Imagine a bus tour of some important city where, seated in the air-conditioned comfort of a motor coach, we listen to the guide explain each landmark in detail so we won’t miss anything. The guide sticks to the script, we sit behind the tinted windows of our bus dutifully turning our heads to the left, then to the right. There’s so much explaining that there’s not much time left for questions and soon the tour is over.
Contrast the bus tour with a hike led by a knowledgeable guide. He takes up the rear letting our group lead and find the trail. When the path branches he’ll tell us which way to go if we can’t figure it out on our own. He doesn’t mind if we stop now and then to admire a flower or take in the view. He’ll happily tell you what you are looking at if you ask.
Our guide will volunteer little information, he’ll drop a hint here and there and he’ll answer questions. We may miss some sights along the way or pass by interesting things, but our group will probably get more out of what we discovered on the hike and asked about than the things the guide told us about.
Guiding Scouts using the patrol method is more like the hike than the bus tour; a gentle push in the right direction than dragging them along; a suggestion rather than a command, a question asked rather than an answer given. The adult role in the patrol method is more responsive than directive. Each group of Scouts is different so how we play our role is a response to their development, group dynamics and abilities.
There’s a difference between guiding and coercing. If we follow the metaphor our group of hikers has some idea of where they want to go and the guide is responding to rather than determining the interests of the group. We ought to respond to the interests of our Scouts rather than determining what they should be interested in. The field of play is the Scouting program, we guide them within that context, we train them to follow the program.
Our role in Scouting is important but we aren’t in the leadership structure, we aren’t even on the chart.
Scouts form their own patrols, elect their senior patrol leader and patrol leaders, we don’t appoint them. We respond to the choices made by the Scouts and start guiding the leaders they elected.
Recall from the last post that we are not focusing on decorations and indicators, those come later. We think that the content of meetings and camping trips are all-important, but they are actually just decorative. We think that the metrics of attendance, membership, fundraising and advancement are important but they are merely indicators.
There are troops where the patrol method is watered down to an administrative nicety, a way to divide Scouts into more manageable groups and provide figurative leadership positions for Scouts. When we put the patrol method into practice things change dramatically. Since people are usually resistant to dramatic change there are objections. In the next post we’ll answer the most common objections to putting the patrol method into practice.