If the Patrol Leader’s Council (PLC) is supposed to be responsible for planning meetings and outings for their Troop how does this happen in practice? There is no universal model, agenda or method but there are some broad underlying principles:
Give them the tools
A little bit of training, a lot of questions and a lot of freedom to develop their own process.
Let them do it
Don’t hover, don’t badger, don’t manipulate. (If you have time for a rant about this I have included one below)
Let them own it
If there are problems with the plan that touch on propriety and safety ask questions until they see the problem and develop a solution. If you think the plan is kind of weak or half-baked but it is safe and appropriate let it go. They may or may not discover the flaws as the plan advances or you may have been mistaken that the flaws were there in the first place. Somebody is going to learn something either way.
Reflect on the results
Praise and congratulations or commiseration and empathy; whatever the result calls for. Ask more questions in a process of guided discovery. When more of the PLC is staring at the table, the floor, out the window and not at the speaker they have finished reflecting.
The Familiar Rant: Adults do a lot of things to avoid uncertainty. We need to feel both responsible for and in control of the planning process. We have standards of efficiency and excellence that are, sometimes, out of tune with the ability of Scouts. This results in imposing some subtle and not-so-subtle controls on our youth leadership.
Many of us want youth leaders to be fully qualified and trained before they are given any responsibility. Then we may get nervous and move the bar for being trained and qualified so that they never quite meet the standard. We impose coercive reviews and checks that restrict independent action and decision making.
All of these things seem perfectly reasonable and prudent but they drain the ardor and energy of youth leaders in our attempts to make things more controllable and predictable.
Scouting is designed to give a gang of boys from anywhere the tools of self determination and potential that will direct their efforts towards positive action and development.
Imagine a dozen boys who have never seen or experienced anything like Scouting. They discover a Scout Handbook and decide that it looks like great fun. They form a patrol, pick a name, elect a leader, begin making plans and taking positive steps forward in a matter of minutes because Scouting is designed to appeal to and capitalize on their natural desire for self determination and autonomy. There’s no paperwork, no adults to run training sessions – just them and Scouting.
Eventually they may run into problems or questions they can’t figure out for themselves and need basic, brief and targeted direction from someone with more experience. It’s surprising (even shocking) how much they can do without us.
How little can we talk, legislate, impose, coerce and control? Could we get through a meeting or an outing strictly as an observer? How few words can we use to coach, instruct and mentor?
Larry Geiger says
Sometimes Scouts need things to be modeled for them. Demonstrated. Like in EDGE. So you do it. Sort of.
For instance, take a Troop that has been camping at the local city park three times a year, add one or two district camporees and that was the extent of their outdoor program. It was mostly planned (sometimes at the last minute) by the adult leaders. So I waded in, sponsored an annual planning conference at my house, lunch included. Then I dropped some Boy’s Life and Scouting magazines with cover pictures of Scouts all over the wilderness. I sometimes also use other references like “Mountaineering, the Freedom of the Hills”, Boy Scout Fieldbook, and some canoeing books. I then suggested some backpacking and canoe trips. Oooooooops. That’s new! Can we do that? How do we do that?
That was five years ago. Now we have to hold them back sometimes. A trip to Scotland? Ok fine. How much money do you need to raise to do that? Two weeks in Alaska? Ok, do we have any adults around who can take that much time off and support this event?
You can’t always get there the first year. They need to be trained out of the restrictive mindset that you describe from the classroom and other activities. Each group of young men has limits. How much do they and their families want to spend? How much time do they want to dedicate to this? The point, to me, is to push towards that limit until they and their parents start pushing back 🙂
Frank Maynard says
When I was new to Boy Scouting, I used to think up complex methods and procedures for how to “improve” troop meeting and campout planning. After all, this was what the adults did, right? It wasn’t until later, when I unlearned the adult role as taught to Cub leaders, that I realized this was all unnecessary pondering, and that the boys are perfectly capable of doing it themselves – their way. We give them guidelines (like yes, we will go camping every month) and a gentle nudge, and watch the results happen. We might not always like the results, but it isn’t our troop, it’s theirs.
