Knowing the Code (of Conduct)

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When I was in high school, one of the rituals of the first day of each school year was the Ritual Reading of the Student Handbook. As I remember it, we spent (or wasted) an hour or two following along while a teacher read every rule, consequence, and procedure that governed our behavior on campus. That handbook stood in stark contrast to my Boy Scout troop, where the only formal rules were found in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.

Recently, I’ve been writing the discipline chapter for volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook and have discovered that some troops have codes of conduct that are nearly as elaborate and legalistic as my old student handbook, complete with detailed consequences down to the second and third occurrence of every imaginable transgression. And these consequences often directly conflict with BSA policy by, for example, withholding boards of review due to misbehavior. (See “Boards of Review Must Be Granted When Requirements Are Met,” 8.0.0.2, in the 2015 edition of the Guide to Advancement.)

Does this mean you shouldn’t have any troop rules beyond the Scout Oath and Scout Law? Not necessarily. As I write in the Troop Leader Guidebook, “The best approach lies somewhere in the middle. It’s a good idea to make clear, for example, that Scouts can’t bring alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, firearms, and fireworks on outings and that hazing is prohibited. But if you have an extremely rigid code of conduct, you may find yourself taking actions you never intended, such as expelling a good senior patrol leader from the troop because of a “three strikes and you’re out” clause. What’s more, detailed codes of conduct tend to focus on things that happened in the past, not things that are likely to happen in the future. (The same situation exists in the legal system, where laws must constantly evolve to address actions like computer hacking, sexting, cyberstalking, and revenge porn that weren’t issues in past generations.)”

For a good example of a reasonably detailed code of conduct, take a look at the jamboree code of conduct. I think it does a good job of hitting on key issues without being excessively long or legalistic.

What do you think? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Hurt and Hurried: Understanding Kids Today

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Do you ever find yourself saying things like “When I was in middle school…”? Do you often bemoan the fact that Scouts today don’t act like Scouts did a generation ago? Do you try to emulate your own Scoutmaster—yet find yourself being much less successful than he or she was?

Although many have been slow to recognize it, the adolescent landscape has altered drastically in recent years. Kids are entering adolescence earlier and leaving it much later—often years beyond high school. Many feel used, abused, or simply abandoned by adults. Today’s kids have a world view that is markedly different than that of their parents, and we as Scout leaders need to understand that world view in order to engage them more effectively. This is especially a challenge for Scouters who are working with kids older than their own; if you only have an 11-year-old, the 16-year-olds in your troop might as well be an alien species!

Two fairly recent books can help you navigate the changing adolescent landscape. The first book is Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark. Clark is a seminary professor who spent a year in the high-school environment, interviewing students about their lives; he discovered that high-schoolers, in the face of adult abandonment have created an alternate culture he calls the world beneath.

The other book is The Hurried Child by David Elkind, which came out in a 25th anniversary edition a few years back. In his book, Elkind describes how “we force our kids to grow up too fast, to mimic adult sophistication while secretly yearning for innocence.”

Neither of these books relates directly to Scouting. Each, however, could radically alter the way you interact with the young men in your troop.

A Banner Occasion

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Norman Rockwell’s painting “A Great Moment” shows a mother pinning the Eagle badge on her son’s shirt as his father and Scoutmaster watch. Behind the four figures is a huge three-dimensional eagle, just like the one that hangs from the Eagle badge. The presence of that eagle transforms a drab brown wall into the perfect setting for an Eagle ceremony.

I don’t know where you can find an eagle like that—perhaps it only existed in Rockwell’s imagination—but you can easily transform any sanctuary, amphitheater, or school cafeteria into the perfect setting for your courts of honor. The BSA catalog includes a couple of banners that make great backdrops. The $25.99 NESA Banner, shown above, features the National Eagle Scout Association logo, each of the rank patches, and the words “On My Honor I Will Do My Best.” The more understated Eagle Scout Banner, also $25.99, simply features the Eagle Scout badge. Each measures 3′ by 3′.

Before you place an order, however, see if you can borrow something from your council service center. Many councils have banners, panel drapes and other items on hand that can spiff up any formal Scouting event, including an Eagle court of honor.

What Football Coaches Can Teach You About Scoutmastership

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There are few sports more physical than football, but it’s the mental side of the sport that fascinates me. I’m always amazed when a team that’s seemingly down for the count (to mix sports metaphors) rallies from a three-touchdown deficit to win a big game. It helps if the players have talent, of course, but tenacity seems nearly as important. In fact, football teams frequently prove Zig Ziglar’s statement that it’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude.

The other thing that helps is what sportscasters like to call halftime adjustments. In the 12 or 20 minutes their teams spend in the locker room, smart coaches figure out what they need to do differently to win a game they seem destined to lose. While fans are hitting the bathroom or grabbing some nachos, coaches identify the three or four things their players must do to win the game.

