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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.

Marshall McLuhan and the Eagle Court of Honor

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Media critic Marshall McLuhan famously argued that the medium is the message. And there’s no doubt that the way in which a message is transmitted inevitably shapes the message. Just consider how you react to a TV report on a violent crime–complete with disturbing video–and a newspaper story about the same crime.

Far from the world of violent crime, the medium of an Eagle court of honor also shapes the message guests receive. If the room is comfortably full, the event will seem successful, but if the room is three-quarters empty–even with 150 people in the audience–there will be a negative vibe. If the setting is a courtroom or church sanctuary, the event will take on a more serious tone, but if the setting is a park, the event will feel more relaxed.

 

And if the setting is the U.S. embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria–as shown in the photo above–you can count a pretty impressive flag ceremony to kick off the ceremony. (You can see more photos from that 2017 court of honor at https://www.facebook.com/pg/USEmbassySofia/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1426153970773442.)

Of course, if you don’t have U.S. diplomats in your troop, you’re not likely to hold your next court of honor in the great hall of an embassy, but I’m guessing you have troop families with access to impressive and appropriate venues. By selecting a venue that offers the right atmosphere, you can ensure that your medium and message match–and perhaps have your event featured in photos seen around the world.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Summer Camp and Scoutmaster Conferences

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It’s summer camp season. If you’re a Scoutmaster, that means you’ll probably spend a lot of time this summer sitting around a campsite somewhere.

Summer camp offers leaders a great chance to relax, but it’s also a great chance to hold Scoutmaster conferences with the Scouts in your troop. Unlike at troop meetings, it’s easy to find blocks of uninterrupted when you can meet with each Scout individually. (And a large campsite typically offers plenty of space to have a private conversation in full view of other Scouts and adults, as Youth Protection Guidelines require.)

Of course, most of your Scouts won’t be ready to advance in rank this summer, but that’s okay. There’s a common misconception that the Scoutmaster conference must be the last requirement signed off before the board of review. That’s simply not true. You can hold Scoutmaster conferences at any time, and they don’t even have to be tied to rank advancement. (For example, a Scout who isn’t advancing could benefit from a conference.)

In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I suggest that Scoutmaster conferences have five purposes:

  • To make sure the Scout is ready for his next rank—not in terms of retesting or reviewing but simply checking that he’s completed each requirement and that the requirements have been signed off in his book. For the higher ranks, I also like to write in what leadership positions he held and what service projects he completed.
  • To sign off on Scout spirit and participation requirements. Many Scoutmasters reserve the right to sign off on these two requirements as part of the Scoutmaster conference.
  • To build rapport. Find out how he’s doing in school, what his family is like, and what his hobbies are.
  • To explore problems. The Scoutmaster conference is a good opportunity to discuss behavior and attendance problems, as well as any problems the Scout sees in the troop (e.g., boring meetings, hazing by older Scouts). You need to keep the conversation positive, however.
  • To set goals. Scoutmaster conferences used to be called personal growth agreement conferences, and they were supposed to include the formal setting of some sort of goal that the Scout would work toward before his next rank. Try this in your Scoutmaster conferences—but be sure to check on the Scout’s progress the next time around.

You can accomplish these purposes back home, of course, but at this time of year the best place is probably at camp.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Courts of Honor and Last-minute Heroes

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I love baseball, but I’ve never quite figured out the rule governing whether the starting pitcher gets the win (or takes the loss) or whether the closer gets credit for a victory. However that rule works–and feel free to explain it in the comments section–it doesn’t always seem fair to award the victory to a last-minute hero.

And what about that reliever who comes in to face a single batter? He doesn’t get any credit even though the out he earns may well prevent a grand slam. But I digress.

Eagle courts of honor can have their own last-minute heroes. Early in my time as Scoutmaster, I planned a court of honor for a Scout who’d spent most of his time under my predecessor. Traditionally, courts of honor give a lot of attention to the Scoutmaster–he or she is the one who typically handles the presentation phase of the ceremony–but that hardly seemed fair in this situation. So I made sure my predecessor had a prominent role to play in the ceremony.

You should do the same in your next court of honor if more than one Scoutmaster has worked with the honoree. Don’t let last-minute heroes like me hog the spotlight!


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Avoid the Temptation to Skip Summer in Your Troop

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The BSA has struggled for years to get Cub Scout packs to maintain a year-round program. There’s even an award, the National Summertime Pack Award, that recognizes packs for doing what they should have been doing anyway.

Troops don’t get the summertime blues quite as badly as packs—probably because of summer camp and high-adventure trips—but some troops are still tempted to take most of the summer off. My advice: Resist the temptation. Taking an extended break over the summer slows advancement, interrupts your momentum, and makes starting up again in the fall difficult.

