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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.

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Why YOU Shouldn’t Decide When to Cancel Troop Meetings

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Here in Kentucky, a winter storm warning is in place and local schools are closed. That means countless other organizations have automatically closed their doors or cancelled their meetings.

Mirroring the schools’ decision is an easy call, but it’s not always the right one. We’ve all seen instances when schools close out of an overabundance of caution or when roads that were snow covered at 6:30 a.m. are clear and dry by 6:30 p.m. What’s more, the factors that lead to school closings–especially bus safety–don’t always apply in other situations.

In my opinion, Scout troops should make their go/no go decisions independently of local schools. That’s not just because of changing weather conditions during the day, however. It’s because making this decision is good practice for your patrol leaders’ council.

And that’s really important. If our mission is to help young people make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law (and it is), we need to take every opportunity we can to let them make important decisions. Now, obviously we aren’t going to let them make those decisions without guidance, but we still need to let them make the call.

Case in point: My Eagle Scout project was to plan a winter blood drive. Because I lived in a small town, that meant bringing in a blood-services crew from three hours away. It started snowing as they were setting up that morning, so I asked the leader of the crew whether she was going to cancel. Her reply was the highlight of my project. “You’re in charge,” she said. “You decide.” (I ended up canceling and rescheduling, by the way.)

As Scout leaders, we need to say those words to our Scouts every chance we get–including when snow threatens a troop meeting.


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.

Double and Triple Billing at Eagle Courts of Honor

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I recently participated in a court of honor for two Eagle Scouts, one from my troop and one from another troop. While it’s unusual to have a two-troop court of honor, this one worked really well, with planning and leadership more or less evenly divided between the two units.

But it also got me thinking about something I discuss in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, which is what makes multi-Scout courts of honor work and what can make them fail. The key, I think, is compatibility. The more two or three Scouts have in common, the more likely a joint court of honor will effective.

There are plenty of ways the Scouts could be compatible, but these three are probably the most important:

  • Age: Are the Scouts about the same age? A ceremony featuring a 13-year-old eighth-grader and an 18-year-old who’s home from college for spring break would seem strange.
  • Scouting involvement and commitment: Are the honorees all hard-core Scouts, or did they barely cross the finish line? Either option works better than having a court of honor where two honorees have done the bare minimum and the third has earned 50 merit badges, gone to three high adventure bases, and served as the senior patrol leader for your council’s NYLT course.
  •  Guest lists: At a joint court of honor, would you basically have two or three audiences of widely varying sizes? Or would both sides of the auditorium be equally full.(Of course, assuming all the honorees are from the same troop, you’ll have plenty of overlap among the guest lists, which is a good thing.)

So what’s been your experience with multi-Scout courts of honor? Feel free to post your comments below.


For more ideas, see my post on sending invitations for multi-Scout courts of honor. And for a slew of other 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.

 

How When Affects Who at Eagle Courts of Honor

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Many people (including me) like to compare planning an Eagle court of honor with planning a wedding. But there are plenty of differences including–let’s hope!–cost.

One big difference is when the events occur. You don’t have to go to very many weddings to realize that Saturday is the most popular day of the week for people to get hitched. One study found that seven out of 10 weddings occur on Saturdays, and I’d bet most of the rest occur on Friday evenings or Sunday afternoons.

Courts of honor, on the other hand, can occur just about any time during the week. Some troops hold them in lieu of their regular troop meetings, which probably means a weeknight. Other troops follow the wedding model and focus on weekends.

There’s no right answer here, but it’s important to think about how when affects who. If the honoree’s family is hoping for a lot of out-of-town guests, a Saturday is probably the best option since it allows for travel time. If they want to fill the chairs with current troop members, it probably makes sense to hold the ceremony at the same time (and place) as your troop meetings.

So when you start planning your next court of honor, start with the guest list. Thinking about who will help you make a better decision about when.


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.

 

A Six-Pack of Great Eagle Scout Opportunities

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With much of North America stuck in the deep freeze, this is a good time to remember Paul Siple, the Eagle Scout who co-developed the concept of wind-chill factor. Siple’s other claim to fame is that he accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd on an Antarctic expedition in 1928 as an official Scouting representative.

Six years ago, the National Eagle Scout Association revived the concept of sending Eagle Scouts along on scientific expeditions with what’s called the NESA World Explorers Program. This year, Eagle Scouts who are 18 or older can apply for trips to six different locations:

  • The Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador (biology)
  • The Galapagos Islands (biology)
  • Mammoth Cave National Park (speleology)
  • Yellowstone National Park (astrobiology)
  • Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota (ornithology)
  • The Judith River Dinosaur Institute in Montana (paleontology)

These trips are underwritten by NESA, although participants bear some costs. And they are real research trips, not just glorified vacations.

To apply, interested Eagle Scouts must complete an online application form and submit a 250-word essay by January 22. They must also be majoring or working in a related scientific field.

If you have Scouts with a scientific bent, this is a great opportunity for them to explore their passion–and to discover how being an Eagle Scout opens doors throughout adulthood. For more information, visit the World Explorers Program webpage.

