Patrol Method in Practice – Making It Happen

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patrol method

This is post number four in this four part series on the patrol method
1. The Character School,  2. The Adult Role, 3. Objections,  

The first post in this series about the patrol method paints a picture of the patrol as the central unit of Scouting, next we discussed the adult role followed by discussing the usual objections that arise when we put the patrol method into practice.

Trying to work with patrols as though it were 1910 instead of 2013 is like sending a telegram in the age of email. We have to tweak our application of the patrol method because things have changed over the last century.

A century ago patrols were the neighborhood gang, the Scouts could walk to each other’s homes; organized youth sports leagues, youth clubs, and other activities were not all that common. Today Scouts are more mobile so the neighborhood gang is reasonably rare, and they have a much bigger menu of organized activities to choose from.

From observing hundreds of troops over the years it’s clear that most of us have become more troop-oriented and the patrol method is now more of an administrative arrangement for managing a troop. Training seems to reinforce the idea that the troop is the central organization and organizational charts put the adults at the top and the scouts at the bottom sending a pretty clear signal that the Scoutmaster and his assistants are in charge of things and they simply delegate their responsibilities to the Scouts.

Here are five practical ideas that can help shape a 21st century approach to the patrol method

1. Redraw the Chart


Charts can do just so much and this chart is trying to do more than I should reasonably expect, it’s meant to graphically represent that the only reason for a troop to exist is to serve patrols, and patrols serve Scouts, and all the resources are aimed at them. The patrol leader’s council exists to serve the patrol leaders, the patrol leader’s council support network exists only to serve the patrol leader’s council, and by extension, the Scouts themselves. The various positions of responsibility exist to form another support network for the patrol leader’s council.

2. Scouts form their own patrols and choose their own leaders
If a Scout isn’t in a patrol with his friends he is not going to observe the structure of the patrol, he’ll gravitate to his friends anyway. Then patrol leaders are chasing Scouts out of the ‘wrong’ patrol or searching for their lost sheep all the time. Uniform, balanced, patrols make sense from an adult point of view but what we want is a patrol that best serves Scouts.

Patrol leader elections can happen any time the patrol decides. Tenure towards a position of responsibility in rank requirements have driven the interval of leadership elections in most troops, but that’s putting the cart before the horse.

Most of us are going to feel a little queasy when we start thinking of patrols as more fluid than fixed. I think if we take a good look at the way our ‘fixed’ patrols function we’d have to admit they are more fluid in practice than we think. The patrol member whose best friend is in another patrol wanders over to that patrol, when less than four or five patrol members show up for a camping trip or meeting they get folded into another patrol. If we stopped interfering with the Scout’s choices we may find we’ve sacrificed our ideal picture for one that actually achieves the goals of Scouting.

3. Be patrol-centric.
Several years ago our patrol leader’s council started scheduling patrol meetings in lieu of troop meetings at least once a month. There’s no troop meeting that night, only patrol meetings planned and presented by patrol leaders. They are held at the same time and place as troop meetings. We have found that this is a way to allow patrols to function independently without adding any additional logistical hurdles of patrol leaders finding another place or time to meet.

When camping patrols work independently in their  own campsite with no adults around. The adults are close enough to observe yet far enough away that they can’t easily interfere. Every outing and event is based on the interest of patrols working together rather than a crowd of Scouts functioning as a troop. Patrols camp together, cook and eat together, hike together and  troop assemblies are minimal.

4. Keep your distance.
Youth leaders will not lead much if an adult is in the area. You have more influence on this than you think. Of course you lead and present and organize better than a Scout but when you do you’ve taken the opportunity away from them. What does this look like? You are far enough away to observe but not close enough to be heard unless you raise your voice.

This makes most of us very uncomfortable; how will Scouts know what to do, what if they behave poorly or get hurt? Aren’t I supposed to be teaching them things and telling them what to do? To our minds they are either awfully young to have that kind of responsibility, or just old enough to make real trouble if  we don’t keep an eye on them. I can’t tell you, step by step, how you are going to do this. I can tell you it is possible and if you make it your goal you’ll get there and won’t feel so uncomfortable when you do.

5. Re-think, re-tool and re-build
I had to kill some of my sacred cows because they were getting in the way of actually reaching and benefiting Scouts. Nice neat organizational administration, controlling the variables, and focusing on the indicators rather than the drivers were getting the job done, but it wasn’t fully achieving the goal of forming a resilient, skilled responsible character in my Scouts.

When I accepted that the patrol method drives advancement, membership and attendance I started focusing more on patrols. When I started focusing on patrols I found myself focusing more and more on Scouts instead of the metrics of what they do. I also began to understand the sense behind all the policies and procedures we are trusted to follow.

Patrols are not intended to break a troop up into more manageable segments to make the Scoutmaster’s job easier. Patrols are  the central unit of Scouting and troops are just containers for patrols. Patrols are the character school where  Scouts lead, instruct and guide each other, where the real work happens.

The key is the patrol;

The Patrol is the unit of Scouting always, whether for work or for play, for discipline or for duty.


This is post number four in this four part series on the patrol method
1. The Character School,  2. The Adult Role, 3. Objections  

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