I’ve been a Cubmaster, and a den leader for Wolf, Bear,and Webelos dens. Volunteering as a Cub Scout leader ought to be a lot of fun, and it is, most of the time.
I want to share thoughts about things that often don’t get a whole lot of attention in formal training, the things we talk about in the hallway or the parking lot after the meeting. Of course these are my opinions and observations, not expressions of official policy. You may or may not share my opinions, but you’ll at least get something to think about!
If you think about it most of our time is spent in a meeting of one form or another. Getting a handle on realizing the potential of that time starts with…
Leading a meeting full of Cubs is like herding cats, you’ve got to stay on your toes!
Meetings with Cubs were the most intense hours in my schedule. If I didn’t plan carefully or wasn’t on my toes running the plan I’d get sucked into the vortex of endless digressions, distractions, and chaos. (Trust me, that happened plenty of times!).
The Voice of the Scout survey asks Cub Scout parents if “Scout meetings are a good use of my son’s time”. While we get reasonably good marks from parents who respond, there’s room for improvement. Cub Scout leaders running meetings have to be on on their best game, be prepared, keep an eye on the clock, and keep moving.
While what happens at meetings is important, there’s one absolutely essential idea that I think makes or breaks all of them:
90 Minutes (OR LESS) is More than Enough.
Make this promise to Cubs, their families, and volunteers, “We always start on time, and we are always done in an hour and a half or less.” That’s pack meetings, den meetings, committee meetings, etc.
Sound impossible? It isn’t.
Rather than looking at this as a restrictive limitation accept it as a team challenge. Most sports are played by the clock, they have a time limit. Playing within the time limit is part of the team strategy. Get your fellow adult volunteers playing the game, come up with a winning strategy.
Every minute you spend planning a meeting saves ten minutes of actual meeting time.
You may think the length of meetings isn’t a big deal, but it is a very big deal because…
Adult Time and Cub Time are Two Different Things
Cubs and adults live in two different time zones, and we need to respect both.
Thirty adult minutes making announcements, handing out recognition to adults, and doing business with their parents is an unbearable eternity to a Cub.
Parents find it equally unbearable when unprepared Cub leaders dither around doing heaven knows what as Cubs grow restless.
Some business at meetings is directed at parents. Rather than trying to keep Cubs orderly (bored) and quiet (fidgeting) make announcements, do business, and recognize adults on “parent time” while the Cubs are playing a game or otherwise actively engaged.
When it’s “Cub time” the Cubs are the star of the show, and we ought to stay in the Cub timezone. We don’t want spectators, we want everyone participating.
One important way I learned to keep meetings moving is ….
Listening to the Inner Voice.
As you stand up front talking an inner voice will say “you’ve said enough”. If you are like me you’ll keep going until the voice says “okay, that’s really enough now”, or maybe even ”sit down and shut up”.
Practice listening to that inner voice, when it says “you’ve said enough”, stop talking and move on.
Don’t waste anyone’s time with uncertainty, don’t dither around, digress or expand; stick with the plan.
Maybe you’ve heard the song, there’s a lot of truth in it…
Announcements Are a Terrible Way to Die
Announcements can end up being like open mike night, and drag on and on. Here are four standing rules to tame the announcement monster:
- Anyone who wants to make an announcement must ask the Cubmaster or MC to put them on the schedule ahead of time. I know, a lot to ask, but it’s important.
- Everyone has a maximum of 120 seconds to make their announcement. Use a timer (no kidding, a timer).
- Anyone making an announcement must be available to answer any questions about the announcement after the meeting is adjourned.
- If you have papers or flyers to hand out you’ll do that as people arrive, or at the end of the meeting, not during announcements.
Well in advance of the meeting ask everyone to submit any announcements, when you all arrive at the meeting place ask once more, and remind them all of the 120 second rule. Remind them if there’s a question during announcements they will answer it later.
Once the the announcements have started someone usually interrupts because they have something really important that they must announce. Politely but firmly tell them you’ll talk to them later, the meeting is moving on. Meeting time gets away from us when people make extemporaneous comments or presentations, set a time limit for everything and stick to it.
Every so often someone will ask to come make a presentation. If it’s a subject for parents, then put them on the “adult time” part of the schedule. I had a standing rule that these presentations were limited to an absolute maximum of fifteen minutes, outlawed PowerPoint, open question and answer time, or hand outs. If printed matter needed to be distributed the presenter would need to be there once the meeting was over to hand it out, and to answer questions.