So what’s the Scouting connection? I think every troop could benefit from the occasional halftime adjustment. Perhaps it’s midafternoon on a campout Saturday and the weather has turned bad. Perhaps you’re halfway through a troop meeting, and the PLC’s plan is bombing. Perhaps your senior patrol leader is three months into his term and is spinning his wheels. Whatever the situation, it’s unlikely to improve unless you make a halftime adjustment.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Smart leadership–whether in the stadium or the Scout camp–is doing what it takes to get better results, even if that means throwing the game plan out the window.

Live-tweet Your Court of Honor

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I published the first edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book in 1996–going on 20 years ago–which means that every new Eagle Scout from the last couple of years was born after the book first appeared. (No, I don’t feel old, but thanks for asking.)

In case you haven’t noticed, our world has changed quite a bit since 1996. And while courts of honor are relatively traditional events, they’ve changed, too. Email invitations are common today, for example, as are slick videos showing Scouts’ progress along the trail to Eagle. And I’ve heard of more than one occasion where a presenter spoke via Skype or FaceTime.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate Twitter feeds into a court of honor. Imagine having a period during the ceremony (or before the formal ceremony begins) when live tweets about the honoree would appear on a video screen. Wouldn’t that be a fun way for the Scouts in the audience–and those who can’t attend because they’re away to school or in the military–to participate? They could tell (very) short stories about the honoree or list qualities about him that they most admire.

It turns out the process is quite easy if you have a Twitter account (and, of course, Wi-Fi and a video projector). There are lots of free and paid services that will create tweet walls that include whatever hashtags you specify. All you have to do is make up a unique hashtag–#jonahsECOH, for example–and share it with your tech-savvy Scouts and leaders.

Here are a few services that create free tweet walls (some offer more features for a fee):

What do you think? Have you ever included a tweet wall at a court of honor? Tell me your story in the comments section, and you could win a free copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book.

The Most Important Method in Boy Scouting

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If you want to get a bunch of veteran Boy Scout leaders riled up, ask them which of the eight methods of Scouting is the most important. Is it ideals, the patrol method, the outdoor program, advancement, adult association, leadership development, the uniform, or personal growth? The hardcore backpackers will pick the outdoor program. Proponents of Scout-led troops will vote for leadership development. Many Eagle Scouts will argue for advancement.

At various times in my Scouting career, I would have picked several methods as the most important. However, in my recent reading about the state of kids today, I’ve settled on a new favorite: adult association. Why? Because kids today—especially teens—are starving for adult attention. (That’s perhaps one reason why someeasily fall prey to child predators.) In Being Adolescent, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and Reed Larson reported that teens spend less than five percent of their time with their parents—and only two percent of their time with other adults. And that book came out in 1986; I can only assume the statistics have gotten even bleaker.

If we as Scouters can give our Scouts the positive attention they crave, we stand a better chance of keeping them around for the outdoor program, advancement, and all the other benefits of Scouting. If we create adversarial or distant relationships, they’ll go somewhere else looking for role models. (I’m thinking here of those Scout leaders I’ve seen criticizing kids for showing up late to a troop meeting after sports practice rather than thanking them for skipping dinner to be there for at least part of the meeting.)

Having said that, it is important to balance adult association with leadership development. We need to give our junior leaders space to lead, but at the same time, we need to offer all our Scouts the positive relationships with adults that many are desperately seeking.

What do you think? How do you make the adult association method work? Or do you even think it’s important? Post your comments below.

Good Things Come in Threes

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Several years back, our troop held three Eagle courts of honor in the period of fourth months. As is our practice, we offered the families the option of having a joint ceremony or separate ceremonies. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t make sense to combine any of these events.

Holding back-to-back-to-back courts of honor has definite advantages. You can solicit congratulatory letters once for all the ceremonies, for example, and it’s easier to remember little things like what supplies you need to bring up from the Scout closet.

But there are disadvantages too, most significantly the challenge of making each ceremony stand out and stand apart from the others. Here are a few techniques to try:

  • Don’t repeat any part of one ceremony in another (other than the obvious things like the actual badge presentation). If the first Scout does a Scout Law candle ceremony, don’t let the others do one.
  • Hold at least one of the courts of honor at a different location or a different time. Instead of your regular meeting place on Monday evening, try Saturday afternoon at a local park.
  • Use different masters of ceremonies for each court of honor—that automatically gives each ceremony a unique flavor.
  • Allow at least six weeks between courts of honor.
  • Emphasize the importance of inviting people from beyond the troop to each ceremony.

Simple techniques like these can prevent a feeling of déjà vu among the guests and presenters and ensure that each ceremony is the special event it ought to be.