Oh, and about Paul Siple. Don’t blame him when you feel cold. He didn’t invent wind chill; he just gave it a name!


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.

Is There a Christmas Court of Honor in Your (Near) Future?

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Not long ago, I had a conversation with the mother of a new Eagle Scout. When I asked her about plans for her son’s court of honor, she said he wasn’t going to have one. He’d earned his rank not long before his 18th birthday, had left for college before a ceremony could be planned, and had now shifted more or less into grownup mode. Having the sort of ceremony he’d often seen as a Scout simply didn’t interest him.

Now, there’s no rule that a Scout has to have a court of honor, but there’s also no reason that a Scout in that situation shouldn’t be recognized for his achievement. Which brings us to the winter break every college student will soon be enjoying.

Yes, I know the weeks between now and the start of spring semester are crazy busy. But I also know those young men–and perhaps you–will have some downtime after the Christmas presents are unwrapped, the Hanukkah menorah is put away, Kwanzaa and Festivus have been celebrated and Cousin Eddie and his family have driven off into the sunset in their tenement on wheels.

The trick is to think a little differently–okay, a lot differently–than you may be used to. Instead of spending weeks planning an elaborate ceremony, sending out invitations, printing programs, etc., pare the ceremony down to its basics. Find a time that you, the Scout, his family and a few of his close Scouting friends are available. Gather at a convenient location–his home, your meeting place, or even a local restaurant. Share stories about his time in Scouting, then go through an informal version of the formal presentation outlined in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, which includes the honoree’s Scouting history, a personal statement from him the Eagle charge, and the presentation of his badge and other tokens.

The whole event might take half an hour, but it would definitely be time well spent. And it might be the first time he realizes that being an Eagle Scout and being in grownup mode are not incompatible.


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.

 

Stay Safe in Your Camp Kitchen

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When I’m not writing about Scouting, I often write about health. Recently, however, I’ve been writing about sickness–specifically the sickness caused by antimicrobial resistance, a huge (and hugely under-reported) problem around the world. According to one report, drug-resistant bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites kill 700,000 deaths each year around the world.

This week, as I was reading about all the many places bacteria like Acinetobacter baumannii can hide, I had a flashback to my time as a Scout and the plywood patrol box surface on which we cut up raw chicken and formed hamburger patties. Between doing that and having a sketchy mastery of hand-washing, I’m surprised we didn’t all get violently ill on every outing.

I trust that your troop is a little more conscious of sanitation and food safety than we were back in the day. If not, now’s a good time to get smart.

The BSA’s summer 2017 Health and Safety newsletter offers some helpful information. Among the key reminders you’ll find there:

  • Keep it cold (below 40 degrees), which could mean freezing meat at home or using it all at a campout’s first couple of meals.
  • Keep it clean, which means washing your hands thoroughly before, during, and after cooking and avoiding cross-contamination.
  • Cook it thoroughly, not until you think it’s done (or you’re too hungry to wait any longer). That really means using a digital food thermometer instead of relying on meat color. (You can find these online for $10 or so, although my favorite thermometer, the ThermoPro ChefAlarm, runs a little over $50.)

And while you’re shopping for a digital food thermometer, toss a cutting board in your shopping cart. After all, you don’t know what has been on that patrol box lid–and what might still be there!

For more food safety tips, visit www.eatright.org/resources/homefoodsafety and www.fsis.usda.gov


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.

Rules and Damned Rules

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Once upon a time, some officious official told Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell that an idea he’d suggested was against the rules. “Damn the rules!” B-P said. “Call it an experiment!”

I love that story, partly because it hints at B-P’s character but mostly because it illustrates a fundamental truth of Scouting. Even a century removed from its founding, Scouting is still a work in progress. What works for one troop in one community won’t work at all for another troop in another community–or even for the same troop in the same community after a little time has passed.

That’s why I always worry when officious volunteers talk about “the rules.” Now, I’m not talking about the policies found in the Guide to Safe Scouting or the Guide to Advancement; those we must and should follow. I’m talking about the rules Scouters make up along the way, Like saying a Scout must serve as patrol leader before running for senior patrol leader. Or requiring that a Scout must show up in full uniform, complete with dress shoes, for a board of review. Those might be good guidelines, but they shouldn’t be codified as rules.

Part of the challenge is making it clear when you’re quoting a rule and when you’re offering a suggestion. In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, for example, I talk about the “Rule of Thirds,” which says a Scout should earn a third of his way to camp through fundraising, a third of his way through spending his own money, and a third of his way through cash infusions from the Bank of Mom and Dad. A similar rule related to advancement says a Scout should earn a third of his merit badges at summer camp or advancement events, a third from counselors within the troop, and a third from counselors outside the troop. I like both those guidelines and think most Scouts would benefit from following them. However, I would never seek to enforce them like I would enforce Youth Protection rules. They’re really rules of thumb, not rules of law.

What kinds of rules does your troop have? Do people get rules and rules of thumb confused? Do they prevent you from viewing Scouting as the experiment it continues to be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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.