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As the tagline promises, I’ve created this blog as a repository for ideas related to writing, Scouting, and writing on Scouting. I talk about the books I sell at EagleBook.com, my other Scouting-related writing projects, and other items of interest. I hope you find the blog of interest. If you have ideas to share, just post a comment on the About page.

Philmont for Procrastinators

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Received wisdom says that getting a crew slot at Philmont Scout Ranch is harder than getting a parking space at the mall on Black Friday. But that’s not the case for 2015. As of late last week, there were spaces in the schedule for more than 100 crews on 2015 backpacking treks.

Why? Perhaps it’s the oversold National Order of the Arrow Conference. Perhaps it’s competition from the Summit Bechtel Reserve or other high-adventure bases. Or perhaps Scouters have simply been scared off by the seemingly impossible odds. Whatever the reason, it’s not too late to get your troop to Philmont next summer.

For an up-to-date list of available arrival dates, visit http://www.philmontscoutranch.org/Camping/Registration/HowToReserve/Openings.aspx. (You’ll also find contact information on that page.)

Don’t delay, however. Like Black Friday sales, this opportunity won’t last forever.

Mike Rowe’s Eagle Scout Letter

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There’s little doubt that Mike Rowe, best known as host of TV’s “Dirty Jobs,” was the star of the closing arena show at the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, a role he reprised again in 2013. But did you know that Rowe, an Eagle Scout from Baltimore, will send a personalized letter of congratulations to any new Eagle Scout?

You can read the letter, and learn how to request a copy, at http://www.mikeroweworks.com/scrap-yard/eagle-scout-letter/. Quite different from the typical congratulatory letter, Rowe’s letter helps put the Eagle Scout Award in context for those Scouts who look forward to resting on their laurels in the years to come.

In fact, you ever find yourself in the position of writing congratulatory letters, you probably couldn’t find a better model to follow.

(Photo Credit: Phil Kloer/USFWS)

Eagle Projects for Not-So-Dummies

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The Eagle Scout service project is a major step on the road to Boy Scouting’s highest rank. It’s also a major source of confusion for many Scouts, Scouters, and Scout parents. Fortunately, the National Advancement Committee has done a great job in recent years in clarifying the process involved in proposing and carrying out an Eagle project.

If you’ve never helped a Scout through the process, the best place to start is with the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook, which explains every step of the process. Coupled with the Guide to Advancement, the workbook should answer any questions you and your Scouts have. But what about their project beneficiaries?

While the workbook is primarily addressed to the Eagle Scout candidate (as it should be), one important section addresses the organization the Scout’s project will benefit. Entitled “Navigating the Eagle Scout Service Project: Information for Project Beneficiaries,” this two-pager does a great job of explaining what beneficiaries need to understand about Eagle projects. You should strongly encourage your Scouts to share this document early in the process of planning their Eagle projects. Doing so could help them head off many questions and concerns and smooth the way to success.

Boosting Troop Attendance at Eagle Courts of Honor

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What if you threw a court of honor and nobody came? While that’s not likely to happen, the reality is that getting people to Eagle courts of honor can be challenging. People today lead incredibly busy lives, these one-off events are typically held at times and/or locations that troop families aren’t accustomed to, and troop families may have little incentive to attend, especially if they don’t know the honoree well. (A 17-year-old who hasn’t been active in a role like senior patrol leader may be a veritable stranger to many Scouts and parents.)

But all hope is not lost. There are plenty of things you can do to boost attendance. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Send actual, mailed invitations to all troop families. It’s a good idea to supplement your invitations with meeting announcements, newsletter notices, etc., but take the time to mail real invitations.
  • Include Scouts in the ceremony. From flag ceremonies to candle ceremonies to ushering to sharing anecdotes, you can easily include 15 Scouts in every ceremony. If you include 15 Scouts and each brings a parent, you have a base of 30 audience members to begin with. (See The Eagle Court of Honor Book for more ideas on assigning ceremony roles.)
  • Simplify scheduling. Rather than hold your court of honor at an unusual time or unfamiliar location, hold it instead of a regular troop meeting at your regular location. Or use the same location on a different night.
  • Offer food. Food is always a draw for Scouts, of course. Instead of having a basic reception, however, consider a troop potluck dinner or cookout before or after the court of honor.
  • Double your impact. Combine the court of honor with another troop function. Many troops present Eagle badges at the end of regular troop courts of honor (such as a winter or spring court of honor when the number of badges is small). You could also pair your court of honor with a summer camp meeting, a parent orientation, or other activity. If you’ll be camping near home one weekend, consider holding the court of honor at your camping location at the end of the trip. Parents could come for the court of honor and then take their Scouts home.

