Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scouting's Values apply everywhere

The values of Scouting apply everywhere, even on-line. Check out the Scouting Magazine blog to see the Scout Law as interpreted for the internet and modern communication (facebook, texting, etc.):

Monday, November 19, 2012


I just turned in all the rechartering paperwork for our Scouting units. Despite the warnings I heard from others it wasn't that painful of a process. Aside from pestering adult leaders to do their youth protection training, and being turned down when extending calls to ward members to serve as new adult leaders, everything went smoothly. The paperwork was turned in on-time and we are good to go for another year (except a few adult leaders I still need).

One thing about it really struck me, though. The church spends a ton of money for the right to use Scouting as part of our programs. The church pays the registration fees for all youth and adults who are a part of our units, whether they participate or not. When you charter four different units (pack, troop, team, and crew) it adds up.

While going through the rechartering process I kept thinking about the money being spent. We are spending money to register people who never come. We are spending money to register adults who don't want to be there. We are paying for the rights to use a program and then not using it. It would be comparable to the church building a new temple and then never opening it for use.

Admittedly, some of our programs are being used more than others. We do pretty good with Cubs, but our Varsity Team might as well not exist. I kept wondering how much of the money we were spending on Scouting was being wasted. I'm afraid it's more than what's being used properly.

I'm not suggesting we abandon Scouting. What I'm suggesting is that we start using what we are paying for. We need to recognize the value in Scouting. We need to use the programs. Our leaders need to get trained so they know how to use the programs. We need to reach out to those who don't come and get them involved.

The money used to pay for Scouting comes from Tithing. Those are sacred funds--the same funds that are used to build meetinghouses and temples. In this case we use it to build men. The church will continue to pay for the privilege to use Scouting. The question is will we make use of it, or will let it go to waste.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The importance of Example

Last night I was able to see two of my Venturers set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a very touching experience and one I am grateful to have been a part of.

When I first became a Venturing advisor, these twin boys were Varsity Scouts in our ward. By the time I figured out what I should be doing with Venturing, they turned 16 and joined our crew. In reality, they made our crew. They were the first two in our ward to earn Venturing awards and one of them earned Silver. I was also able to help both of them finish their Eagle.

When I heard the recent announcement in LDS General Conference about the age of missionaries being lowered from 19 to 18 my first thought was that we needed to do a better job preparing our young men.

I then started to question whether or not I did a very good job of it when I was in that position. I worked hard on the Scouting end of things and did everything I thought I could that way but I wondered if I could have done more to help prepare them spiritually. Did I share my testimony with them enough? Did I talk about experiences from my mission? Could I have done more to encourage and mentor them? Did I do enough to teach them how to lead?

I'm sure there were plenty of things I could have done better.

But one of them told me something last night that made me think I had more of an influence than I had realized. Frankly, I was surprised to hear it. He said something like: "When I think of what it means to be a missionary I think of you."

I had no idea he saw me that way. I don't really see myself that way. I'm not sure where that image comes from, but apparently he sees it.

It reminded me of something Robert Baden-Powell said in Aids to Scoutmastership:

“Success in training the boy largely depends upon the Scoutmaster's own personal example. It is easy to become the hero as well as the elder brother of the boy. We are apt, as we grow up, to forget what a store of hero worship is in the boy. 
The Scoutmaster who is a hero to his boys holds a powerful lever to their development, but at the same time brings a great responsibility on himself. They are quick enough to see the smallest characteristic about him, whether it be a virtue or a vice. His mannerisms become theirs, the amount of courtesy he shows, his irritations, his sunny happiness, or his impatient glower, his willing self-discipline or his occasional moral lapses-all are not only noticed, but adopted by his followers. 
Therefore, to get them to carry out the Scout Law and all that underlies it, the Scoutmaster himself should scrupulously carry out its professions in every detail of his life. With scarcely a word of instruction his boys will follow him.”
Perhaps the best thing a leader of boys will ever do is to show a good example. That's why our Scout leaders need to be "the best men in the ward." Never underestimate the influence an adult leader can have in the life of a boy. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

An invitation

I just got a call from the course director for the Wood Badge course that will be held in my district next August. He asked me to serve as the Assistant Scoutmaster over Troop Guides.

I wasn't going to volunteer for next year's course, but I sure won't turn down the invitation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weekend Eagle Project

On Saturday I had the privilege of helping one of the young men in my ward work on his Eagle Project.

