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Serve Actively
For Star, Life, and Eagle advancement, scouts need to demonstrate leadership. The requirements in the Scout Handbook say to "serve actively" in a position of leadership, but there is no official definition of what that means. This is a cause of concern for lots of troops and I received an email yesterday asking about it.

How do you know if a scout is serving actively or just wearing the patch? How does a Scoutmaster decide to give him advancement credit or not?

Lots of troops have developed a list of expectations for each leadership position. Here's an Example PDF file. Many of these lists can be viewed on troop web sites. All of them are similar, but not identical.

Having a list of expectations is a fine idea because it makes it more clear to the scout and scoutmaster what a scout should accomplish. As long as the scoutmaster can remain flexible and use it as a set of expectations and not absolute requirements, it should work.

Every scout has a different level of experience and ability when he takes on a job. I might expect a Life scout who used to be the ASPL and SPL and is now Librarian to accomplish much more than a 1st Class scout fulfilling his first troop role as Librarian. If a scout is doing his best and demonstrating leadership, but still not fulfilling all the expectations, then he is serving actively.

I believe the best way to ensure a scout is serving actively is to check his accomplishments against his goals every month. To do this, he first needs to set some goals and that is where the list of expectations is helpful. Either the SPL or ASPL should be checking on his accomplishments, not the Scoutmaster. Then, the SPL and ASPL can discuss the status of each position with the Scoutmaster, including their own status.

By having a quick SPL/ASPL/Scoutmaster status check every month, like before or after the Patrol Leader Council meeting, scouts not serving actively can be identified before its too late and they can be encouraged to step up and get their job done.

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Posted: 9:23 05-16-2007 143
Mt. Rushmore Flags
I found an interesting page at Mount Rushmore that lists the Schedule of Events. The cool thing is you can see all the different scouting units that are scheduled to participate in their evening flag ceremony.
Unfortunately, our troop is not listed because sign-ups began in January and we were too late. So, if your troop would like to lower the Mt. Rushmore flag, start planning way ahead of your trip!

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Posted: 15:16 05-13-2007 142
Hiking the Kinks Out
In a couple months, 10 of us will be backpacking for 5 days above 8000 feet. To prepare, our crew leader has scheduled practice hikes twice a week for the next 2 months.

These practice hikes probably don't seem like much fun, but I love 'em! It's a great chance to have each scout decide on a route, lead the group, and set the pace. I get to talk about the boring stuff with the other adults - driving, gas stops, tour permit, youth protection, ... and we get to imagine what great things we'll experience on the trek. We also get to practice being prepared for problems - throwing out 'What If' scenarios and see how we'd handle them. 'Call 911' isn't an accepted answer either. :-)

It's important to start nice and slow when beginning hiking after a sedentary winter, even though that can be a challenge. We just had our first hike and we only went for 1 hour, covering about 2.5 miles on flat ground with no packs. We'll increase the pace, weight, and distance over the next few weeks as feet get used to boots, muscles get used to working, and lungs get used to huffing and puffing.

All these practice hikes are also a great beginning to the hiking merit badge which is a pretty tough one to complete, along with backpacking.

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Posted: 12:51 05-09-2007 141
High Adventure Planning
11 weeks until our crew leaves for backpacking in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in Wyoming. We had our first meeting last night to list all the 'stuff' that needs to happen before the actual trek, and I think it might have been a bit of an overload for some of the guys. :-)
There are 8 scouts and 2 adults going so we're working on finding the best logistics for travelling. That's the biggest challenge for us, everything else looks like the scouts will step up and take over. Here's a short list of the tasks to be distributed by the crew leader:

So, there's enough work to go around. :-) Luckily, we kept information from last year so we're not starting from scratch this time.

Five of the eight scouts have already attended a 2-hour Leave No Trace workshop that I presented and they are demonstrating LNT skills on our two campouts before July.

There are some special first aid concerns for this trip - altitude sickness, dehydration, and hypothermia are all things we need to be aware of and keep an eye out for.

The practice hikes start next week!

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Posted: 10:55 05-03-2007 140
The Knack of Knives and Knots
Half of the new scouts in the troop attended the Paul Bunyan campout last weekend. This was our first tent camping trip of the season and the agenda was to teach the Totin' Chip and Firem'n Chit skills.
The Panther patrol did a most excellent job of scheduling the day's events and two scouts working on the Communications merit badge planned and led the campfire program. This was the best organized weekend we've ever had! I hope it is a harbinger of a great summer ahead.

The two new patrols are the Carnivorous Crows and the Buffalos (or, as they prefer, the Buffalo Chips). This year, we are trying larger patrol sizes. Two years ago, we had 3 patrols of 6 scouts each but when a few scouts dropped out and some moved away, those patrols were merged. This year, we have two patrols - 9 in one and 12 in another. The 12-man patrol has a lot of sports-oriented scouts so I expect they will never have a full contingent. And, 3 or 4 are just 'trying out' scouting without much expectations of staying in. We'll work with them.

