Monday, September 19, 2011

Training item 1.3: Advancement

Hold on tight, this is a big one. This is the third of twelve Leader Training Modules.

Scouting is a Game with a Purpose. Advancement (Arrow of Light, Eagle, Merit Badges…) is part of the game, but is only one piece of the puzzle. It is one of the most visible aspects of the whole program, and it is through the process of advancement, the learning and development of knowledge, skills and abilities, that a boy learns and acquires the Aims of Scouting, and by extension acquires the qualities of a worthy Aaronic Priesthood holder.

Our job as leaders is to look at the big picture, and put it all together; to know the rules of the game. The big picture is summarized in the BSA Aims, Mission and Vision and AP Mission. The intent of this training module is to familiarize you with the rules and processes of the advancement game and will cover the following:
  1. Four Parts/Five Principles of Advancement
  2. Ranks
  3. Merit Badges
  4. Boards of Review
  5. Courts of Honor/Pack Meetings
  6. Proposals
There are four parts of Advancement:  

1. A Scout learns. A Scout learns by doing. As he learns, he grows in ability to do his part as a member of the patrol and the troop. As he develops knowledge and skill, he is asked to teach others; and in this way he begins to develop leadership.  

2. A Scout is tested. A Scout may be tested on rank requirements by his patrol leader, Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, a troop committee member, or a member of his troop. The Scoutmaster maintains a list of those qualified to give tests and to pass candidates. The Scout’s merit badge counselor teaches and tests on the requirements for merit badges.  

3. A Scout is reviewed. After a Scout has completed all requirements for a rank, he has a board of review. For Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle Palms, the review is conducted by members of the troop committee. The Eagle Scout board of review is conducted in accordance with local council procedures.  

4. A Scout is recognized. When the board of review has certified a boy’s advancement, he deserves to receive recognition as soon as possible. This should be done at a ceremony at the next troop meeting. The certificate for his new rank may be presented later at a formal court of honor.  

Five Principles of Advancement:
  1. Personal Growth is the prime consideration
  2. Learning by doing
  3. Each youth progresses at his own rate
  4. A badge is recognition of ability, not merely a reward for he has done
  5. Advancement encourages Scouting ideals
    • Scouting Ideals reinforce Church and Aaronic Priesthood Standards
Ranks: (A Scout Learns and is Tested) The badge of rank is a symbol of accomplishment and ability. The ranks themselves are excellent goals and a means to measure progress, but remember advancement is only one of eight methods used to achieve the Aims (see blog header). Progressing through the ranks, when done right and not as a checklist of tasks, offers a boy a “series of surmountable obstacles” to overcome successfully, thereby giving him confidence in himself and his abilities. We encourage ranks because ranks encourage growth. That said, it’s much, much easier to earn Eagle before all the distractions of high school hit.

“Advancement happens because Scouts do things like camping and leading and inquiring about the world. Some do this quickly, some slowly, some start fast, slow down and speed up later on…in short every Scout works at their own pace.” (Clarke Green,

But after Eagle, what? What if he’s older and just isn’t interested in merit badges and First Class or even Eagle? Well, there are other challenges such as the 50-miler, mile swim, World Conservation, Religious Knot (Duty To God), Leave No Trace, Historic Trails, Mile Swim, Quality Unit, Order of the Arrow and a host of others that fulfill advancement goals and provide a great sense of accomplishment. For Varsity Scouts there are Varsity pins, letters and the Denali award, and Venturing has its Bronze, Gold and Silver, and Ranger awards. These latter programs are designed around older boys’ interests, including *gasp* girls. These are part of the advancement method, and should be a part of a well-rounded YM program.  

Merit Badges/Counselors (A Scout Learns and is Tested)

Merit Badges incorporate at least three of the eight methods: Personal Development, Advancement, Adult Association.

Half of the merit badge process is the Merit Badge Counselor. The operative word here is Counselor, as opposed to Card-Signer. He or she is an expert in the field who can share wisdom and insights not found in the book. It’s a safeguard against the fill-in-the-blanks method of completion, of ensuring knowledge vs. paperwork. That is why a boy is supposed to seek the counselor out before beginning work on badge. This provides a boy with the opportunity to interact with many knowledgeable adults of good character throughout his teenage years.

Gratefully, we have many who have volunteered to be Merit Badge Counselors, and though we don’t have 100% coverage, that isn’t necessary. The Council maintains a list of all REGISTERED counselors for all badges (most ward volunteers aren’t registered or trained, an oversight that needs to be corrected. But we’ll not penalize the boys for our mistakes, we’ll fix the problem.) See the Merit Badge Counselor post.  

Boards of Review: (A Scout is Reviewed) 

The central purpose of all boards of review is to determine how well the troop is meeting the needs of the Scouts. In other words, the BOR is for the Committee’s, not the Scout’s, benefit. It is also to determine what kind of experience the boy is having with the troop, and to encourage him to progress further.

