This first of twelve installments is a story that follows a new Scoutmaster, Chuck Grant, attempting to use the patrol method in a troop that has forgotten how.
I’ve based this work of fiction on the stories shared by readers and listeners, questions they have asked, and the advice I commonly share in reply. Scoutmasters can expect to encounter challenges and setbacks along the way. I’ve tried to avoid being unreasonable optimistic, or overly pessimistic about the progress we can make when we stick to the basics.
Our Scoutmaster of five years announced he was being relocated by his company and I was asked to take his place.
I’ve been an assistant Scoutmaster for a few years, I love Scouting, it’s great fun.
Our old Scoutmaster did it all, and I respect his dedication. I started looking into things when I was asked to replace him. I get the idea he probably did too much.
He appointed the senior patrol leader, decided which Scouts should be in what patrol, and chose their patrol leaders.
A few years ago, when I became an assistant Scoutmaster and completed a training course that laid things out a little differently, I asked him about the way he did things.
“Look,” he answered emphatically, “ I’ll tell you what the last Scoutmaster told me: ‘what they tell you in training and what actually works are two different things.’ The last Scoutmaster showed me how to run things, and what he did worked for twelve years, so that’s what we do.”
At the time it made sense, I was just the “new guy”. Who was I to say different?
Our assistant Scoutmasters take turns planning and running meetings and a camping trip every month. The first time it was my turn I understood what the old Scoutmaster said! I couldn’t imagine a boy would be capable of that sort of planning, presiding over a troop meeting, or running a camping trip.
My son was a Scout, he graduated high school this spring, and he’s off to college this fall.
My wife and I discussed whether or not I should take on being the Scoutmaster. In the end I took the job with her blessing, she’s seen what Scouts did for our son and believes in the program. I think she’d also miss the one weekend a month she’s grown used to having to herself.
Like I said, the prospect of taking over as Scoutmaster this fall led me to do some studying. I’ve convinced myself we’d better serve our Scouts if we made some changes.
I sat down with John Jameson, our committee chair, and laid out what I thought those changes ought to be. Because of (or perhaps in spite of) our conversation I was named as the next Scoutmaster.
As soon as the decision was made I sat down with our four assistant Scoutmasters. I shared my ideas; they supported some of the changes I wanted to make, others were met with more skepticism.
Dave Katz has been around a longer than any of us.
“I think we owe Chuck at least the benefit of the doubt,” Dave said, “after all, none of us accepted the job, did we?”
“I appreciate that, Dave,” I replied, “ all I am asking is that you guys follow my lead.”
So here I am, and there’s no turning back!
“Before we go any further,” I said to five older Scouts at my first meeting as Scoutmaster, “I am interested in how you would answer some questions, because I think your answers are important.”
The five Scouts stared back at me. These were our oldest Scouts. More importantly, even though adults had been doing nearly everything for them, I saw some leadership potential in each of them, and I invited them to talk to me.
“How do we decide who is going to be our next senior patrol leader?” I began.
The Scouts looked at each other, the floor, the ceiling, the table.
Finally Jake Hendricks broke the silence, “You pick them, right?”
“That’s how we’ve done it in the past,” I answered, “are you guys happy with that way of doing things?”
Now they stared at me as if I had lost my mind.
At least I had their attention.
“How else would it work?” Zach asked.
“You tell me Zach,” I handed him my opened Scoutmaster Handbook (my copy has lots of bookmarks), “read the first couple of sentences on that page.”
“The youth leader with the most responsibility in a troop is the senior patrol leader. He is elected by all members of the troop,” Zach read, he looked up, “huh, interesting.”
Several conversations started spontaneously as the Scouts discussed the pluses and minuses of electing a senior patrol leader.
“Mr. Grant, are we allowed to do it like that?” Jake asked.
“Before I answer that question, how many of you have played basketball?” I asked.
The Scouts exchanged some confused looks, but they all raised their hands.
“Bob,” I said, “why is a basketball hoop ten feet high?”
Bob jumped a little, “I guess there’s a rule?” he replied.
“I think you are right,” I said, “is a Scout troop kind of like a basketball team?” I asked no one in particular.
“We have uniforms,” Zach offered, “and we play games, but not always basketball.”
“Anything else? I asked.
“I guess we have rules?” said Jake.
“Where are the rules, then?” I asked Jake, helpfully tapping on my Scoutmaster handbook.
“Oh, I get it now,” Jake turned to the other Scouts, “this is like a rule book,” he said pointing to the Scoutmaster’s handbook.
“So let me ask my first question again,” I said, “how do we decide who is going to be our next senior patrol leader?”
“He is elected by all the members of the troop,” Zach replied, “that’s in the rules.”
We discussed how the election should happen, who would run, and within five or ten minutes, the Scouts had come up with a plan.
“So Jake and Bob are your candidates,” I started reviewing their decisions, “are we sure nobody else is interested?”
The Scouts shook their heads.
I continued, “Zach, Alex, and Hunter are going to hand out the ballots and pencils, and hand them to me when you are all done, right?”
The Scouts nodded yes.
“I’ll say a couple of things first,” I went on, “then Jake and Zach will each have a minute or two to say why they want to be senior patrol leader, then you’ll have your election.”
With that we walked out into the meeting room where the rest of the Scouts were listening to Dave Katz, one of my assistant Scoutmasters, show them how to sharpen a pocket knife.
“Ready Mr. G?” he asked when he saw us enter the room.
“Thanks Mr. K,” I replied, and stepped to the front of the room. I told the Scouts they would be electing a fellow Scout to lead them for the next few months as their senior patrol leader. I described how important the decision was, and introduced their candidates. After each spoke I stepped to the back of the room as the Scouts received their ballots and prepared to vote.
George Hudson and Wayne Murray, two more assistant Scoutmasters, were laying in wait.
“How did it go?” George asked.
“They got the idea pretty quickly,” I answered, “they’re a sharp bunch.”
“Hunter didn’t want to run?” Wayne asked with an edge of disappointment.
“I asked them all,” I said, “ he never spoke up, and I asked everyone a second time just to be sure, but he said no.”
“Well, there’s always next time around I guess,” Wayne sighed.
“Listen, dad, he’ll be fine,” I said patting Wayne on the back, “give him a little time.”
“Here’s the ballots Mr.G,” said Alex, holding out a rumpled pile of paper.
“Thanks Alex,” I said taking them, “Dave, you and I don’t have dogs in this fight, would you give me a hand for a moment?” (Dave’s boy was off to college too, two years ahead of my son.)
I turned to George and Wayne, “keep them busy for a moment, this won’t take long.”
Dave and I stepped into the next room, counted the votes, and returned .
When it was time to close the meeting I stepped to the front of the room, and a few seconds later we had a new senior patrol leader.
One change made, only a couple hundred more to go!
Read the rest of the story in my new book: