Conquering Context Collapse



On the blog recently, I wrote about It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Danah Boyd’s landmark study on kids’ use of social media. The upshot of Boyd’s work is that the kids are (generally) alright, although they need caring adults to keep an eye on them in the online world.

Of course, most adults spend a lot of time online as well, and many Scout leaders are connected to their Scouts and their families via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. (I always think it’s cool when a former Scout or youth group member sends me a connection request on LinkedIn, the business and professional counterpart to Facebook.) When we connect with our Scouts online, we need to be aware of context collapse.

What’s context collapse? It’s the situation where all your various worlds collide online, where your professional, family, and social lives intersect. Thanks to context collapse, your boss can see your vacation photos, your friends can see what you’re saying about work, and—most importantly for our purposes—your Scouts can see what you’re liking on Facebook, whether that’s Lolcats, a political cause, or your favorite microbrewery.

Context collapse happens in the real world, of course. You may go to church with troop families, for example, or you could happen to run into a Scout parent at a liquor store or political rally. But social media make context collapse an everyday occurrence.

So what can you do? One study I read offered three strategies:

  1. Keep Scouting contacts out of your social networks.
  2. Create separate social media accounts for Scouting.
  3. Adopt a lowest-common-denominator approach where everything you post online is safe for all audiences.

Each strategy has its own advantages and disadvantages. I personally have adopted the third strategy. You’ll never see me post anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for the youngest Scout to read, and if you want to know about my political leanings or adult-beverage preferences, you’ll have to ask.

You may adopt another strategy. That’s fine, but you do need to think about how context collapse affects the person your Scouts see when they visit your Facebook page.

Note: Before you interact with Scouts online, you should review the BSA’s social media guidelines. Youth Protection policies like two-deep leadership apply online, just as they apply at meetings and activities.

How do you deal with context collapse? The comments section is open.

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

Why I Love PTC



I blogged recently about the Philmont Training Center and why Scouters owe it to themselves and the Scouts they serve to attend a conference there. Now that I’m gearing up for this August’s Building Strong Troops conference, which I’m co-facilitating, I’ve been thinking about why I love PTC so much.

Here are a few reasons:

  • Abundant wildlife. Philmont is truly where the deer and the antelope play–not to mention the elk, bears, and mini-bears (known elsewhere as chipmunks). A week or two ago, a herd of elk crossed the highway right in front of PTC. This summer, deer that seem almost as tame as pets will be regular visitors in base camp.
  • Gorgeous views. Everywhere you turn is beautiful, from the Tooth of Time just across the road to the plains behind base camp. Thunderstorms are particularly majestic over those plains, and, unlike the crews in the backcountry, you don’t have to worry too much about getting caught in one!
  • Hiking opportunities. Although PTC participants can’t go into the backcountry (other than some family program participants), several trails are available, including the Urraca Trail, which offers stunning views of the Tooth of Time. A couple of years ago, my wife and I took a sunrise hike to Lover’s Leap, where I captured the image above.
  • A taste of the trek program. With binoculars in hand, you can stand by your tent and watch hikers working their way down Tooth Ridge to base camp. In the evening, you can walk across the road for the closing campfire where trek participants receive their coveted arrowhead patches. Be forewarned, however, you’ll want to come back as a crew advisor.
  • The Villa Philmonte. PTC is built on the grounds of Waite Phillips’s stunning summer home, the Villa Philmonte, a 28,400-square-foot Spanish Mediterranean mansion that has been lovingly restored. Tours are offered throughout the day, but I also enjoy just strolling through the gardens and across the Villa lawn.
  • Family programs. PTC offers family programs that complement the conference offerings. Schedules are coordinated so families can enjoy meals and evenings together. Also, everyone gets Wednesday afternoon off to do laundry, explore the ranch, or head to nearby places like Taos or Cimarron.
  • Cimarron. Philmont is just a few miles down the road from historic Cimarron, where you can visit art galleries, get some great ice cream, and eat at the St. James Hotel, where people ranging from Buffalo Bill Cody to Zane Grey have stayed.
  • The conferences. Oh yes, and then there are the conferences! PTC attracts top facilitators across the BSA, many of them members of national committees or volunteers who helped create the programs they’re teaching on. (For example, I’m the author of volume 1 of the forthcoming Troop Leader Guidebook.) National staff members are also on hand to field questions or offer sneak peeks of coming attractions in the BSA.

