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The Patrol Method - Patrols and Outings

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After drifting away from it, our PLC has set "Return to Patrol Method" as a goal for this year.  We bought more stoves and refreshed the gear, building patrol boxes that have the same contents so every Patrol can operate distinctly and without disadvantage from another.  It's a great start.  And it's been working great, but ... on outings I think us adults have sidestepped a part of the Patrol Method that I think maybe the Scouts "just get".

Here's the crux:  A patrol "should be" 6-8 Scouts.  We went with 10, to improve the odds that 4-8 would attend outings.  For meetings, this has been perfect.  Outings, it's a mixed bag.

We (adults) have fallen into the practice of looking at who signed up... and then forming "operating patrols" from them.  We have 5 patrols, last outing we had turnout like this:  6/5/2/2/1

So we smooshed them into two "operating patrols".  It worked fine and they managed well, but two interesting things happened that kind of opened my eyes and has lead me to the philosophy that "A Patrol is a Patrol".

Thing One:  A scout in one of the 2 person patrols rolled into camp, checked in with the SPL, unloaded their gear - including a cooler.  I was nearby and he was not grubmaster for either of the "patrols" so I approached, "Hey bud, why the cooler?"  He was at the last meeting where we split up into these two "operating patrols" and did menus, duty rosters, etc.  But... his response kind of blew my mind in a good way.  He said:  "Well, we're doing Patrol method right?  It's just me and Johnny from my Patrol.  So we talked and since it's just us two we grabbed food from the pantry at our house.  I made sandwiches, he's bringing the soup."  Huh. 

Thing Two:  "Operating Patrol 1" was essentially the 6 person patrol with the 1 loner and "Operating Patrol 2" was the 5/2/2 setup.  Friday night the Scouts set up their area in the dark, so it wasn't until Saturday after breakfast that I got to walk the camp in daylight.  What I saw was another big moment.  They had split into two Patrol campsites, but within those campsites - they were 100% sub-grouped according to their actual Patrols.  Huh.

I thought a lot about those two moments since this weekend.  I'm a reader and a studier, so I decided to go read up on how to handle this kind of the per the Patrol Method.  I am finding there's not a lot out there about "What is the Patrol Method".  Even the handbook has only 3 short mentions.  At first I was frustrated by that, but now I'm thinking:  It's because it really is that simple.  Probably the best thing I found was a quote from B-P:

“My ideal camp is where everyone is cheery and busy, where the patrols are kept intact under all circumstances, and where every patrol leader and Scout takes a genuine pride in his camp and his gadgets.” 

—Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting's founder

Only 2 boys from a Patrol going?  That's fine.  Let them sort it out.  Let them do it together like story #1 - which is fine.  Or... let them make the decision to seek another Patrol to partner with for the outing.  But... let the Scouts sort it out themselves the "right way" - go to the SPL, get them to help you partner up with another Patrol or just go Patrol-Patrol directly.  Either way... I am fully confident if we set expectations this is how we operate - the Scouts will manage it.

I went around to our other leaders last night and discussed this and the fact I planned to put a stop to the "operating patrol" concept for a trial run.  By and large the only concern seemed to be "what if only 1 boy from a Patrol  shows up - they need to be with someone for buddy system" and "it'll be too expensive / impractical for a 1/2/3 Scout patrol to do much at an outing food-wise" 

To the first point - I do give some weight.  But also feel the "solution" to that is in those cases the 1 person patrol just has to be near another.  Close enough at least that they can watch for each other and yes, we follow the buddy system regardless of Patrol size so that person is almost definitely going to need to partner up with another Patrol during the day or plan on being in camp a lot.  But... the push from other leaders is to enforce that with a "no single scout patrols on outings" policy.  I'm on the fence.  I think we need to give the Scouts some room to see what they will do most of the time in that situation before we make assumptions and build rules we don't need. 

To the second point - those two scouts that just sorted out their menu, their plan, and agreed to raid the home pantry tells me... a patrol of two can be super resourceful and thrifty and I have zero concern on that point.  In fact, last night I had a SM conference with the "cooler Scout" and said, "You know that we have stoves and gear for every patrol.  You guys planned sandwiches, which is okay, but you would have had access to a full kitchen setup on the trailer if you wanted."  It's all new, so no - he didn't know that, and he said that had they known the two of them definitely would have cooked meals.  So... even the prospect of "just two" would not have held them back from having eggs and more interesting food.  And I get this because the adults have agreed to operate as a patrol and set an example and on our very first outing in this model - it was just two of us.  He and I made our plan, we had great food, we used the same stove and patrol box as the Scouts, same dining fly, heck we even had steak for dinner and we did it for $12 a person - just a nudge over our $10 per person goal and mainly because... we really wanted steak.  So... I am currently convinced that small patrols on outings are a-okay if that's how that Patrol wants to operate on that outing.  BUT - if they do not want to operate that way, it is up to them to partner with another Patrol.  Even if you smoosh them together - they will naturally gravitate to their "small patrol" groups anyway.  So let's not fight it, this truly is the natural instinct of our youth.

I'm going to Kaibosh this idea of "operating patrols" for the next few outings at least and see how it pans out.  But... I thought this is a good place to sanity check this and to see if/how this has worked for others and if there's anything I should be aware of which I haven't encountered yet. 