We met at the cemetery and cleaned up headstones. This particular cemetery used to have a policy that all headstones had to lay flat so that it would be easier to mow the grass. (Terrible idea, if you ask me.) As a result, many of these headstones had sod growing over them. Some had two inches of sod (not just grass--sod) covering names and dates on the stone. 

This young man told me that he got the idea for this project as he visited his father's grave in that cemetery. He noticed how it made a difference to him when his father's grave marker was neat and clean. He told me he wanted to clean up some of the other markers so that other visitors would be more able to feel the Spirit as they came to honor their relatives.

It was a long, hard day. I came home tired and sore. I'm still sore. My knees, which have been giving me problems all summer, are revolting. And we didn't get everything finished he wanted to. I believe he's going to set up another day to continue work. If at all possible I'll be there then, too.

I don't know how many times he thanked me for coming to help. As I told him, "I wouldn't miss it."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Troop Program Helps

I just got an email from our District Commissioner:
Dear COR:
The LDSBSA relations committee have taken the program helps and have formatted them into the Duty to God Program. These will be a great help to our scoutmasters as they implement the Duty To God program with their scouting activities. These troop helps are laid out very well, I would encourage you to download them and pass them along to your scout leaders so they can implement them as soon as possible.
For each subject (backpacking, camping, swimming, etc.) there are four weeks worth of agendas for Troop meetings and an agenda for a weekend activity. I converted a couple pages of one of them to a picture so I could post it here (click on the image to see it full size):

I have never used the Troop Program Features books because I was in Venturing, and there aren't any program helps for Venturing. For us the only guidance was: "What a Venturing crew does is limited only by the imagination and involvement of the adult and youth leaders and members of the crew."

It looks to me like leaders will still need to Troop Program Features books so they have all the information--these helps simply organize it in a way that is consistent with LDS meetings and the Duty to God program pattern of Learn-Act-Share.

I am excited to share these with the Scout leaders in my ward and see how this improves their activities.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


It's time to recharter all the Scouting units in my ward. As the new Chartered Organization Representative, this falls to me. I don't really think it will be that difficult once I get down to it.

Sure, we do have a couple boys who need their registrations moved from Scouts to Varsity, but I don't anticipate that as a big obstacle. Of course, it wouldn't be an obstacle at all if we had a functioning committee keeping track of those things. (That's my number one goal now--get a functioning committee in place.)

What I do see as obstacles, and rather large ones at that, is with the adult positions. (Isn't always the adults that cause problems...?)

First, I need to make sure they all have youth protection training. Not a big deal for an individual to get trained, right? I just have to make sure that all of the individuals do it. That's proving a little more difficult.

Second, and most difficult, we need at least three new people: Committee Chair, Varsity Coach, and 11-year old leader. We really also need committee members. We could just assign the bishopric to be the committee like they did last year. That would fill the positions but wouldn't mean anything, so I'm pushing for a different direction.

The problem there is that I have no idea where those people will come from. I don't see them in church on Sunday unless we strip good people out of other important positions. And then who do we get to be our Elder's quorum president and ward clerk?

I'm sure we'll get there (think positive!) but it has to be done in the next six weeks. With each passing week I'm finding it harder to have faith.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Will Venturing last?

The September issue of Venturing Magazine contains what is, in my opinion, a pretty disturbing article titled "What's in Store for Venturing?"

According to this article, there are several changes in the works that include the elimination of the Venturing oath, code, sign and salute. These will be replaced by the Boy Scout oath, law, sign and salute. Just in time for Venturing's 15 year anniversary next year.

Also mentioned in the article is the rumor that the Venturing awards program could be facing changes and possibly elimination. If they do away with that much, will the even keep the name "Venturing"?

Most of these changes (as well as others that have already happened over the years) are reportedly due to the desire of the National office to have more oversight on what is often perceived to be a "renegade" program.

I will admit that I never got my Venturing crew to run the way I thought we should. It is also true that most local crews didn't use the program. I will also confess that I occasionally thought that Venturing could use a little more oversight from the district and council (or am I confusing "oversight" with "support"?).

From that perspective I can understand the desire to make some changes. However, the changes that I saw needing to be made were not with the program itself, but rather with the way it was used and promoted.

If the changes outlined in this article do indeed happen I'm afraid that the Venturing program I fell in love with over the last four years will be history. There may still be some token program for older youth, but it won't be the same. As the author of the article states, "much of Venturing's soul is being stripped away" and I don't think I like it.