A BOR is not a test, as the boy’s presence there says he’s finished all the requirements, and is eligible to appear before the Board. “…a board of review is not an interrogation of the Scout... He is not asked to repeat any of the requirements for the rank his Scoutmaster has just said he's qualified to receive; no question asked of him can be of a nature that suggests he is being quizzed on his knowledge or skills…” ("Ask Andy," May 19, 2011)

With that in mind, here ares some sample BOR questions:
  1. How well were you able to handle the requirements for this rank; did any give you any problems?
  2. Is the troop and its leaders—your Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Scoutmaster—giving you and your fellow Scouts enough fun and interesting opportunities to complete requirements for your ranks?
  3. How can we, your troop, help you earn (next rank)?
  4. Are you having fun?
  5. How are you getting along with the Scouts in your patrol?
  6. Is Scouting in this troop what you expected it to be, based on what your Boy Scout Handbook says?
  7. How much did you enjoyed your field-trip/campout/activity?
  8. How did you go about selecting a charitable organization to work with?
  9. What was that ____________ experience like?
  10. What good turn did you do today?
  11. How are you better prepared today than you were last week?
A BOR is comprised of at least three, but not more than six registered Committee members. This does not include Scoutmasters/assistants, nor the Chartered Org Rep or family members. This of course means that a real committee is required. According to the “Green Book,” there are (nearly) automatically two committee members in every LDS troop: the Chair and the Primary Presidency rep responsible for the 11YO scouts. A minimum of one calling/parent volunteer is then needed to round out the committee. The other functions of the committee will be discussed in a later training module. Eagle BORs are handled at a higher level than the local (ward) unit (see the Advancement Guide).

BORs cannot be “two-fers”, i.e. you cannot combine TF and 2C into a single BOR. The Board’s decision must be unanimous.

The Date of Rank is the date of the BOR; the boy can wear his new rank immediately. A good practice would be to present the badge of rank at the next troop/patrol meeting, and make a formal presentation/recognition at the next Court of Honor. This way he doesn’t have to wait months to wear what he’s earned.

BORs are completed; in fact, a boy cannot 'fail' a BOR. If questions arise as to a Scout’s preparedness, a BOR may be suspended and reconvened after he has completed what the Board has directed him to do, but the whole purpose is to find reasons for success, not create extra obstacles. “A Scout is Trustworthy” applies to the Committee just as much as to the Scout himself - he should be able to trust that they have his best interests in mind.  

Ceremonies/Courts of Honor/Pack Meetings (A Scout is Recognized) 

The Court of Honor is a public "ceremony of ceremonies" recognizing accomplishments, not merely handing out patches. The boys should run their COH, from start to finish, recognizing each other’s achievements (that’s why we have SPL and PLs). The Scoutmaster’s role should be limited to a few words of congratulation, encouragement and “Scoutmaster’s Minute” at the end. Bottom line: BOY-LED!

Pack Meetings serve much the same function as the Court of Honor, except they are organized/conducted by the Pack Committee/Cubmaster and not run by the boys. Can you imagine a group of 9-year-olds trying to pull off a Blue and Gold banquet? (Does your ward know about Blue and Gold?) Pack Meetings recognize boys’ hard work and accomplishments. Do they just get a baggie full of colorful swatches, or do you make a Big Deal and encourage them to work harder? The publication “Cub Scout Program Helps” is a great resource for planning and conducting Pack Meetings. The Web is also a great resource for finding new Arrow of Light and other ceremonies, cheers (boys love to jump up and down and shout and “spit watermelon seeds”) and silly songs to sing.

An important moment in a boy’s Scouting career is when he crosses over from Cubs into Scouts. This, again, should be a big deal. It’s a big step and a big transition, and can be an inspirational moment for younger kids. Again, there are ideas galore to make this pivotal moment a memorable one. Finally, there can be a “cubmaster’s minute” where the Cubmaster inspires the boys to achieve some goal or work harder for next time.

Most importantly, are they having fun? Are the parents engaged? If not, getting them involved in any capacity will go a long way toward stopping the Cub-Scouts-as-Daycare attitude.  

  1. Rank: We continue to encourage boys to learn and grow, using the Rank advancement model
  2. Merit Badges: we encourage boys to work with a counselor, pick up his/her insight, experience; Use the resource, not just get a signature
    • Ensure all MBCs are registered and trained
  3. Boards of Review: Commit to conducting them in the manner prescribed by BSA (3-6 REGISTERED committee members, assess how the program serves the boys. Not a Test.)
    • Obviates the need for a properly organized committee.
  4. Make Courts of Honor boy-led and Ceremonial in nature, not just handing out patches. Make it a Big Deal.


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