If you respect time limits you’ll never have to worry about the audience’s patience limit.
An important part of most meetings is the ceremonial presentation of recognition to Cubs. In the Cub time zone “meaningful” does not equal “long”, we don’t want…
Death by Ceremony
An hour into the pack meeting the first Tiger Cub crosses the auditorium floor, climbs up on the stage and receives his bowling belt loop, everyone applauds, and he walks back to his seat before the next name was called.
Forty-five minutes to an hour later the last second year Webelos has finally received his Craftsman pin after the Den leader explained each requirement he’d completed in excruciating detail and extemporized for five minutes about how much fun they are having.
By this time our Cubs are staring blankly, in various stages of collapse; they look as if they have been stranded in an airport for several days. In a hallway somewhere a baby is crying.
We are hoping it’s over when someone steps on the stage and says “before the announcements (oh no!) we have a special presentation from our District Commissioner!” There’s an audible groan from the Cubs (and a few parents too).
Do you feel me here? We’ve all endured some interminable awards ceremonies (try a college graduation sometime, whew!) but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Now it’s the time you’ve all been waiting for! We have some awards to present! First up is our Tiger den!” the Cubmaster starts clapping rhythmically leading the pack in singing “here they are!” over and over again to the theme of the Stars and Stripes Forever.
The Tiger Cubs all storm the stage at once, the den leader, reads off the names and what they have accomplished as she hands the awards to them, the Cubmaster shakes everyone’s hand, turns to the Pack and says “what do you think of our Tigers?!” Everyone applauds, hoots and hollers singing “there they go!” as the Tigers return to their seats.
Three minutes have passed, four dens to go, we’ll be done in less than twenty minutes. In the mean time nobody is sitting and watching, everybody is part of the show singing the “here they are” and “there they go” song – what fun!
You know the kind of energy and excitement in a high-school gym during the basketball playoffs? That’s what we want. We don’t want that sleepy feeling you get in the middle of a sermon in church sanctuary or in a classroom during the last day of school.
I know, you get it now; time and tone in meetings are important, ever wonder what Cubs thinking during our meetings? How about…
I Was in School ALL DAY!
Cubs are really not interested in sitting and listening attentively to the very important adult saying very important things for very long.
They have already fulfilled their sitting and listening quota for the day at school. Cubs volunteer to be Cubs so they can do great things, not to listen to you and I talk about doing great things, or watch other people doing great things.
Can you learn how to tie knots or the twelve points of the Scout law playing a game at a den meeting? Sure you can!
Can we do everything possible to reduce the time we expect Cubs to passively sit and listen at a pack meeting? Sure we can!
One way to liven things up is giving them some control, because most Cubs are pretty sure …
Nobody Asks What I Think
At the den meeting ask; “What would you Cubs like to do next? Here’s the choices; play a game, learn a skill, have a snack, or do a craft?”
Seems like a small thing, but simply asking them to decide what comes next is a powerful way to engage Cubs in decision making and giving them a sense of engagement and participation.
How about asking Cubs things like; “What did you think of that? Was it fun, boring, great, or just okay? What did you learn? Would you like to try that again sometime?” We can learn a lot from the answers to those questions.
One last thing about meetings…
The People With the Shirts
Imagine you are a newcomer at a meeting or activity in your own den or pack.
Are the people with the shirts (the adult leaders) striding over to you offering their hand in a few seconds? Or are they off in a corner, heads together, kind of like the cool kids at school?
Has someone taken the time to explain the obvious unspoken things you know nothing about? Or are the slickly moving through the activity, glancing at you to see if you are impressed?
How long did it take for someone to learn your son’s name, what grade he’s in, and what he most looks forward to doing as a Cub?
If you ask a question do you get a helpful, understanding response or are you treated like an ant at a picnic?
You aren’t buying a used car from the people the shirts, but would you?
If not, why would you want them working with your child?
Are we welcoming, helpful, easy-going folks or kind of stand-offish? New people have been a challenge for me, on stage in front of the crowd I am confident, with new people; not so much.
Are we going out of our way to help people understand what we are doing, or speaking “Cub Code”? (What in the world is a Webelos anyway?)
Break the ice, shake hands, show some interest! I still have to tell myself this over and over again, someday I’ll get it.
Here’s a valuable resource for Cub Scout Leaders-
For the Love of Cub Scouts
The unofficial guide for building a stronger pack in only an hour a week