Shutterbugs and Eagle Scout Ceremonies

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Photo by Gary Tamin from FreeImages

I recently had the chance to serve as “official photographer” at the 100th birthday party of a member of my church. Taking on a project like that is a fairly big responsibility–after all, you only turn 100 once!–so I was glad to see that other guests had cameras. One in particular–a son-in-law, I think–clearly had the equipment and expertise to do a credible job himself.

But I had one advantage over him and the selfie-shooters: I wasn’t a family member or close friend of the honoree (or of most of the guests, for that matter). While the other photographers were greeting old friends or helping coordinate the cutting of the cake, I was free to shoot, shoot, shoot. As a result, I got some nice photos that other people would have missed.

That experience only reconfirmed for me the importance of recruiting an official photographer for every Eagle Scout ceremony. As I explain in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, this person is uniquely positioned to capture the event for posterity.

To make his or her job easier, be sure to provide a list of “must have” photos, such as Mom pinning on the Eagle badge or the quartet singing “On My Honor.” If possible, have the photographer come to your rehearsal to get a better sense of the physical layout of the ceremony.

And one more tip: If a gaggle of photographers is taking a group photo, no one will know which camera to look at. For official posed photos, have someone stand behind the official photographer and say, “Look this way.”


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

Mike Rowe’s Eagle Scout Letter

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I have a confession to make: I really don’t like the typical congratulatory letters many people read at Eagle courts of honor. The main reason: Most of them are so generic they could, with a few quick edits, be presented at Girl Scout Gold Award ceremonies, bar/bat mitzvahs, or high school graduations.

The exceptions are those letters that come from people who actually understand what it means to be an Eagle Scout–which often means they are Eagle Scouts themselves. And my favorite of these is the one TV personality Mike Rowe sends.

Or, more accurately, the one he used to send.

Several years ago, you could send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Rowe’s office and receive in return a form letter with his actual signature attached. Given the volume of requests he was receiving (and probably the fact that many of us can’t easily put our hands on a postage stamp), he has now posted the letter on his website as a free download.

But what’s really important about the letter is not the signature at the bottom but the brutal honesty it contains. Put simply, Rowe wants new Eagle Scouts to get down off their pedestals and get to work. As he says near the end, “Fold up your sash and stow it away somewhere private, along with all the other tokens of what you’ve done so far. Then, roll up your sleeves, get out in the world, and put what you’ve learned to use.”

That’s a message many new Eagle Scouts need to hear, and I encourage you to help them hear it by presenting Rowe’s “completely transparent, totally honest Eagle Scout congratulatory form letter” to them.

(And while you’re downloading, consider also downloading my congratulatory letter to new Eagle Scouts. It’s a fillable PDF, so you can even personalize it!)


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

Solving the Puzzle of Youth Leadership

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Photo by chadou99 from FreeImages

One of the puzzles most Scoutmasters and other adult troop leaders must solve is how much leeway to give their youth leaders in making decisions. Should you keep them on a short leash? Or should you give them enough rope to hang themselves?

Of course, the right answer is somewhere in between. But where exactly is the sweet spot?

Here’s a story that may help you decide.

My nearly two-year-old grandson likes to work jigsaw puzzles, especially if they have buses, planes, and cars on them. He’s not all that proficient, however. For example, rather than match puzzle pieces by picture, he tends to match them by shape, which means he often gets a piece upside down.

What I’ve started doing is to hand him two pieces that go together and let him solve that small challenge. I’ll also take one piece out of a 25-piece puzzle that’s already put together and let him figure out how that piece goes in. As he gets better, we’ll progress to more pieces until he’s able to work a whole puzzle. Of course, along the way, I’ll suggesting things like starting with the edge pieces or leaving the background for last.

You should do something similar with your youth leaders, especially if they’re new to leadership. Give them small challenges to tackle, guide them along the way, and then gradually increase the difficulty level. They’ll progress without becoming frustrated and–perhaps more importantly–you’ll learn what level of challenge they’re ready for.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

Language and Eagle Courts of Honor

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When the BSA announced the inclusion of girls in what is now Scouts BSA, I knew I would need to update The Eagle Court of Honor Book to reflect the program’s evolution. That job is largely complete–whew! The Kindle edition is available now, while the print edition is at the printer.

