard. As the patrol and/or troop starts to get the swing of things, the election cycle should be extended to the normal program standard.

As for the adults, the biggest challenge is allowing the scouts the room to make decisions, while giving just enough assistance to help keep the program moving forward. Faltering is when the scouts aren't having fun. There are no easy examples to know when the adults need to apply some subtle assitance to help the scouts. But, I recommend the SM monitor the young scouts enough to know when the fun is over. Scouts should look forward to coming back next week. If they don't, then likely they have max out and need some help.

That being said, the biggest problem with new leaders is adult intrusion on the boys (umm, youth) program. For example, there is never a time an adult should stand in front of the group with the youth leaders unless the youth leader gave them permission for a temporary moment on the floor. When a scout stumbles, their first reaction is turn to the adult for help. And the adults reaction is to step in. When adults are out-of-site, they are out of mind. Scouts need to build the confidence of pushing on to the next item and go to the adult later for guidance when they have a moment. Adults should stand in the back behind all the scouts.

I also suggest that adults never put the scout sign up first. It's the scouts troop or patrol, the youth leaders should always put the sign up first to control the group. If the adult needs the groups attention, they ask the youth leader of the group to get control for them, then patiently wait until the group is down to a quiet roar. The adult thanks the youth LEADER and continues. I've even done this during Scoutmaster minutes. By the way, when scouts felt the need to talk to their buggy during a SM minute, I took that as a cue that I need to improve my presentation. 

Adults should talk as little as possible. Words from adults are sleeping pills for young scouts. I have seen adults go on and on for 20 minutes just doing announcements. For some reason Scoutmasters need to feel important by talking and talking and talking (Practice making Scoutmaster minutes only 2 minutes long). I found that scouts don't start respecting the adult leadership until they have a need to ask the adults for help. Standing there watching chaos creep into the activities requires adults biting down on a stick, or a bullet for the squeamish, but scouts don't like chaos anymore than the adults. When the scouts come to the SM for help, they really want it and are ready to listen.

As I said, how much guidance adults need to give to scouts of new program is challenging, but scouts do learn fast. So, adults need to learn the skill of backing up and giving more of the decision making to the scouts as they gain experience and confidence. Even 11 year olds with three months experience are more mature and need more room. It's much better for adults to let the scouts go to far to find their limits than to assume the limits and hold them back. I often say I made more mistakes as a scout leader than I did right, but scouts are amazing if you let them go to their full abilities. 

As for SPL or not, I agree with letting the scouts fill responsibilities as is needed. But, the handbooks suggest SPLs, so there is a balance of doing what is needed along with following a plan. The scouts will figure it out as they go back and forth.

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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Posted (edited)

@Cburkhardt, It's obvious there is a debate as to how many patrols have to be formed before a troop needs an SPL. It's a big country, so you'll have to make a boots-on-the-ground decision about that. I'm of the opinion that two PL's and their assistants can sit at a table and plan meetings/activities without needing an SPL. If they have a field of dreams a stick and some ball for duct tape, it's obvious who will be versus who in the first round of playoffs.

They and their assistants and any other scouts who are making rank quickly can gather over breakfast/pizza and have the troop's first ILST. Like @DuctTape says, they can decide which position they need to fill first. Another troop has given them a bunch of gear? Maybe they need a QM. Donations of books? Librarian. Etc ...

@David CO is absolutely right that a mature scout or two from another troop can be a godsend. That's problematic for troops of girls who aren't linked with a troop of boys (or, informally with a co-ed crew that does a lot of hiking and camping). But, even without that, after three months of real activity, the PL's and assistants who you have will be "senior" in terms of the leadership "school-of-hard-knocks." You and your ASMs can sit on the opposite edge of a big old field with one patrol in one corner another in the opposite corner and watch them normalize before your eyes.

It's when you recruit a few more scouts and those two patrols are oversize that the calculus changes. They need to form that third patrol. You need to be in the middle of the field -- and they, at three corners. Your head is going to be turned away from someone. Therefore, a scout and assistant have to shuttle around and check up on them, then report to you how things are going. The PLC is now 6. The troop leadership is now the size of a patrol in its own right, teams now have to take turns on that field of dreams, and to make things like that work amicably, the lines of communication need to switch from mutual to hierarchical.

