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Eagle1993

How to increase usage of Patrol Method

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So it appears I will be taking over as SM of a fairly large Troop (70 - 80 scouts).   The previous SM has been looking to step down the last few years and has not been present for most of this year. My son recently crossed over into this Troop and after a few adult leader meetings the CC asked me to take the role.  After declining twice, I had further discussions and found that while the Troop is large they are becoming less active and there is concern they will collapse.  Several Troops in my area have already died (over 4 packs feed this Troop) so I accepted.

I have a general idea of this Troop’s culture and don’t want to rock the boat, but there are a few areas I think the scouts could change.  My primary thought is that we can improve the use of the patrol method.  Currently:

patrols are set by the leaders

PL and SPLs are set by leaders

A scout told my son that Patrols only really matter at summer camp, Klondike and a few Troop meetings.

This sounds like a lot of Troops where patrols are used, but not in the original concept.  Given we have 70 - 80 scouts I think the Patrol method is critical.  Any thoughts on a plan to increase usage of the patrol method?

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Start with your other adults. Get them on board with the idea or else they will sabatoge anything you attempt.

Get PL handbooks, and SM handbooks and be sure the adults first understand their roles and how they fit in supporting the Patrol Method.

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Agree about getting the adults to understand and even create an adult patrol.  An old goat patrol may be fun.  Have the adults do everything like a patrol would do, especially on an outing.  They can have an adult patrol leader and positions per se.  The patrol emphasis has way more contact and interpersonal communication and interaction with the individual scout.  Depending on the ages and/or rank of the troop, you have a lot of options on how to structure events.  While stressing patrol methods, I've seen where ranks like star, life, or eagle have troop level activities. We pulled all star scouts to set up the ice cream social, life scouts can stay up with a fire until midnight, etc.  These rank associated events are not to take away from any patrol method, as a patrol can be assigned the same task.  The only afford a unit a time to bring those ranked scouts out of the patrols for troop support and another opportunity for leadership development.

Patrol flags, cheers, and events only stress the use of patrols.  For any negatives about woodbadge, the patrols and patrol methods are strongly followed and stressed.       

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The patrol camping and cohesion is a good path, but it is a journey.  Needs to be in the forefront in camping and meetings

When I joined my current troop the camping method was, at best, the blob method.  Sort of everyone camps, in a large group.  To move towards the patrol method, we revamped the "How" we camped, sort of cold turkey.  Working with the PLC we reset the patrol boxes, and every patrol got the box, tarp, table, lantern, etc.

First campout (a February one) after we worked through the details, this was the new way.  Before any personal gear is setup, trailer is unloaded, patrol sites set (spread out mind you), to include tarp, table, etc.  Honestly this took over two hours and there was a good bit of involvement to keep on task.  Now 10 years later, this takes maybe 15 minutes and all the Scouts know what to expect and areas are setup, they are spaced out, and we sort of kinda look like a troop with patrols.  It is not perfect, but it is better and continuing to be part of the culture.

For meetings we have an area outside, (hope it doesn't rain on meeting nights) around the central assembly area there are posts with the patrol names, they group there for opening and closing, and the patrols cycle through instruction by patrols.

Our troop has the continual mixed age group patrols.  The leaders allocate new Scouts to patrols each year.  For PL and APL the patrols hold elections (we do this on paper to discourage Russian influence) every 6 months or so.  Typically this is done on one of the outings.

Again, not perfect and not technically by the book, but it does seem to work for our troop.  Note we are in the 80 +/- Scout range for the unit.

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Established Troop cultures are resistant to change because the older scouts just don't like it. And the more experienced adults aren't much easier. Change comes best from the younger scouts. You will have to be creative to keep enough of the older culture so the older scouts feel comfortable, but getting them to bend enough to start melding the younger scouts toward the new culture. 

