Monday, November 11, 2013

Letter to leadership - TTFN

My tenure is coming to an end, for now.  I had a nice chat with the bishop yesterday, and The Times, They Are A-Changin'. After the meeting ended, I had a few other thoughts, which I wrote down:

Bishop, thank you again for our discussion yesterday.  Again, it has been my pleasure to serve as an assistant Scoutmaster in the ward.  I have been blessed to have been able to associate with these young men (11YO boys are Scouts, therefore, in my opinion, they are Young Men, too, regardless of which organization they 'belong' to) and have learned so much about how this inspired program works, and why it has been so successful for over 100 years, and why our sons need it.  As we discussed, the measure of that success isn't the number of badges handed out, but the number of boys and youth served, who are better today than they were before.  I can think of no other youth program that so effectively mixes the mundane and ordinary with the spiritual, that gives Youth real responsibility, and rewards them for it.  I had a couple of thoughts since yesterday that I'd like to pass along, regarding the Troop Committee, and integrating Duty to God with Scouting rather than compartmentalizing them.

Troop Committee

I'd like to explain what the committee does. As part of my Wood Badge experience, I presented 12 training topics (see below) to our ward Troop committee, ranging from Scouting methods to evaluating the program via feedback from the youth.  One topic was all about the committee.  I see the committee as having three primary functions: 1) managing the admin load so that the Scoutmaster/Young Men leaders can focus all their attentions on serving the young men, especially tracking advancement, adult training, managing logistics, maintaining equipment, FOS, maintaining records, etc., 2) ensuring, primarily via the Board of Review, that Scouting is functioning properly, and 3) empowering the Youth to carry out their plans (building bridges and not digging potholes).  Here are the functions that a Troop committee performs (per meritbadge.org):

  • Committee Chair*
  • Secretary*
  • Treasurer
  • Advancement*
  • Equipment Coordinator
  • Outdoor/Activities (logistics)
  • Membership
  • Training*
  • PR**
  • FOS
  • Fundraising**
  • Note that Scoutmasters and Assistants are NOT Committee members (by extension, neither are quorum advisors/Varsity/Venturing leaders), but they are the Youths' representatives to the Committee. The Scoutmaster and CommChair both report to the COR.  In other words, a ward YM presidency is not a de facto Troop Committee.  For more information, consult the Guide to Advancement.

A properly functioning Troop Committee can have a huge impact on a ward's Scouting program, if only because it helps ensure that the Scoutmaster doesn't burn out from doing almost everything himself (as Mike has been doing).

Duty to God

I have felt that it can be counterproductive to separate Duty to God from Scouting on Wednesday nights.  By separating them, it reinforces a tendency to compartmentalize "Church things" and "Other things" and the Youth don't really think of the one in terms of the other, which I think is a disservice to them. Regarding Scoutmasters, if you can find one who can successfully dovetail Duty to God and Scouting, the Youth get three nights of each per month, instead of 1 and 2 nights of each, respectively (caveat – 2 Scouting nights, provided one doesn't get pre-empted).

Elder Holland said, "When I was a deacon, it didn't matter if we were working on merit badges, doing a service project or collecting fast offerings, it was all priesthood [The reverse is also true:  it is all Scouting].  It is with this vision that we need to utilize Scouting and the priesthood to help our young men reach their potential by learning NOW to do hard things!" (can't track down the source for this quote).  I really like how the Thomas S. Monson Award juxtaposes the spiritual and the "profane":  Elective 3 – "Memorize the thirteenth article of faith, and discuss with your family or a leader how this article of faith and the Scout Law support each other."

There was a recent discussion in the LDSScouts Yahoo! Group on dedicating one night per month to DTG, and one individual answered the question this way:  he counted over 160 opportunities annually (including FHE, seminary/institute, Sunday school, quorum meetings, fast offerings...) for learning and doing one's duty to God, and if we can't take advantage of 160 opportunities to make a difference, then shame on us! (his words).  12 DTG nights/year won't make a difference in that case, but 12 more nights/year of practicing leadership, planning, teamwork exercises, and teaching skills, would make a huge difference in the ACT portion of the new DTG program.  Otherwise, if you try to cram "Learn-Act-Share" into one hour on one Wednesday night per month, Act gets short shrift (plus, DTG is a home and family tool in the first place!). (see page four of this document, one answer comes from a 'Scouting or nuthin' perspective, and he makes some valid points, if a bit extreme; the other more thoughtful answer is the calculus behind the preceding.)

Finally, as an aside, I am of the opinion that what works for the young men can largely work just as well for the young women, because we have the same objectives for our girls as our boys: Women who are ready, able and willing to give a lifetime of service and leadership. I want my daughters to have just as enriching an experience to prepare them for adulthood as my sons get.  95% of the Scouting program can work for our YW (in fact, Venturing outside the Church is a coed program for youth ages 14-21; I've even heard of an LDS bishop in American Fork who personally sponsors an all-girls Crew for the YW of his ward). Allowing youth leadership to call the shots, with conscientious adults providing support and opportunity to reflect on the execution of their plans is the key. (And why can't our girls go hiking or backpacking, if that were to be their choice?) When my younger sister was called as a YW president, I sent her this letter, which I published on my blog with her permission. Here's an excerpt:
By empowering youth to make the program theirs, instead of yet another sit-down, shut-up, fold-your-arms-because-another-adult-is-talking-to-you "class," they will take a more active role in their own development. The idea is that we're training our replacements. Find out what the girls want to do, then help them make a plan to do it. Give them control, and let them make mistakes. So long as they're safe, those mistakes are learning opportunities. I heard someone say it this way:
"If all we were concerned with is successful activities, we wouldn't need the [youth] to be involved in making them happen. Since our goals are not activity-focused, we can afford to step back and let mistakes happen, as long as they're not health and safety issues, and we coach and counsel those involved so they learn what went wrong and how to avoid them in the future." (Scoutmaster Jack, on the ScoutmasterCG podcast)
In other words, our youth develop to the extent we allow. By giving them the freedom to plan, execute, fail and reassess, they grow much more than they can in a sterile classroom with a Defined Spiritual Objective.  Since the activities, complete with an adult-imposed theme or purpose, aren't the focus of our efforts, but the process of planning and carrying them out is, an observant leader can extract relevant spiritual lessons from any activity the youth prepare, and since the youth are being met on their own terms, those "drive-by" lessons will have more impact. Of course, such an approach requires re-training the leaders. One of my favorite explanations of this concept is called "Lawn Chair Leadership."

Again, thank you for yesterday's discussion, and for your leadership. I appreciate your counsel, and look forward to whatever's next.  I will be preparing all of my materials to transfer to my replacement.


Notes:

The 12 Committee Training topics I prepared are:
  1. Aims, Mission and Vision (handout)
  2. Methods: Ideals and Adult Association (handout)
  3. Methods: Advancement (handout)
  4. Methods: Patrols and Uniforms (handout)
  5. Methods: Leadership Development, Personal Growth (handout)
  6. Four Ts of LDS Scouter Leadership, emphasizing training (handout)
  7. The Troop Committee (handout)
  8. Effective Youth Leadership (handout)
  9. Reflections and Scoutmaster Minutes (handout)
  10. Conservation as Stewardship (handout)
  11. Scouting Families (Scouting after Deacons' Quorum) (handout)
  12. Evaluating your Boys' program (youth survey - MSWord/PDF)
*Essential
**Not really something we worry about in our Stake

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