I really like that perspective.
Larry Geiger says
Last night the PLC met at Sonny’s BBQ. They were sitting around the table when I got there. They asked me some questions about upcoming events. I usually give them some Troop Meeting Planning sheets, but that should really be the SPL’s job. I listened for a few minutes then left. I was there about 10 minutes. I don’t know what all they talked about or planned, I’ll find out Tuesday evening at the meeting.
They have a bunch of stuff to get done in May:
1. Annual Planning Conference
2. Island Camping/Canoe Trip
3. Prepare for Summer Camp
4. An annual, special, game night. (don’t ask, you don’t want to know!)
5. Encouraging a couple of stragglers up to First Class before Summer Camp.
They’ll get it done. They always do…
Last Tuesday I started the meeting with a short SM minute. I started with a quote from Ezekial 33:11, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ” and then I said a few words about the events of the week. After that I chatted with two assistant Scoutmasters and then wandered over to the committee meeting with the SPL for about 10 minutes.
I returned to the meeting room and talked to a parent whose son is moving to another troop. Don’t know what’s up with that, but not too surprised considering the Scouts level of participation. I then chatted some more with the ASMs about stuff and that was it. The SPL and PLC handled everything with the Scouts.
I love learning and practicing the patrol method. I think it could be one of the greatest things scouting has to offer a young man. I’m running into some issues though with our new small troop though that I would love to get some insight on.
This may be a regional or local issue but the boys I work with are so used to being passive participants to life that they don’t know how to fill a position of leadership when it’s made available to them. They sit in desks all day at school and are fed information, their team sport schedules and workouts are planned to the minute, even their free time is filled with television and games that only require them follow along and be entertained. They are great boys but they are being trained 24 hours a day to go with the flow and to expect to be entertained.
So the problem is when planning is turned entirely over to them they plan the minimum or nothing at all. It’s not because they are lazy or don’t enjoy or want to do things, quite the opposite. They just don’t even think about what it’s like to come up with something adventurous to do, plan it and make it happen.
So I’ve found myself manipulating the planning a bit and trying to guide them toward more meaningful and challenging activities . I want to show the boys what’s possible and the process of how to make it a reality, but I don’t want our troop to become just another passive participating activity. I justify my manipulation by the fact that none of the boys have done scouting before, we have no older scouts for an example and they are all young and new.
Do I need to just back off and let them do whatever they want? even if that’s nothing at all? How do I teach them this process, the possibilities and this way of thinking, but still have them feel that this is their program?
Hopefully that makes sense. Looking forward to any responses.
Clarke Green says
Makes perfect sense Bryan. It’s not regional or local – it’s what most of us encounter.
Some of this is because schooling is largely passive and conditions boys against showing initiative. Some of it is your perspective – what you consider challenging and exciting may not be exciting and challenging to them, it may not interest them all that much either. Some of it is because they are young and inexperienced and haven’t caught the vision.
In the beginning stages look for small indications of initiative, anything at all, and build on it. Meet with them individually and informally for a couple of minutes here and there and go prospecting for ideas. I have never had much luck getting a group of Scouts to brainstorm new ideas because they are usually reluctant to put new ideas forward (they worry that the other Scouts will laugh at them). Watch for a glimmer of interest and show the Scout how that could become an outing or activity. You’ll be doing progressively less and less of this as time goes by.
But the real key here is that you are asking the question to begin with! It means that you do get the vision of Scouting. Keep at it!
Thanks Clarke. Great advice. I agree with your personal approach. I’ve found that as well that I usually get a lot more specifics when I talk with them individually.
It’s worth adding that I think the merit badge system fills in the gaps very nicely. The boys choose a badge they have even an interest in, but then a MB councilor who has a passion about the subject helps them round out their knowledge and adds structure, support and example. It reminds me of what you said a few podcasts back about letting the program take care of itself because of the way it’s designed.
Thanks for your response and others on the blog and podcast, as always I appreciate it.