You have to get very good explaining why your changes are good for the scouts to get the adults to try you ideas. Remember, their resistance is more of laziness of changing to new ways than not liking your ideas. But, they will find all kinds of reasons why your ideas aren't good. So, learn how to explain your goals and why your changes get you to those goals. It's the dark they resist. If you can paint a clear bright future, they will follow. 

Another way of getting the culture to change faster is to change the usual agenda. Go in and strive for new adventure: rappelling, canoeing, backpacking, and so forth. Do a couple of meetings outside or at a near by local park to change the environment. Get the older scouts and adults focused (distracted) on the new fun activities so they aren't resistant to the new ideas of patrol method. Even just having the Troop meet for bicycle ride for icecream can make a difference. Be creative. Think like a 13 year old boy.

The culture changes will start out slow because humans are slow to see the purpose of where they are going. But, as everyone gets use to it, your program will pick up speed. So, don't get too frustrated with slow pace, just be patient. The momentum will pick up as everyone gets used your program. And, if you do a fun adventurous agenda at first, you will likely see your troop grow. Change is slow, but reputation move like the wind. That is another struggle we can talk about later. 

You are going on the roller coaster ride of your life. Savor it. 

Barry

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@Eagle1993, firstly congratulations! And thanks for stepping up for our youth.

Start simple:

  • Respect your SPL
    • Make sure he has a leaders manual
    • Let him know your expectations, they should include that he
      • Has fun with his buddies
      • Is a friend to younger scouts
      • Shares plans and personal schedules with the ASPL
      • Communicates, communicates communicates
    • Respect his time:
      • As you learn more about this scout, you can add or adjust expectations.
      • Get in the habit of doing this every election cycle.
  • At your troop's opening,  expect scouts to line up by patrols.
    • SPL takes roll call, by patrol.
    • Each PL reports "All present", or "All or accounted for," or "# present or acounted for, # absent" Then, the SPL asks each PL to account for each absent but accounted for member.
    • The PL with the least unaccounted absences gets the pick of next week's duties.
  • Some duties that each patrol may request to be assigned for each meeting:
    • Pre-opening activity/game
    • Color-guard
    • Clean-Up
    • Song/Skit
    • Program
    • There may be others. For example with that large of a troop, should scouts be directing parking?
  • Assemble PLC regularly
    • We actually opted for 10-15 minutes after the troop meeting closes.
    • Train the SPL to ask "What went well? Not so well? What should we do differently?"
    • Ask if they need any help from the adults?
    • Stay positive. If a patrol stands out for doing something we, thank that PL.

Don't worry about higher level stuff like patrol corners, uniforms, positions of responsibility, camp set-up, patrol outings, etc ... until you hear from adults and see the youth perform.

I'm suggesting that you start at meetings because that's where everyone is watching every week. How meetings run sets the tone for how every camp and activity will run, even if you haven't told anyone how you expect every camp and activity to run.

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2 hours ago, Jameson76 said:

For PL and APL the patrols hold elections (we do this on paper to discourage Russian influence) every 6 months or so. 

Just make sure that none of your new scouts are named Boris or Natasha (or have a thing for 'squirrel and moose'!

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Great feedback, thanks!  I will need to plan working with both the parents/adult leaders and PLC.  My first conversation with adult leaders about patrols was interesting.  I asked how leaders are selected and they said annually by the adults.  I asked about having the patrols vote for their own leaders and the reaction of was mixed.  One parent in particular was not a fan (“we don’t want this to be a popularity contest and the boys never asked for this anyway”).   A very active ASM who was a prior SM (a great leader) was more reserved, indicating that it was discussed and decided previously ... but perhaps we should reconsider.  So, I definitely can see that I need to come in with a strategy and work with both adults and youth on any changes.  Your inputs are very valuable!

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As SM this is your program to run. Start by asking other adult leaders if it would make sense to run the troop by the book, the way BSA describes. Forget about the details, at a high level scouting has a framework and get them convinced that this framework works for any troop that uses it. Once convinced make changes based on BSA guidelines and best practices ant disagreements can be settled using what the book says. 

