Many Scouters claim; “We have a youth-led Troop,” but what does that really mean?
Official literature mentions this sort of thing often, but how is do we really define “youth-led”?
We’d like to think what the Scouts do and how they do it defines “youth-led”, but it doesn’t. Young people lead themselves all the time, it comes quite naturally to them.
What adults do is just as important to a youth-led troop as what adults don’t do.
Defining what we should not do is nowhere near as useful as sharing what we should do, but before I do let’s address one common misconception;
Youth-led is not Youth-defined.
Every once in a while I’ll hear something like; “We don’t have patrols because the Scouts decided they didn’t want them, we are youth-led after all.”
Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; “the players all decided they’s rather play this way.” Can you still call that game “basketball”?
Just like any other game Scouting has limitations and definitions. We all play the game within those definitions and limitations, the players don’t re-invent the game.
Adults should help Scouts maintain focus on fulfilling the promises of Scouting and understand the limitations and definitions of the game we are playing.
If we honestly want to engage our Scouts in leading themselves there things we ought to do –
Adults Should Employ Guided Discovery
Adults should guide their youth leadership to find their own answers. Ask questions that help them define the goal or the problem and then let them seek a plan or resolution. Don’t provide answers – provide guidance.
Adults Should Respect Autonomy
When Scouts are focused on fulfilling the promises of Scouting poor choices will be few and far between. Respecting autonomy means our Scouts have the latitude to fail within the bounds of safety and propriety.
Adults Should Promote Cooperative Resolutions
In any situation we encounter with our Scouts there are not two sides, there’s not a right and wrong, just a question everyone is trying resolve cooperatively.
Adults have the advantages of age and guile, we can pull strings and coerce decisions, we also have the provisional authority to make absolute decisions and give absolute directions.
If we are careful to maintain focus, employ guided discovery, respect autonomy, and promote cooperative resolutions our “youth-led” troop will flourish,and we will rarely have to give absolute directions or make absolute decisions.
That’s four, easy to remember, thoughts Scouters can apply to triage any situation –
Am I maintaining focus?
Am I guiding or directing?
Do I respect autonomy?
Are we working for a cooperative resolution?
I’ll admit to buying into this concept of boy led. I find myself reminding myself to “never miss an opportunity for a boy to lead” or “never do something that a scout can do”…. I’m not sure where I picked up those little mantra, but I still think they make a lot of sense…..
But I really like your point that this does not mean boy-directed. It grounds the concept very well!
Stephen Nickel says
A true “Boy-led” or “Scout-led” Troop requires a significant amount of preparation and pre-planning “behind the scenes” (whether the event is a regular Troop meeting, community service event, campout, or what have you) by a combination of the SPL, ASPLs, and adult leadership well before the event/activity occurs. And the preparation and pre-planning will directly define and shape how effective the event becomes and how much leadership and learning actually take place during the event. I was once involved with a Scoutmaster who didn’t believe in preparation for Summer Camp by learning and building upon basic skills during a camping “workup” at weekly meetings in the weeks before heading out to camp. His attitude was that it was supposed to be “Boy-led” and therefore the Scouts would “figure it out” during the camping experience. While perhaps sounding good in concept or theory, in practice it was a dismal and discouraging waste of time for the Scouts and and equally poor use of money and resources for the parents who sent their sons to camp. This particular camp was one where the Scouts had to fix all of their meals themselves in the Troop campsite . . . the basic meal packages being provided by the camp staff. A few of the Scouts finally “figured it out” by week’s end, but the majority left for home with a rather jaded opinion of what summer camp was to be about. Instead of being able to enjoy earning merit badges, going on patrol activities, etc., they spent much of their time trying to organize and conduct cooking details and learning how to clean up properly afterwards. If the weeks preceding summer camp had been used as a “workup” to learn basic camping skills (by cooking, cleaning, etc.) while “in garrison,” the Scouts could have hit the ground running while at camp, making their experiences there much more enjoyable, since they would have already known what they needed to do, and would have been able to simply apply the basic skills they had previously learned before being exposed to a full week of summer camp activities piled on top of having to learn basic camping. As it turned out, the boys had to overcome the normal bouts of homesickness, relative discomfort of sleeping in tents and not in a comfortable bed at home, while struggling to learn how to cook, how to clean, and how to use other “basic camping skills” — making summer camp a pain instead of a great Scouting experience.