In a post titled The Patrol Leader’s Council and Planning I laid out the basis of structure, content, planning and preparation.
Scouts establish a structure (the calendar of what’s happening), the content (what they’ll be doing) and plan (who will be doing what) and then they prepare for actually carrying these things out.
The ball usually get’s dropped in the preparation stage when the patrol leader’s council meeting ends and everybody goes home.
It’s expected that Scouts will sit themselves down and prepare for the skill presentation at the next meeting or whatever responsibility they have taken on. What we fail to realize is that, for the most part, they have little idea how to prepare.
Think back to being 14 or 15 years old, if you were like me you basically planned and prepared by playing a game of mental tag; “I’ll be instructing everyone on how to orient a map, I read about it once, I’ll have a compass and a map, I am ready to go!”.
When it comes time to demonstrate the skill and instruct others out comes the compass and the map and the Scout stands there as a group of ten or twelve other Scouts look on. He tries to orient the map, but soon figures out that he hasn’t really understood what he is doing, opens the handbook, reads the instructions and tries again.
By this time the attention of the other Scouts is elsewhere. They are talking and asking questions, they are bored, and the whole thing devolves into the familiar chaos we all know so well.
Any adult looking on will have an almost uncontrollable urge to step in and save the Scout, to pick up the compass and the map and do it themselves. Eventually we decide that this whole ‘boy-led’ idea just doesn’t work and the we take over.
We can avoid this familiar scenario by coaching Scouts through the preparation stage. We lead them to discover how to prepare and instruct well by asking questions. Here’s an example of what I am talking about;
The patrol leader’s council meeting is over, it was a fairly simple 20 or 30 minutes where they established the structure, content and plan for their activities and now it’s time to prepare. Connor is going to be instructing his fellow Scouts on orienting a map and he sits down with me so I can coach him through the preparation process.
COACH: What will you need to make this happen?
CONNOR: A map and a compass.
COACH: Okay, do we have one here?
CONNOR: I think so… let me look. (we spend a few minutes finding the gear)
COACH: Let’s say it’s next week, you are the instructor and I am the Scouts, what happens next.
CONNOR: (Blank stare for a moment) Ahhh… so this is a map and here’s a compass and if you put the compass here… ahhh… well if you. Wait a minute, I know how to do this.
COACH: So what will the Scouts be doing at this point?
CONNOR: Probably not paying attention.
COACH: Yeah, I think you are right. So what else do you need here?
CONNOR: Well, I suppose I need to practice a little bit.
COACH: Yes, but where is it written down how to orient a map?
CONNOR: I guess in the Scout Handbook?
COACH: Do we have one of those?
CONNOR: Yes, we do, let me get one. (he finds a handbook)
COACH: So what does the handbook say?
CONNOR: Okay, so here it is, (he reads the handbook section on orienting a map)
COACH: Do you think that everyone knows the parts of a compass?
CONNOR: Well, probably not.
COACH: So do you think you ought to spend some time on that first?
Things progress from there and 30 minutes later Connor has a pretty good handle on the preparations, he’s aware of what he needs to do, he’s working things out.
Notice that the coach didn’t tell him anything, the coach just asked questions that led him to discover things for himself. In doing this the coach has not only helped him prepare for the session he’s going to instruct but helped him learn to think his way through the process of preparing – that’s a skill that he won’t likely forget.
Once a Scout has been coached through this process a couple of times he’ll be a self starter. He’ll anticipate and answer the questions for himself and when he’s instructing his fellow Scouts things won’t decay into chaos, they’ll just be the low roar of activity and learning that looks like chaos to the adult eye.
This system of individual coaching and mentoring is the real heart of leadership training.
We could, in theory, take all of our older Scouts and set up a ‘how to instruct’ training session, but such things remain unrelated to the reality of actually being an instructor in their minds. It’s just another adult talking to them about things that they don’t attach to a ‘need to know’.
If we coach and mentor our Scouts with an actual, rather than theoretical, task in mind there’s a sense of utility to the coaching that makes it more valuable to them and actually helps them learn a new skill.