-Be prepared to lose some older scouts

-Understand that you will make mistakes

-Thick skin is recommended

- Its your vision that the troop follows, get advice, stay the course.

-Train the boys, let them lead

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1 hour ago, Eagle1993 said:

Great feedback, thanks!  I will need to plan working with both the parents/adult leaders and PLC.  My first conversation with adult leaders about patrols was interesting.  I asked how leaders are selected and they said annually by the adults.  I asked about having the patrols vote for their own leaders and the reaction of was mixed.  One parent in particular was not a fan (“we don’t want this to be a popularity contest and the boys never asked for this anyway”).   A very active ASM who was a prior SM (a great leader) was more reserved, indicating that it was discussed and decided previously ... but perhaps we should reconsider.  So, I definitely can see that I need to come in with a strategy and work with both adults and youth on any changes.  Your inputs are very valuable!

There's three hard facts that adults need to accept in transitions like this.

"My patch, my rules." Is the level of respect that everyone should accord the one person who steps up to take point. This actually applies to coaches as well.

"By the book." Is often what SM's throw back. I focus on the BS Handbook.  I also pick campsites that are a couple of miles in from the parking area. That tends to thin the herd of helicopters. ;)

"I'll believe it when I see it." is the attitude most adults who are willing to help your program actually have. When they see one or two little successes they begin to buy in. Sometimes to the point where they actually think it was their idea.

So pick your battles. If I were you, on the adult side I would invest in talking things through with your CC and COR at a campfire someplace, and stay as quiet as possible in committee meetings. Let the CC and COR do the talking for you.

On the youth side, choose your favorite of any of the above suggestions and work it with your youth leadership. The list that I laid out? That's what I gave to our new SM, verbally. We're going forward with the first an last items. Just that little bit, and the difference is night and day. Even though there's a long way to go, there's the sense that we're getting there.

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No adult leader should  ever instruct a Scout or a Scout Patrol if there is a competent boy leader available. Many adults don’t mind this too much because they really aren’t teachers at heart. The problem comes when they decide what the scouts need to learn or want to jump in at the end of the session and fill in what the boy leaders “forgot”. No way. The Scouts move on from instructional sessions to other activities without the adults “helping”. As Scoutmaster I am responsible for the quality of instruction, but I am more interested in Scouts doing the instructing than the instructing being perfect. So long as Scouts are getting instruction without limbs being cut off or someone being poisoned, I leave well enough alone.

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If I were in your position here is what I would do. I will add this caveat, guide the scouts all along the way, but if they decide to do things differently, then let them, as long as it doesn't break BSA policy or risk safety. Even if you know it will fail, let them do it. That is how they will learn.

Sounds like the SPL is elected by the youth. If so start with him. Explain to him that your job is to help THEM create a program that works for them. That you will make sure that the troops operates according to BSA policy and standards. That you are his mentor and are there to advise NOT run the troop. And that troops are operate in the patrol method, in fact the patrol is the most important part. 

I would urge the SPL to setup a training (ILST) date so everyone knows how a patrol/troop operates and what is expected of PoRs, about PLCs etc. If you have some NYLT trained Scouts, they should be able to run ILST without much assistance. If you don't have NYLT trained Scouts, youmay need to assist a little more. 

I would then talk to SPL about how he thinks they should organize patrols. I would guide him toward self selecting patrols with some guidelines (no less than 6 no more than 10 scout per patrol - your numbers may vary depending on the unit).

After that, have unit elections. If the current SPL was elected, then leave his position alone. If he was appointed start with SPL and ASPL elections. Then PL and APL.

I would then recommend having a PLC where the newly elected leaders come together and talk about what they think meetings should look like, how outings organized etc. Then send them all back out to get feedback from their patrols. Also have them find out what kind of outings the scouts want to do, what type of service projects, do they need fundraisers (what kind) etc. 

At the next PLC have them layout the organizational decisions that need to be made and vote on them. Let them figure out who is in charge of what during the meetings (should be 100% in the Scouts hands except for SM Minute).