So those are a few reasons I love PTC. If you’ve been there, what did you love? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Are the Kids Alright?



A few weeks back, I caught a fascinating interview on “Science Friday” with Danah Boyd, a social It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. I highly recommend you check it out.

For her book, Boyd interviewed hundreds of teens across the country over an eight-year period and came to a couple of important conclusions about kids and social media.

The first is that social media are today’s equivalent of the mall, the malt shop, the front stoop, and other teen hangouts of the past–a space whose relative privacy allows teens to explore who they are and what they believe about themselves and the world. When parents and other well-meaning adults are overly intrusive in an online forum like Facebook, kids either move on or engage in steganography, which means sending coded messages in plain sight. (Boyd cited the example of a girl who communicated her depression to those in the know–which didn’t include her prying mother–by posting song lyrics that were apparently upbeat but held a darker meaning.)

The second important conclusion is that the kids are, in general, alright. That’s not to say they don’t need caring adults looking out for them. In fact, she recommended that aunts and uncles and even Grandma can fill the gap when kids unfriend their parents or hide posts from them.

I would add Scout leaders to the caring adult category. I think it’s incumbent upon us to friend our Scouts on Facebook (assuming they accept our friend requests) and then keep an eye on what they’re saying online. This does not mean spying on them or finding dirt to bring up at a board of review; it simply means being alert to problems that ought to be discussed back in the real world.

Note: Before you interact with Scouts online, you should review the BSA’s social media guidelines. Youth Protection policies like two-deep leadership apply online, just as they apply at meetings and activities

This Minnesota Troop’s Scout Hut Is a Former Train Depot



According to Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, shelter is a basic human need, along with food, water, and warmth. It’s pretty important to Scout troops, too. In many ways, where you meet affects how your program works. My first meeting place as a Boy Scout was a concrete-block Scout house about the size of my current living room. My next troop met in a National Guard armory and two surplus city/county buildings. When I was Scoutmaster, we had exclusive use of an old farmhouse on our church’s property. That house eventually gave way to parking, so we moved into the church building proper, where part of the old fellowship hall was built out to our specs, complete with a meeting room office, conference room, four patrol rooms, and storage.

All of these spaces had their good points and their limitations, but as I think about them, I’m reminded of one thing: shelter is just a basic need, for humans and troops alike. The important thing about a meeting place is that it support, not detract from, your program and allow your Scouts to climb Maslow’s hierarchy to the top: self-actualization.

How to Quickly Schedule Meetings and Events



In a perfect world, every meeting, outing, court of honor, and other activity in your troop would be scheduled months in advance at your annual program planning conference. Then, all you would have to do is publish one calendar each year, and everybody in the troop would know where to be and when to be there.

I don’t live in a perfect world, and I’m guessing you don’t either.

Throughout the year, things happen that require dates to be shuffled or added. Perhaps a troop committee meeting gets preempted by snow; perhaps an Eagle court of honor gets added to the schedule; perhaps you need to schedule an extra shakedown weekend for a high-adventure trip.

So how can you schedule or reschedule dates and ensure maximum participation? One great way is to create an online poll at All you have to do is create a list of possible dates and times and invite Scouts, leaders, and families to vote. (Each poll has a unique URL that you can send out via email.) Respondents can choose multiple options, and you can tell at a glance who has voted and which option is the most popular.

Doodle is totally free to use, although you can subscribe to a premium service that offers more features. It’s a great way to eliminate the guesswork from scheduling and to maximize attendance at specially called meetings.

So what web services make your life as a Scouter easier? The comments section is open.

Sharpen Your Ax Before Planning a Court of Honor



Despite what various websites claim, Abraham Lincoln probably did not say, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Details are here.) That doesn’t mean whoever did say that was wrong, however. In fact, the wisdom definitely applies to Eagle courts of honor. You’ll probably spend at least twice as much time planning a court of honor as you will spend during the event itself.

Part of that time would be well spent (shameless plug) in reading The Eagle Court of Honor Book. But it’s also a good idea to spend a little of that time attending an Eagle ceremony at another troop. Sitting in the audience at a court of honor in an unfamiliar setting is a great way to get a feel for what works, what doesn’t work, and what you would like to replicate in your own ceremony.