These scouts were taught knife, axe, and saw safety by experienced scouts and were presented with their Totin' Chip cards. We tear off a corner for poor tool safety and when all the corners are gone, the program needs to be redone. Each card gets the first corner taken off when it is presented so the scouts know it's serious and because 4 mistakes are too many.

Fire safety was covered and Firem'n Chit cards given out. In the past, we've burned off one corner, but these scout leaders just tore one off.

The basic two half hitches, tautline hitch, clove hitch, and bowline knots were instructed. The plan was to do a lashing project in the afternoon, but the scouts preferred to practice their whittling, chopping, and sawing, along with a few little fires being built and stomped out.

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Posted: 9:44 04-26-2007 139
Learning Experiences
Three adults in our troop just completed Assistant Scoutmaster training. Two of them are parents of new scouts. Now they get to start practicing adult leadership in Boy Scouts - trying out the theoretical in a practical way.

One of these new Assistant Scoutmasters (ASM) told me he wanted to get some color-coded rope for a new scout patrol to use in practicing knots and he wanted to know if he could buy it and get reimbursed. This is a good example of how a simple thing can and should be used as a learning exercise.

I explained that materials for the patrol really should be requested by the Patrol Leader or Troop Guide through the Quartermaster. (Our troop has a Troop Guide for each New Scout Patrol.) This gives the Patrol Leader some responsibility and lets the Quartermaster keep track of what the troop has purchased and where it is.

The ASM could mention to the Troop Guide that it would be useful for each scout to have a color-coded rope and ask him what he thinks - he'll most likely agree that it would be good.
Then, ask him how he thinks they should go about getting the rope. There's a good chance he won't think of requesting it from the Quartermaster, but may just say "buy some at the store".
Then, ask him if he thinks getting rope for the scouts would be a Quartermaster job. And, he'll say "oh yeah."
Then, ask him if he thinks he should go ask the Quartermaster for the rope or if he should give some responsibility to one of the new scouts to do that task.
A discussion about the length, thickness, kind, and number of ropes required for practicing knots would result in a specific request that the Quartermaster could fulfill. The scouts will also need to either fuse or whip the ends and decide how they can be colored.

By using the troop structure and placing as much leadership and decision making on the scouts as possible, the program is improved. Instead of an adult handing out a dozen lengths of color-coded rope, the Troop Guide got to figure out what was needed, how to use the troop structure, share his leadership, and get the rope to the scouts.

From the scouts' point of view, their Troop Guide got them the rope they needed and they whipped the ends and colored them so they have respect for his leadership and ownership of the results.

From the adult's point of view, it can be a lot more work, very inefficient, and sometimes frustrating. :-) Instead of a 20 minute task of buying, cutting, fusing, coloring rope, it may take a week or more for the Troop Guide discussion, getting the request to the Quartermaster, the Quartermaster getting the rope to the patrol leader, and finally the scouts preparing the rope.

The end result is the scouts have rope to practice knots, but the Scout-Led path to get there makes those ropes much more valuable.
An even better solution for this specific rope issue would be to have each new scout make his own knot-tieing rope from twine - Ropemaking Machine

The next time you see a need for rope, tents, tools, ..., anything for the troop, make sure the scout leaders agree with the need and guide them to fulfill the need rather than having an adult step in and do it.

Scout On

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Posted: 9:51 04-10-2007 138
Moccasin Results
We learned a lot from our moccasin project at a troop meeting last month.
There were about 25 kits made and most of the scouts really enjoyed the project and were successful in starting their kits and finishing them at home.

Four scouts made moccasins from scratch. I got their shoe sizes and used a pattern to lay out the pieces on a side of suede leather. I also glued the foot pads in place since that would have been an hour of just waiting for it to dry and it is potent glue. They had to cut out the pieces, punch the holes, and lace them together with leather strips.

Things we learned:

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Posted: 10:17 04-09-2007 137
Spring Break
I just returned from a great vacation skiing at Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado with my family. Last year, a couple scouts wanted to get a spring break ski trip on the schedule but it didn't get enough support at the planning meeting. Now that I've been there, I hope they bring it up again this fall. :-)
We had a great time on a lot of Blue and a couple Black runs.
Keystone Web Site tells about where we were.

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Posted: 22:43 04-06-2007 136
Annual Adult Recap
I just held our troop's annual 'Adult Recap' meeting last weekend. This is the second year we've done it so it's not really a tradition yet - just an experiment.

I invite the registered adults (not all the parents) over for pizza and a short review of the past year and a look forward to the year ahead.
I have a page highlighting the program parts that went well last year. In this case, it included the Scout-o-rama, patrols organizing campouts, scout-planned high adventures, troop muster, and an exceptionally good Troop Guide.
Then, I have a page with the areas for improvement, either things that have degraded, did not live up to our expectations, or some way we can challenge the scouts to excel even more. In this case, it included accountability for leadership jobs, having more fun activities at troop meetings, and getting known in the community.
Finally, a page listing a few ways to help with the areas of improvement and a request for ideas for an overall better program.

We spend a little time letting the adults tell what they saw as positives from the past year and suggestions they have for the coming year.

This year, our recap happened right after the troop planning session led by the new SPL. So it worked out that I could share with the adults what the scouts had come up with for the troop schedule.

