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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.

Tooting Your Troop’s Own Horn

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One of my volunteer roles in Scouting is to serve on my council’s marketing committee. At a recent meeting we talked about fall recruiting for Cub Scouts and kept returning to the idea that most packs seem to rely on the council’s fall recruiting program for new members–effectively outsourcing this most critical function.

I think a lot of troops do the same thing, either relying on their local council or not doing any recruiting whatsoever. While it’s true that a strong program will draw new members, you really can’t rely on the Field of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come.” (In case you’ve forgotten, the actual quote is “If you build it, he will come,” which is perhaps a better indicator of how effective that philosophy actually is for recruiting!)

So how can you effectively market your troop? I’ve seen a couple of great examples recently that you can learn from. Although they mostly focused on Cub Scouting, they could easily be adapted to Boy Scouting.

First, my church’s pack and troop worked with the children’s children’s ministry to run a “what Scouts do” program during the Sunday school hour one Sunday in July. All the children’s classes came to the fellowship hall for a round-robin of activities that included games, crafts, knot-tying, tent-pitching, and fire-laying. The troop’s color guard did an impressive flag ceremony, and Girl Scouts were on hand to talk about their program. (Note that this event was separate from Scout Sunday in February, when our units will have another chance to show their stuff.)

Second, Lisa Fields, a colleague from the American Society of Journalists and Authors just published a first-person essay in her community’s Jewish newspaper about her experience as a Scout mom. In it, she talks a lot about how the Scouting program supports faith development, something that’s important for that publication’s audience. I thought she did a great job of both selling the program and reassuring parents who may be on the fence about Scouting and/or camping.

There are lots of other ways to promote your program, of course, but  these are nice examples of inexpensive, highly targeted efforts to reach potential members.

So what does your troop do to recruit new Scouts. You’ve already built it. Are they coming?


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.

Eagle Palms and Courts of Honor

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If you thought the big news out of Irving this summer would relate to the National Scout Jamboree, think again. Effective August 1, the requirements for Eagle Palms are changing in three significant ways:

  1. Scouts who earn extra merit badges prior to their Eagle boards of review can receive Palms at their Eagle courts of honor; the three-month requirement doesn’t apply in such cases.
  2. The leadership requirement has been expanded to include responsibility beyond the local troop (the logic being that many Eagle Scouts are as involved in the Order of the Arrow or a Venturing crew as they are in their home troops).
  3. A board of review is no longer required for Palms, although a Scoutmaster conference still is.

You can read all the details about the changes in this Bryan on Scouting post (although I advise skipping the comments!). But the changes raise the question of how to present Palms at an Eagle court of honor, something that has been relatively rare in the past.

Under the new requirements, a Scout with 26 merit badges at the time of his Eagle board of review–which isn’t all that uncommon–would automatically qualify for a Bronze Palm. Ten merit badges would equal a Gold Palm, while 15 would equal a Silver Palm. (Beyond that, you apply multiple Palms as appropriate. The blog post above has a handy chart if you don’t want to do the math.)

So how should you present one or more Palms at an Eagle court of honor? To me, the process is pretty simple. After the presentation of the Eagle badge, the certificate, and the parent pins, the emcee should say something like this:

As we’ve already heard tonight, our honoree has never been one to do the minimum amount of work required. In fact, although he only needed 21 merit badges to earn Eagle, he had actually earned 33 by his board of review last month. That total qualifies him for a Gold Eagle Palm, which I’d like to present now.

You could make a bigger deal of this, but I don’t think you need to. After all, the big deal–and the thing he’ll be proudest of a decade from now–is that he’s an Eagle Scout. His Palms, while significant, pale in comparison to that achievement.

That’s my take; what’s yours? How have you recognized achievements like Palms at Eagle courts of honor?


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.

 

These Are Scouting’s Good Old Days

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Recently my wife and I caught a movie we missed when it first came out. Called “Midnight in Paris,” it tells the story of a contemporary writer who gets to travel back in time to the Paris of the 1920s. When he gets there, he runs into all sorts of famous people, from Ernest Hemingway to Cole Porter to Salvador Dali, and pretty much thinks he’s in liberal-arts-major heaven.

But he also encounters a young woman who longs for the Belle Époque, the period around the turn of the 20th century that her parents and grandparents had lived through. As the two discuss which period is more idyllic, our hero gradually realizes that every generation looks back toward some “better” past. In doing so, they forget the bad things about their preferred time–like no penicillin and no air conditioning–and they fail to look around them at the wonders of the current age.