You may already be at that critical mass for an SPL. Or, you may have scouts like @Eagledad describes, who looking at that handbook and thinking that they'd like that patch even though the position would be make-work. Regardless, the one thing you don't want to do is have an adult doing the work of an SPL. Better to leave the position empty or try to coach a scout up to that level than give any inkling to the scouts that they can let an adult steal their leadership development.

Edited by qwazse
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7 minutes ago, qwazse said:

You may already be at that critical mass for an SPL. Or, you may have scouts like @Eagledad describes, who looking at that handbook and thinking that they'd like that patch even though the position would be make-work. Regardless, the one thing you don't want to do is have an adult doing the work of an SPL. Better to leave the position empty or try to coach a scout up to that level than give any inkling to the scouts that they can let an adult steal their leadership development.

How the scouts choose to go depends on the weight of responsibility. I have watched our scouts add and eliminate positions as the leadership evaulate the work of the group versus production of each position. Scouts hate work, so given the freedom, they will find the shortest path to everything. I knew our PLC figured it out when they added an ASPL for the new scout class that doubled in size, but eliminated that position next year with a normal size class. As qwazse points out, an adult taking on the SPL, or any POR, hides the weight of the responsibility from the team.

And, I should have added, that any scout can carry out the responsibilities explained in the PL and SPL handbooks. It's not about the patch, it's about getting the team functioning efficiently.  

Honestly, my recommendation for a new young troop using the SPL and PL Handbook is more to shape the adults minds to a "patrol-method troop" program because they would otherwise force their own vision on the scouts. Usually the adults vision forces scouts to wait and follow the adults when it should be the other way around. As long as the adults are using the same guides as the scouts, everyone's energies are going in the same direction even if nobody is really sure of the goals yet. If somebody has a question, everybody pulls out the same handbook to check.

Barry

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Our all-girl Troop now numbers 26.  Up from 19 that we had on Feb. 1 without any recruitment activity.  Sometimes girls and families just show up based on word of mouth.  We have 3 PL and 3 APL positions so far.    We now have a cohort of 5 girls 14, 15 and one 16.  None have scouting experience , but there is good leadership potential there.  We are going to begin rotating SPL duties between them now and during summer camp (we have 17 going so far).  We will have an SPL election the first week of September with the members we currently have, and just before our big recruiting open house at mid-month.  I find that the girls are intensely interested in the leadership slots we will have in the fall, as we will expand to other Troop positions at that time (QM, Scribe, etc.).

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7 minutes ago, Cburkhardt said:

Our all-girl Troop now numbers 26. ... We will have an SPL election the first week of September with the members we currently have, and just before our big recruiting open house at mid-month.  I find that the girls are intensely interested in the leadership slots we will have in the fall, as we will expand to other Troop positions at that time (QM, Scribe, etc.). 

I've found this with venturing females as well. The ones who haven't had formal recognition as leaders before are really enthused to hold a position. They don't even care about the patch (especially if they weren't in GS/USA). They just want to be trusted with some responsibility. And the smile on their face when you give them a "well done" is priceless.

If I were you, before summer camp, I would take a shot at teaching ILST (Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops) for PLs APLs and any youth interested in running for SPL. If one of the girls was a venturer, she may have taken ILSC. If so, you could ask her to lead the course. It really is intended to be a youth-coordinated youth-taught kind of thing. Obviously, schedules might be full and this takes up the better part of the day.

Even if you can't fit in ILST ... if you are on course to have the lion-share of each current patrols at summer camp, I strongly suggest you  move up your SPL elections to before you depart for camp. Two or three campouts is enough for youth to decide who they think would be a good leader for the week. I don't think you will regret having one youth and her assistant "on point" for the entire week. Really, PL is the much harder job at camp, and your patrols -- especially very new ones -- really need stable leadership. In this circumstance, the SPL basically fills out rosters assigning patrols to troop-wide responsibilities, leads roll call, and does occasional after-action review with the PLs (i.e., practices holding PLCs). At the end of the week, you can ask your camp SPL and ASPL if they are still interested in serving in September. They may not be because of other extracurricular obligations. Either way, your scouts will go into the fall with a better idea in their head about what to expect from an SPL if they see one trying to work the position for a week straight.

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