What other ideas do you have for boosting Scout attendance at Eagle courts of honor? The comments section is open.

 

A New Scouting Position: Nozzle Control Officer

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Nozzle Control Officer

Okay, the BSA hasn’t really created a new position, but maybe it should.

We live in an information age, when all sorts of information is coming at us like water from a fire hose. Just think about the number of emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages you see in a day. In Scouting alone, we’ve got Scouting magazine, countless official and unofficial Facebook pages and email lists, council newsletters, LinkedIn groups, Pinterest pages, and blogs like mine. And there’s probably still somebody out there discussing the latest Scouting news via semaphore or Morse code.

Many leaders don’t have time to drink from the fire hose of information that comes at them every day. So they just go blithely about their business, ignorant of information that could help them do a better job.

What to do? Name a nozzle control officer for your troop. Figure out who your most in-the-know leader is–and then challenge him or her to share the most relevant information with the rest of your leaders on a regular basis, whether that information comes from Scouting magazine, roundtable, a blog post, or some other source. While this could take a lot of different forms, I think the best approach might be a weekly email of bullet points with links that let people get more detail. For example, an item about a new merit badge could include a link to the requirements at scouting.org or to a Bryan’s Blog post. Think of it as your own version of Reader’s Digest.

I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and how you disseminate important information to your fellow leaders. Post your ideas in the comments section.

Double Your Displeasure

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People sometimes ask what led me to write the first edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book way back in 1996. (By the way, the book is now in its third edition, so if you’re still using the first edition, sell it on eBay and buy a new copy!)

The main impetus was a string of courts of honor I visited when I was a district executive in Florida. There’s something about attending an event in someone else’s troop that accentuates the positives–and the negatives.

Two particular courts of honor stood out–each of which featured two honorees.

At the first, twin brothers were being recognized and, for some reason, they were required to stand at attention through the whole ceremony–until they inadvertently locked their knees and passed out. I can still remember the look on the second brother’s face as he watched his brother keel over and then realized he too was going down. Lesson learned: don’t make your honoree stand at attention for no reason.

At the second, an adult read every word of every congratulatory letter the first honoree had received, including the part where Senator So-and-So apologized that his busy schedule in Washington prevented him from attending the ceremony. Then, the adult read every word of every congratulatory letter the second honoree had received–the only variations being the salutations. Lesson learned: with multi-Eagle ceremonies, do common elements like letter readings once.

What lessons have you learned from court of honor successes and failures? Post your ideas in the comments section, and you could win a free copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book or The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook.

Lessons from the Classroom

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The other day, a friend who’s a high-school teacher sent me a fascinating blog post by Alexis Wiggins, a veteran teacher who shadowed a couple of students for two days. By walking in their shoes and talking with them afterward, she discovered some things she’d been doing wrong in the classroom for years.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole article (which includes some simple strategies for better teaching), but here are Wiggins’ three key takeaways:

  1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting. (Teachers, who have the freedom to walk around, roam the classroom, write on the board, etc., don’t realize how hard it is to sit all day.)
  2. High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes. (Rather than engage in discussions or wrestle with material, students are expected to absorb information like sponges suck up water.)
  3. You [the student] feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long. (Teachers are always telling students to be quiet and pay attention. When students do speak up, they’re often faced with eye rolls and snarky comments like, “Once again, let me explain….”)

So what does all these have to do with Scouting? A couple of things.

First, the environment Wiggins describes is probably the environment your Scouts have been in all day before your troop meeting. If they get more of the same from you, Scouting isn’t going to be very appealing. Troop meetings should be active and engaging–not dry lectures on boring subjects.

Second, the experiment Wiggins describes is one you could easily replicate. Imagine what you would learn if you spent two troop meetings shadowing Scouts (perhaps a first-year Scout one week and an older Scout the next). Would you discover how rude Mr. Smith is when Scouts ask simple questions? Would you discover why some of your Life Scouts who rather hide in their patrol room than teach knot-tying to the “little kids” for the umpteenth time? Would you discover why your Scouts are staring out the window while you’re lecturing on first aid? Or would you discover an exciting, engaging program that is truly delivering the promise of Scouting?

I’d love to hear what you discover. Post your results in the comments section below.