Which brings me to Boy Scouting.

I had a discussion earlier this year with a fellow Scouter about whether former Scouts or newcomers to the program make for better leaders. We didn’t come to a firm conclusion, but we did agree that the worst leaders may be those former Scouts who can’t stop pining for the good old days.

Of course, the Scouting program back then–whenever then was–wasn’t as perfect as they remember it to be. (Segregated camps, anyone?) Moreover, what worked a generation or two ago would probably not work as well today.

So who are the best leaders? Those who recognize, as Carly Simon once sang, that these are the good old days.


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.

Your Eagle Court of Honor’s SECOND Most Important Moment

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The most important moment of any Eagle Scout court of honor is, of course, when the badge is finally presented—that moment that represents the culmination of three or four or seven years of hard work.

But there’s a second part that I think is nearly as important. And that’s the part where someone—typically a troop leader—reviews the honoree’s Scouting journey. This part is important because it personalizes the honoree, crystallizes his experience into a few hundred words, and explains to the audience why exactly this event is so special. (It may also help the honoree put his Scouting experience into context.)

Many troops use a fill-in-the-blank description of the honoree’s Scouting history or stick to meaningless facts and figures: joined the troop on X date, became a First Class Scout on Y date, etc. In other troops, speakers ramble on and on, offering disjointed anecdotes that may or may not help the audience get to know the honoree. With a little extra work, however, you can do a whole lot better than that.

Perhaps an example will suffice. Below is a lightly edited version of a bio we used in my troop several years back (with the Scout’s name changed to protect his privacy). In just 235 words, you’ll learn about the honoree’s Scouting accomplishments, Eagle project, and outside achievements. Mostly, however, you’ll learn what makes him special—and what makes him an Eagle Scout:

Chris Smith has participated in Scouting at all levels. He’s been a member of Pack 317, Troop 317, and Explorer Post 517, an engineering post chartered to the Metropolitan Sewer District. As a Cub Scout, he earned the Arrow of Light; as a Boy Scout, he served as librarian, assistant patrol leader, patrol leader, and assistant senior patrol leader; and as an Explorer, he served as post treasurer.

Chris has also been active outside Scouting. He is active in the church’s high school choir, handbell choir, and praise band. He also plays J.V. soccer and maintains a 3.9 GPA at duPont Manual High School.

Among Chris’s fondest memories of Scouting is participating in Project COPE at Camp Daniel Boone three summers ago along with several other troop members. As Chris said at the time, “The COPE program has you doing things you never thought you could do. But with teamwork and a lot of trial and error, you’re able to complete the seemingly impossible tasks.”

That experience probably helped Chris last year when, for his Eagle project, he cataloged and reorganized more than a thousand books and audio cassettes in the church’s teacher resource room. Chris originally planned two, maybe three workdays but ended up spending 12 days on the project, amassing 165 volunteer hours. Chris has also continued his commitment to that project by requesting donations for the resource room in lieu of gifts today.

So what should the audience hear about your next Eagle Scout?


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.

Think Globally But Act Locally

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the 2017 National Scout Jamboree will kick off in just a few weeks. You may have also heard someone complain that the jamboree serves “only” 35,000 or 40,000 Scouts and adults, leaving many times that number on the outside looking in. I hear similar complaints from troops that get shut out of Philmont Scout Ranch or that can’t afford a trip to Florida Sea Base.

What I would remind these people—and you—is that national-level programs can never serve more than a tiny fraction of our Scouts, both because of capacity and cost. You and I must to serve the rest.

Program is the responsibility of unit-level Scouters (working, of course, through youth leaders) not the job of folks who wear silver or gold shoulder loops. It’s wonderful that the BSA provides jamborees and national high-adventure bases, and it’s great that local councils offer summer camps and their own high-adventure activities. But the fact is that those activities can never do more than supplement the unit program.

As unit leaders, we need to look at these supplemental activities as steppingstones to a better unit program—not curse them as stumbling blocks when we can’t get in or when the costs are too high or the distances too great.

Some troops that can’t get into Philmont year after year forgo high-adventure activities altogether. But the smart ones find a local council that offers similar activities … or connect with an outfitter … or simply create their own adventures—perhaps spending a week on the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. Is the planning harder than getting ready for Philmont? Of course. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

So celebrate this year’s jamboree if you have Scouts going. But then get to work planning other awesome adventures for your Scouts who won’t be spending 10 days at the Summit Bechtel Reserve this summer.


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.

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.