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I figure a Scoutmasters needs at least 3 years to start to understand the general workings of Patrol Method. And a lifetime to really know how those workings push young adults to grow in character. Seems you reached that 3 year mark.

We also built our patrol around 10 scouts with the idea that at least half would show at campouts. But, we often had 2 man patrols and even 1 man patrols once in a while. We found the scouts like 1 and 2 man patrols because the individualism is adventure and they look forward to the challenges. And, we found the other patrols will look after them. Our 1 man and 2 man patrols tended to get standing ovation at the end of the campouts.

The next part is just information, but not suggestions. We also build and purchased the good patrol equipment and patrol boxes. About three years after starting the troop, I arranged meeting of ideas with the PLC and that is where I learned the scouts hated the patrol boxes. They were big and heavy and tended to always get real messy. They also weren't all that excited with big stoves or lanterns. It was a lot of stuff they had to load, unload, and maintain. Two weeks later we created and experiment where 3 of our 6 patrols were changing to backpacking patrols. No patrol boxes, no lanterns or big Coleman stoves. We purchased two burner backpacking stoves and streamlined the rest of the gear to be backpackable. We did do High Adventure backpacking trips, so we knew our way around the gear. The idea was let these 3 patrols experiment with the minimalist gear for 6 months and then evaluate what to do with the other 3 patrols. Well, as you might guess, the experiment didn't go as expected. The 3 other patrols demanded they become backpacking patrols after two months. And that was how we became a back packing troop.

Our troop also used 4 man tents because they were the most economical when we started the troop. But, because we were a backpacking troop, the scouts started bringing their own backpacking tents that they used on backpacking trips. They just like one or two man tents more. And, the older scouts actually wanted the privacy to sleep.  

We adults got into the program wanting to develop the best troop with the best scouts. Of course. But, I saw that adults dream of scouting is uniformity. Looks. If we adults will allow them, the scouts will show us what true patrol method really is. And, it's not always pretty. But, true Patrol Method becomes an addiction where the scouts are free to develop their dream of an ideal scout.

If the adults could stand to just step back and let the patrol method machine work under it's own inertia, the adults will find that the scouts will grow so fast that the adults struggle to get out of the way. Patrol method should be real life at a boys size. Every time the adults try to guide the scouts toward their vision of ideal scouts, the program will bog down trying to find the next step. Scouts will naturally let adults takeover, so the adults have to purposely "Get Out Of The Way". Once everyone understands their place, the adults will be surprised to see the troop become a lean, mean, scouting machine. And, it will grow.

All the adults really need to do is insure that the scouts are using the 8 methods of scouting. They can measure their program by watching how well the scouts are working the three Aims. OK, I understand the National added the 4th Aim, leadership. Ignore leadership as an Aim and let the scouts deal with it in their methods. Adults want all scouts to be leaders, but all scouts don't want to be leaders. They want to be great scouts. I have lots of stories of great scouts who stepped up and showed great leadership when leadership was required in the moment.

I'm over stepping. Sorry. Sounds like you have a great program. Enjoy.


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I stopped the mix and mash approach and did exactly as you suggest, @curious_scouter. The small patrols enjoyed it because it's a lot easier to cook and clean for 2 or 3 than 8. I said it's their choice. Nobody ever wanted to camp as a single person patrol, 2 worked if they were good friends, 3 or 4 was always a good experience.

I should add it was more of a struggle to get the adults to agree with this. Now that I'm no longer SM, some old adult-think has crept back in. Mix and match patrols, "advancement" meetings. In some other thread someone brought up the best check on a plan: will it be fun? Can it be fun? If not, how do we change it? I was more interested in coaching fun than whatever it is that most adults fixate on. And I have no idea why that was such a struggle.

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I think you're on the right track and your understanding of the patrol method is strong. BP wanted to work with a teenagers natural desire to create tight knit little groups of friends. 

I'll add one thought that reinforces yours: Let your scouts figure it out. Especially the small number of scouts in a patrol situation. What do they want to do, what are pros and cons of their decision? I spent alot of my time as an ASM and as an NYLT Course Director asking "What do you want to do?" to my Scouts. 


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A scouter can be taught!

14 hours ago, curious_scouter said:

... I'm going to Kaibosh this idea of "operating patrols" for the next few outings at least and see how it pans out.  But... I thought this is a good place to sanity check this and to see if/how this has worked for others and if there's anything I should be aware of which I haven't encountered yet. 

@curious_scouter, Regarding that sanity check, let me hand down what my advisor told me when I was an Advisor dealing with all manner of cross-talk regarding how to do my job, and I asked, "Am I right, or am I crazy."

He said, "Oh, you may very well be crazy, but you are certainly right!"

If I were you, I'd get the "cooler boys" a patrol of two totem for their flag. What's going to happen if that pair are the only boys from their patrol who show up on activities ready to scout at full tilt and give other patrols a run for their money? Other scouts as nutty as them will want to be in their patrol.

Bottom line, don't break up patrols for your convenience. Let the scouts tell you and the SPL if they want to adjust their members. It can be because of attendance issues like the one that concerns you, or it could be because a couple of scouts in a patrol are like oil and water, or because of youth protection requirements. Ask the SPL to evaluate if it's a problem, invite him and the PLC to resolve it. They may need options, or they may already have their minds made up on what would be best. They just need the freedom to think that through.

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