Time will tell, however, if the changes actually come and if they will be positive or negative. Many things that seem negative now may turn out, in the end, to be good. But there's something in my heart that tells me I should be glad I was released when I was.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Every Scouter should STAFF Wood Badge

I'm one of those guys that thinks every Scouter should go to Wood Badge. It is fantastic training that will bless the lives of not only those who take the course, but all those with whom they interact afterward. I believe it made me a better person and helped me improve my Venturing crew more than anything else I did as an Advisor. Everyone who has an adult leadership position in Scouting should go to Wood Badge.

I also think every Scouter should have the chance to be on staff, too. Here's why:

You learn more. Wood Badge has been described on multiple occasions as drinking from a fire hose. There are so many skills and principles taught, demonstrated, and experienced that I'm not sure it's possible for any normal person to pick it all up the first time. 

Not only do you learn more of the leadership skills being on staff, you actually have time to study them. As a participant you have one week (or two weekends). Sure you have up to 18 months to put them into practice by working your ticket, but unless you take really, really good notes and study them you're probably going to forget. When you are on staff, you are working on presenting some of those skills. You have months where you need to study the course with all of the material at hand. You also get to sit through all the presentations again and learn things you may not have picked up on the first time. All that repetition drives home some of the messages that are missed or forgotten as a participant. 

As a participant at Wood Badge, you get to experience in a patrol setting many of the concepts being taught. You actually go through the stages of team development. You practice listening and communicating. You may get to do a bit of conflict management. You are using the steps of project planning to develop presentations. You do an assessment every day, and you are constantly thinking about your vision. The experience is an essential part of the course, as it helps you better understand the principles being taught.

As a staff member you also get to experience some of those things in your associations with the other staff, but you also have a greater opportunity to observe how others are experiencing those things. Several times I found myself watching a patrol (or an individual) go through a challenge and thinking that they could apply the skills learned in a presentation they were just taught. You have a greater opportunity to see how those leadership skills can and should apply, and since you have a greater knowledge to back it up, those experiences can be more meaningful. You get to see how the course is put together and that everything in it teaches something important.

Many have seen the difference made by one Scouter who attends Wood Badge and works his ticket. Imagine what would happen if that Scouter had the opportunity to do the same thing every year (or every other year) after that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scouts and politics

A couple days ago I saw a news story on our local television network that showed Mitt Romney being greeted at the airport by a troop of Boy Scouts. I commented to my wife that someone really messed up on that one. BSA policy frowns on that sort of thing. Last night they did a follow-up story. You can watch that one here.

The issue was addressed on the Scouting Magazine blog earlier this year (I think that's why I knew about it). You can find that post here.

Let me give some constructive feedback to the BSA--make it easier to find these policies. I can't find it anywhere on the BSA website or my council website. Even the blog post above doesn't reference any written document. The only written statement I can find is on the youth application for membership (but not the adult application...) under the heading "Program Policies." Here it is:

"Citizenship activities are encouraged but partisan political activities are prohibited."

That's it. That's all I can find. The news story I link to above does include this statement of BSA policy:
"Uniformed unit members or leaders may participate in flag ceremonies at political events and may lead Pledge of Allegiance; however, they should retire after the ceremony and NOT remain on the speakers' platform or in a conspicuous location where television viewers could construe their presence as an endorsement or symbol of support. In addition, photos of candidates or Scouts in uniform or BSA marks and logos are NOT allowed in political materials of any kind.
"The Boy Scouts of America does not endorse any political candidate. Care must be taken to not make implications that we do."
The source the news cites is simply "Boy Scouts of America." They don't have a link to it written anywhere so I'm not sure where they got it.

So, if anyone from National (or who has connections there) is reading this, it might not hurt to make these kinds of things more well known.

For now, though, I'll do my part in spreading the word.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Messengers of Peace

I recently found out about a new program called Messengers of Peace. It is actually an initiative of the World Scout Committee that started in September 2011. The Boy Scouts of America joined up this year.

There are relevant materials at two websites:
World -

In looking through the materials on both sites I found myself really stirred by this initiative. The goal is essentially to "help Scouting create a better world."
MOP emblem - from BSA website 

Scouts who want to participate simply do service under one of three dimensions (personal, community, or environment) that promote peace. There is no approval necessary--the unit decides whether or not the service qualifies. Service hours are entered into the Journey to Excellence website ( and those who participate are eligible to wear a special ring patch around the World Crest on their uniform.