That’s not to say that your August program must look just like October’s. Far from it. In keeping with the season, your summertime program should probably take on a more leisurely feel. Here are a few ideas for adding interest to your summertime meetings:

  • Meet outdoors, perhaps at a local park. (This is actually something good to do year round!)
  • Switch to activity uniforms (Scout T-shirts instead of uniform shirts) while school is out of session.
  • Plan purely fun meetings instead of emphasizing advancement. For example, you could hold a bike rodeo or a patrol Olympiad.
  • Meet earlier in the evening than usual and fix dinner.
  • Take a field trip to a minor-league baseball game or a water park.

One of the biggest concerns with summertime activities is adult-leader burnout. This is a great time to encourage less-active parents to step up so some regular leaders can catch a break.
Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

An Out-of-this-world Eagle Certificate

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Way back in 1999, the very first tip on my Eagle Tips list (the forerunner of this blog) described how to request congratulatory letters from NASA astronauts. At the time, all you had to do was send a letter to the Johnson Space Center.

These days, you can save yourself a stamp. Instead of responding to thousands of mailed requests each year, NASA has made available a downloadable Eagle Scout certificate, which you can find at https://www.nasa.gov/about/contact/index.html. (There’s also a certificate for recipients of Girl Scouting’s Gold Award.)

Note: Back in the day, NASA certificates sometimes came with a autographed photo of an astronaut. (Who that was varied every few months.) While such photos were nice keepsakes, I totally understand the move by NASA and other agencies toward downloadable certificates. Last year, there were 55,186 new Eagle Scouts. If just 10 percent of them requested certificates, that would require the space agency under the old system to send out more than 100 certificates every week.

So what’s the best Eagle Scout certificate or letter you’ve seen? And how have you used these documents in your courts of honor? Post your thoughts in the comments section.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Memorials and Eagle Courts of Honor

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I’ve told this story before, but I think it’s fitting to repeat as we move into the Memorial Day weekend.

Many new Eagle Scouts have lost loved ones who played a role in their Scouting journey, and it’s entirely appropriate to memorialize those people in some way. How to do that, how to strike just the right tone, can be challenging.

Several years back, an Eagle mom named Debbie Borden told me about her son Tim’s court of honor—a great example of how to honor a lost loved one.

Tim’s grandfather had been active in their troop for more than 50 years and was an important part of Tim’s Scouting years. Sadly, he passed away before he could see Tim become an Eagle Scout, but his presence was felt at Tim’s court of honor.

Tim often wore his grandfather’s red patch jacket to Scout functions. At his court of honor, Tim hung the jacket next to the chair where he sat. As he received his Eagle Scout badge from his brother Brian (himself an Eagle Scout), Tim held the sleeve of his grandfather’s jacket—a simple, poignant tribute to the tangible and intangible gifts his grandfather had left him.

Debbie told me, “As a mother, watching my son accept his brother as an Eagle Scout was the proudest day of my life. I could have not been prouder of my two Eagle Scouts on that day.”


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Steppingstones to a Lifetime of Service

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One of the cool things I get to do for Eagles’ Call magazine is write about Eagle projects that have won the Adams Award at the national, region, and council levels. Some of the recipients put far more time, money, and effort into their projects than I can imagine having done when I was 16 years old!

I do worry sometimes, however, whether the pursuit of the Adams Award–and of the Eagle Scout Award itself, for that matter–gives some Scouts the mistaken impression that service projects always have to be big and bold. It’s important to remind them (and ourselves) that it’s also valuable to do small, impromptu acts of service that don’t require troop and district approval, fundraising applications, or extensive final reports. In fact, I’d rather see a Scout embark on a lifetime of informal service rather than do one huge Eagle project and then turn his back on the needs of his community for the rest of his life.

As adult leaders, we can play a vital role in inviting Scouts into a lifetime of service. How? By making service as integral a part of our programs as capture the flag and Dutch oven cobblers. Imagine the lesson you would teach if you made sure every campout included a small-scale service project, perhaps one that you don’t even plan ahead.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my wife and I went hiking in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge (which is, by the way, an awesome destination for hiking, backpacking, and rock-climbing). On one of our hikes, we crossed a stream with dry feet thanks to a series of steppingstones someone had thoughtful placed in the water. But we also crossed a stream where there were no steppingstones and our boots got soaked. Had I had a bunch of Scouts with me, I could have pointed out the difference between the two stream crossings and suggested that we take half an hour to place stones at the second crossing. If I’d been on my game, I probably could have even convinced them that the project was their idea!

Think about your last campout. If it didn’t include a service component, what opportunities did you miss? Looking ahead to your next campout, what could you do to leave the place a little better than you found it–and your Scouts a little wiser for the experience?


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.