Always make sure the PLs are talking with their patrols and making decision on what their patrol wants, not what they alone want. Keep pushing everything back to the patrols. 

After that go into calendar planning. The next couple of months are likely set, so start at 3 months out and work on a calendar year. Let the Scout create a program calendar they want. 

I suggest that they work 3 months out. Month 3 is a loose plan, month 2 almost complete, and the next month is just details.

Find so adult leaders you trust and teach them to mentor (not lead) the PL's and assign one to each patrol.

Steer them toward specific questions like if we want to do x, how can we make y happen. Give suggestions (or questions) that let them discover the answers.  Always push back on the open ended "what do you tin we should do."

The above should take place quickly, a few weeks,not a few months. Ge the Scouts used to making decisions quickly and voting on it. They will make mistakes, but mistakes they can correct and learn from. This will help develop youth led and patrol method quickly.

At every step emphasize patrols, the patrol works together to make decisions, to plan, patrol corners, to set up camp, cook - everything. 

I am sure I left out some important details, but this was what came off the top of my head. 

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13 hours ago, qwazse said:

Assemble PLC regularly

  • We actually opted for 10-15 minutes after the troop meeting closes.

 

The troop leader guidebook (p 37) talks about the regular monthly PLC meeting.  Also about "Patrol Leaders' Council Huddles" before each meeting and a brief PLC meeting at the end of each troop meeting. 

Our small new one-patrol troop has been holding an all-interested-troop-members-invited "PLC" meeting once a month for the scouts to plan the upcoming activities.  Typically about half the scouts in the troop (including the PL/APL) attend.   We have not been having the brief PLC meeting at the end of each troop meeting.   However I am starting to feel that something of the sort is needed -- that is, remote means of communication (email, phone) between troop meetings are not quite enough.  

So,  in your experience, especially in your small-troop experience:   do you do these post-troop-meeting huddles?  Whose attendance is critical?  Whose attendance is optional? 

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12 hours ago, Eagle1993 said:

I asked about having the patrols vote for their own leaders and the reaction of was mixed.  One parent in particular was not a fan (“we don’t want this to be a popularity contest and the boys never asked for this anyway”).

Our new troop, after a short initial term of office for its first PL,  just held an election for the new PL to take over beginning of the summer.   Any scout who wanted to could put her name in as a candidate (no minimum rank requirments or any such thing).  Then the troop (a single patrol) voted on who they wanted.   I in no way tried to influence their choice of which scout was appropriate for the job.   (Though I did use a preceeding week's scoutmaster minute to emphasize the importance of servant leadership.)

Interesting to me was that the scouts who put their names forward as candidates were all scouts that I felt would be good candidates.   And the scouts elected the girl that I personally thought was most ready to be Patrol Leader.

This is just to say that if you let the scouts vote for their own leaders,  they may very well make an extremely sensible choice.

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19 hours ago, Eagle1993 said:

Great feedback, thanks!  I will need to plan working with both the parents/adult leaders and PLC.  My first conversation with adult leaders about patrols was interesting.  I asked how leaders are selected and they said annually by the adults.  I asked about having the patrols vote for their own leaders and the reaction of was mixed.  One parent in particular was not a fan (“we don’t want this to be a popularity contest and the boys never asked for this anyway”).   A very active ASM who was a prior SM (a great leader) was more reserved, indicating that it was discussed and decided previously ... but perhaps we should reconsider.  So, I definitely can see that I need to come in with a strategy and work with both adults and youth on any changes.  Your inputs are very valuable!

I think you would be surprised how the youth would do. 

I expected that they could pick leaders without it being a popularity contest, but I was very surprised how well and how seriously they take doing so. Over the years I have seen unit elections, Chapter and Lodge elections, VOA, Jambo, Vigil and more. Each time I walk away impressed at how well these young people do in the process. 

But, even if it is a popularity contest, it is their choice. They may very well make mistakes, but that is how they learn. 

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