As I reread the third edition this summer, I realized how little substance needed to change in the book. After all, everything about the program–aside from its name and the gender of some of its participants–remains the same. But I also realized that the book included a huge number of gender references: he, him, etc. Fixing all those references without saying “he/she” all the time was quite the writing exercise. However, I think I found a relatively elegant solution to the problem, which included creating downloadable gender-specific versions of ceremony materials.

The challenge I faced in updating the book serves as a reminder that every court of honor should be tailored to the honoree and his–or her–situation and personality. As tempting as it can be to recycle an old ceremony by simply changing the names, the dates, and now the gender references, I urge you to take your time and create a ceremony that is as unique as your honoree. And if you aren’t sure where to get started, well, there’s a book for that!


NOW ON KINDLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available on Kindle for instant download! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from EagleBook.com and ScoutStuff.org.

Youth Leadership: Knowing When to Say When

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It’s probably the most daunting, and potentially divisive, question adults in youth-led Scouts BSA troops have to ask themselves: When do we interfere with the job our youth leaders are doing?

Ask 100 veteran leaders this question, and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. That’s because–aside from issues of health and safety–it can be really hard to tell whether your interference will be helpful or harmful.

A Scouter I taught with at the Philmont Training Center several years ago had a great approach. Adults in his troop used the mnemonic device CFD to ask themselves–and each other–whether adult involvement was warranted in any given situation:

  • Confusion
  • Frustration
  • Danger

Danger is obvious, of course, but confusion and frustration hint at the gray area where adults dither over whether to get involved. But if you think about a time you’ve taught a child of any age any skill that’s a stretch for them, you’ll realize that confusion and frustration often lead to dysfunction, not accomplishment.

My friend said the adult leaders in his troop had all bought into the CFD concept. In fact, if they saw a leader beginning to overstep his boundaries, they would quietly ask “CFD?” as a gentle reminder.

Another good question is “Good chaos?” There’s no doubt that Scout-led troops tend to be chaotic, especially in the early days of transitioning from adult-led. If that chaos is productive, you should let it continue. If not, it’s time to briefly get off the sidelines and onto the playing field.


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

Eagle Courts of Honor: For Crying out Loud

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Several years ago, an Eagle mom asked me a simple question: How do you tactfully suggest that court-of-honor guests leave their babies and small children at home? She was concerned that crying babies or rambunctious toddlers might detract from the dignity of the ceremony but didn’t want to offend any potential guests.

I hadn’t thought about this question before, so I consulted a couple of wedding etiquette resources. The general consensus was that putting any variation of “Leave the kids at home” would be in poor taste and that you should rely on word of mouth instead. If you feel you must say something, however, I think including the following text on your invitations might work: “We’re sorry, but nursery services aren’t available.”

You should also be prepared for those who bring their children anyway. You might have an usher seated in the back who could quietly suggest that a mom with a restless baby retire to the foyer or crying room. You can also include a note in the program asking parents with crying or noisy children to take them out to preserve the dignity of the ceremony.

Just keep in mind that those crying and noisy children may represent the next generation of Scouts!


What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

Be a Scouting MythBuster

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It’s recruiting season for packs across the country–and for smart troops that realize many families are looking for new activities as the school year kicks off. And that means it’s time to put on your Scouting MythBusters hat.

What do I mean? Consider the experience of one of my old Eagle Scouts. He recently took his 1st-grade son to a pack signup night—much against the boy’s will. Brandon tried to reason with his son and finally played the dad card by insisting that they at least check the program out. When they went up to meet the Cubmaster, the boy ran away and hid. Brandon eventually found him and discovered what his problem was: he was deathly afraid of having to sleep in a tent by himself. As soon as he heard that wasn’t going to happen in Cub Scouts, he was ready to sign up.

After I posted this story on a Facebook group for Cub Scout volunteers, I heard a couple of similar stories:

  • “We had a boy at our den meeting Monday who came with his sister. He didn’t want to join because he doesn’t like to wear shorts. I assured him he could wear pants. His mom signed him up online on Tuesday.”
  • “We discussed Scouts who became astronauts with my oldest (then a Tiger) son. My 5-year-old thought that he would have to go to space if he became a Scout. Once we cleared that up, he was all about signing up to be a Lion!”

The lesson, I think, is that those of us who’ve been around Scouting a long time assume new families know more than they do. And often they have problems that can be easily overcome if we just figure out what they are.


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