If we do it again next year, then I guess it's officially a troop tradition. :-)

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Posted: 12:06 03-30-2007 135
Leader Training
Last weekend, the new SPL held our semi-annual Troop Planning and Leadership Training day. It's a long day, but a lot gets accomplished.

In the morning, the SPL, ASPL, Scribe, and patrol leaders meet to review the current 12-month schedule. They discuss any changes that are needed to dates, themes, and planning responsibilities. Each patrol is responsible for planning an outing and sometimes patrols swap events if the dates work better for the new patrol leaders.

After reviewing and accepting the current schedule, they tack on another 6 months worth of outings. Before this meeting, each patrol is given a brainstorming sheet to use to come up with their favorite ideas for outings. Their patrol leader is responsible to promote these ideas to the troop. Sometimes it works, sometimes its just one scout saying what he'd like to do, sometimes there's no input at all.

A challenge I gave the scouts this time was to come up with 'Adventure Themes' rather than activities. For example, one scout really wanted to ride horses. Instead of a horse riding campout, they've planned a 'Western Round-up' with horse riding, rope fusing & whipping, open fire cooking, lasso contest, and other cowboy stuff. They seemed to be more excited about it and I expect participation will be higher. They also came up with 'Amazing Race' road rally, 'Big Game Tracking', and 'Castle Caving'. The last one is just going on a cave tour while camping at a Webelos camp that turned an old barn with silos into a castle - they went there for skiing this winter and loved the castle. :-) So, sometimes, just a cool theme makes a big difference.

Around noon, after the schedule is laid out, the rest of the PLC team shows up for training. It takes about 4 hours, including 30 minutes for lunch. Each scout tells about his position and his goals for the 6-month term.
We cover Merit Badge and Advancement processes, new scout success strategies, how to lead games, how to lead meetings, and how to teach skills using EDGE.

I plan on asking a handful of Life scouts to run the Planning and Training sessions next time. We have some scouts that have been through it 3 times and even new activities each time don't freshen it up enough.

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Posted: 9:59 03-29-2007 134
New Troop Leaders
Since troop elections two weeks ago, I've been too busy to keep in touch - sorry about that.

A new Senior Patrol Leader was elected and all other scouts filled out a form of which troop leadership positions they were interested in. I put those in a spreadsheet and gave it to the SPL. Separately, he and I came up with our selections for the positions and then compared. He did a great job choosing scouts that could succeed at the positions.

He and I also met for an hour for his initial training. That's always a fun time because the SPL realizes what he's gotten himself into. :-) There is a lot of responsibility in that job! We scheduled the leader training session and he contacted all his leadership team.

He met with the ASPL to discuss his duties and I was there but didn't need to add much at all. Now, both the SPL and ASPL are doing individual training with each scout leader that reports to them. Then, I will chat with each scout leader to ensure they understand their responsibilities.

Historically, we've had challenges ensuring scouts perform the duties of their positions. To help this happen, each scout is required to report his accomplishments to the SPL or ASPL at the 2, 4, and 6 month marks of his term. This catches lack of performance early enough to plan a correction.

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Posted: 9:16 03-26-2007 133
Moccasin Project
The PLC decided it would be fun to make moccasins so scouts have them to wear in troop meetings and at summer camp.
One scout volunteered to gather the shoe sizes from all scouts that wanted to participate and get those to me. I ordered 25 kits from the local Tandy Leather shop and they are ready for tonight's troop meeting. The kits cost $12 and are pre-sized, pre-cut, pre-punched, pre-padded, and ready to sew together using the shoelace-like stitching included. It looks like a nice, simple project for a first attempt and for younger scouts.

Unfortunately, the kits only go up to size 10. Scouts with larger feet and those that just wanted more of a challenge could choose to make moccasins 'from scratch' for $8 instead of using a kit. We have 6 scouts going this route.
I bought a moccasin pattern from Tandy which only makes up to size 10 (kinda dumb) and had my wife 'super size it' on the copy machine at work to 105%, 110%, and 115% so it was approximately size 11, 12-13, and 14-15.
I bought suede leather, foam pad, leather lace, and glue. I also got two hole punches and two screw-on threading needles.
I drew the patterns onto the leather and cut out each scout's chunk - I figured this would save a lot of waste instead of having the scouts place pieces haphazardly. I also glued the foam pads for the feet onto the soles since it's pretty potent glue and takes an hour to set up - I figured that would be pretty boring watching glue dry at a troop meeting.
So, tonight the scouts get to cut out their pieces and hole-punch them, and then they are at the same starting point as the scouts that got kits. It's about an extra hour or 90 minutes of work for a pair.

We'll see how it goes tonight. We also have a batch of new scouts attending their first troop meeting so I got another 18 kits of smaller sizes in case they want to make a pair. We had no way to contact them beforehand since they are turning in their contact info tonight. The guys at Tandy were very helpful and said I can return unopened kits.

I'm looking forward to seeing lots of moccasins on feet soon and I hope this sparks some ideas for other troop projects.

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Posted: 8:48 03-12-2007 132
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