On this day, my 4th anniversary of serving as a Scoutmaster, I got to thinking about what I might have done differently. What do I know now that I didn’t know then? …and what would I change if I had the chance to do it all over again? Better yet, what would I tell someone who just got called to be a new Scoutmaster??
This would be my advice…
For starters, I would say CONGRATS! This is one of the best places you can be an example on so many levels in the lives of our youth. Then I would ask you to go buy a copy of The Scoutmaster Handbook to begin understanding the scouting program. For only $5, this is the official resource from BSA that should be used as THEE manual. Think of it as the map you’d need to find a place you’ve never been to or not at all familiar with.
Next, I would suggest reading these two books before you go off spinning your wheels in the wrong direction… you’ll only have to back-track and undo the things that keep your boys from learning about leadership and self-sufficiency (your #1 responsibility):
- Working the Patrol Method (to help you understand your role and how the program should be run with practical examples from real troop experiences)
- Trails to Testimony (for LDS troops to give you a perspective on the deeper meaning and purposes of this program as the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood)
While you come to understand the bigger picture, I would begin facilitating the weekly activities by getting your troop’s youth leaders to agree upon and working toward some common goals. BSA offers a framework to help with this – it’s called Journey To Excellence. Each goal the Patrol chooses to focus on can serve as agenda items to discuss (and periodically review) during your Patrol Leader’s Council (or Deacon’s Quorum Presidency meeting).
As the boys work through the goal structure of JTE, I would use another BSA framework to guide yourself in developing a highly functional team. It’s the Adult Square Knot recognition program. I feel this is one way of showing the boys that you are committed to working through requirements just like you are asking them to do. It also provides you with another map of things that can help lead you down the right path.
One of those areas of focus for adult advisors is training. Take advantage of any/all training that is given! Charles Dahlquist, previous General Young Men President, said in an article;
“I know companies that don’t even allow a new employee to step into the plant or office until he has received initial training. They do that because they know that, without training, most individuals will be ineffective in the job they were hired to do. And yet, we call leaders to strengthen, motivate and prepare young men for missionary service and life in general – without one iota of training.”
I went about training somewhat backwards, attending Wood Badge first, because I didn’t know better and no one showed me the way. However, the right order should be:
a) Leader-specific (about 4-hours on a Saturday morning)
b) Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills (an overnight experience that goes through basic rank requirements and skills)
c) Wood Badge (6 full days of awesome training that should be required for every adult advisor over our youth)
These last few don’t have any particular order, they are just awesome experiences that can supplement your growing impact:
d) Roundtable (monthly; with an intent to take at first, then to give as you expand your knowledge and experience)
e) University of Scouting (yearly; offers a lot of break-out sessions you can choose from to find answers you’re looking for)
f) Little Philmont (every few years; like is mini-General Conference Priesthood Session but scout-specific)
Every boy really does deserve a trained leader…and even though you “think” you know what to do and how to do it, or smart enough to figure it out on your own, attend the training anyway. There is *always* something more to learn or a different point of view that could help take it to another level.
Don’t be overwhelmed, just pick one thing and get started!
Oh, and this advice applies to Assistant Scoutmasters and other adult scout leaders too.