I went to a friend’s son’s court of honor recently and jotted down at least half a dozen good ideas and lessons learned. And I’ve been writing about courts of honor since 1996! If you’ve only been to your own troop’s courts of honor or–like some Eagle parents I’ve talked to–never attended a single court of honor, you should come home with even more ideas. (Be sure to carry a notepad and pen.)

So how can you find a ceremony to attend? Check with your district executive, district commissioner, and/or unit commissioner. At least one of them probably gets invited to every court of honor in your district.

Secrets to Successful Scout Fundraising



Now that most of the country is on daylight savings time and daffodils are starting to sprout in my yard, it’s getting easier to believe that spring will really arrive this year. (I had my doubts during this long, cold winter.)

One sure sign of spring is that my troop has started selling mulch and bedding plants. In fact, I found an order form in my newspaper box just the other day.

I love this fundraising idea for a couple of reasons. First, people need to buy these products anyway. Second, people need to buy them year in and year out.

Troop 994 in Fairfax Station, Va., found a third reason to love selling mulch: the opportunity to upsell customers. I interviewed their Scoutmaster for a Scouting magazine article a few years ago and learned their secret: the receipt they leave each customer includes an offer to have Scouts return at a later date to spread the mulch they purchased for an additional fee. (Check out that article; it has some other great ideas.)

What are your unit’s secrets to fundraising success? The comments section is open.

The Very Best Way to Find Scouting Resources Online



Like most websites, is always under construction. That means finding what you’re looking for can be an adventure. And the built-in search engine, while much improved in recent years, is still not perfect.

So how can you find what you’re looking for? Start with Google. Create a search string that includes For example, if you’re looking for the Guide to Safe Scouting, use this search string: guide to safe scouting Virtually every time, the content you’re looking for will appear at the top of the search results Google returns.

But wait; there’s more, as all those infomercials promise. In recent years, the BSA has put many of its publications online in free PDF versions. (Ironically, this tends to boost sales rather than cannibalize them.) If you know the catalog or bin number of the publication you’re looking for, use that instead. For example, you can find the Guide to Awards and Insignia by using this search string: 33066

(What’s the difference between a catalog number and a bin number? FIve- or six-digit catalog numbers generally go on items that are for sale, while bin numbers–which are hyphenated–go on free items.)

A Tree-mendous Honor

Embed from Getty Images

J. Sterling Morton, the founder of the National Arbor Day Foundation once said, “If you seek my monument, look around you.” The same could be said of Eagle Scouts; their monument lies in the people they’ve touched through their leadership, service, and example.

But wouldn’t it be great to have a permanent monument to your troop’s Eagle Scouts, one that’s entirely appropriate to Scouting? Imagine starting a grove of trees near your meeting place (or the local Scout camp or a nearby park), planting a tree each time one of your Scouts becomes an Eagle. Imagine a group of Tenderfoot Scouts walking through that grove 20 years from now, dreaming of the day they too could add their own tree to the collection.

Your local cooperative extension service office should be able to give you more information or help you get started. In most parts of the country, now is the about the right time to plant trees.

But that’s not the only “tree-mendous” way you can honor your new Eagle Scouts.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has a program called Trees in Celebration/Trees in Memory. For a $10 donation, you can have 20 native trees planted in your honoree’s name in either Superior National Forest in Minnesota or Blackwater River State Forest in Florida. (Locations vary from time to time.) The Eagle Scout’s name goes in a permanent online registry, and you receive a full-color certificate you can present at his court of honor. (If you’re pressed for time, you can download the certificate as a PDF file and print it yourself.)

Party Time Times Two



Most Eagle courts of honor are followed by a cake-and-punch reception, often held in the same room or just down the hall. Such receptions give guests a chance to meet and greet and to offer personal congratulations to the new Eagle Scout.

For one of our troop’s Eagle Scouts, one reception wasn’t enough. His family held a second reception at their home the weekend after his Thursday court of honor. While some of us attended (and enjoyed!) both receptions, the second was specifically aimed at out-of-town family, school friends, and others who couldn’t attend the court of honor. 

For another court of honor, we did basically the opposite thing. This honoree had a number of out-of-town guests on hand, so his family held a dinner right before his court of honor. (It was held in another part of the church building, which ensured that everyone was on time to the ceremony.)

Having a family dinner or a second reception lets more people celebrate a young man’s achievements while keeping the troop-sponsored reception relatively simple and inexpensive. And since they are clearly separate, family-sponsored events, they don’t set a precedent that the troop or future Eagle families have to follow.

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