I see this patch as less of a reward for doing service (or bribe to convince boys to do it) and more of a reminder about what Scouting can and should be. It's a symbol of a Scout's commitment to "help other people at all times" and to be "a friend to all" and "a brother to other Scouts." It's a reminder that through a simple good turn a boy can make a difference in the world.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and someone who claims to follow the Prince of Peace, this really resonated with me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How is this supposed to work?

In my new responsibilities as Chartered Organization Representative in my ward, I want to do all I can to strengthen our Scouting program to help our youth. We have several problems I'm trying to figure out how to address (committee support, adult leader commitment and training, etc.), but there's one thing that I am powerless to address. We are a really small ward.

Looking at our youth we currently have one 11 year old scout (with one boy who will turn 11 this month), one 12 year old scout, three active Varsity scouts (one other who occasionally shows up and one we never see), and three active Venturers (and a couple others we never see).

Our cub scouts are few enough in number that our ward actually combines with the adjacent ward for all den/pack meetings.

In other units it's a matter of recruitment. We could hold events to recruit boys to Scouting to raise our numbers. In the LDS church we can have non-church members associated with our units. That is a possibility, but they have to reside in our ward boundaries. Given the demographics of our ward area, I doubt there are more than a handful we don't already know about and haven't been able to reach.

And then there's the problem of leaders. We have been missing a Varsity coach for several months now and our committee chair just moved. To make things worse, we don't have much to pull from for replacements.

Again, it goes back to the demographics of our ward. We currently sit around 25% attendance at sacrament meeting with from 100-120 people in attendance. Our elder's quorum consistently has five or fewer in attendance and two of them will be leaving on missions in two months.

The young men aren't the only one's needing help, either. We are missing secretaries in both our Elder's and Young Men presidencies. Our Sunday school president doesn't have any counselors. We've been out of a ward mission leader for months and can't find enough people to fill our primary classes.

To top it all off, we have received several "threats" from various ward members that they will be moving soon. Included in that number are:
  • 1st counselor in the bishopric (his twin boys are the ones going on missions)
  • 2nd counselor in the young men (his wife is the president of our young women and their two boys are some of our most active)
  • 1st counselor in the Elder's quorum presidency
  • Sunday school president
In our bishopric meetings we often find our conversation turning to "when will they dissolve our ward?" How are we supposed to make it work without people?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The essence of leadership

I just got back from the first weekend of Wood Badge. This is my second time on staff and has been so much more relaxing than the first time. I was supposed to be a troop guide again, but we didn't have enough participants for me to have a patrol to guide. So I've been helping out wherever needed and enjoying myself.

While there I had a thought keeps coming back to me. It's a scripture in Luke chapter 22, verse 32. At the last supper, Christ tells Peter "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."

The thought I had was that this is the essence of Leadership. The job of the leader is to strengthen those who follow him so their faith won't fail. That's self-explanatory in a religious sense, but it could also mean faithfulness, willingness to work, reliability, etc. The leader strengthens the follower so that he is eventually "converted" and can act on his own. The strengthening and conversion comes through inspiring followers with a vision, helping them develop a plan of action, and giving them the tools necessary to follow that plan. Of course, a great leader will also be praying for those he leads, recognizing that the best help comes from above.

Finally, the purpose of leadership is to develop other leaders who can then go out and strengthen their brethren in the same way they were strengthened.

That's what we do at Wood Badge. We inspire Scouters with a vision. We help them develop a plan of action (the ticket) so that they can go out and work to accomplish their vision. We give them tools they need to do so. And then when they are converted, we ask them to strengthen those they work with by sharing the knowledge they gained. Hopefully they will eventually serve on the staff of another Wood Badge course to continue strengthening others.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Just a little lost...

I was officially released from the young men on Sunday, when we sustained the new YM president in our ward. I know he will be great for our youth and will do a fantastic job with them. I'm confident he will continue the work I started with the Venturing program in our ward and I expect he will do several things much better than I did.

The problem is that now I don't know what to do with myself. I've been living and breathing Venturing for the last four years and it is really hard to let go and turn things over to someone else.

I'm still on the Venturing round table staff for our district, but I wonder if I should let that go too. Since I'm now the chartered organization rep, I kind of think I ought to attend round tables for each of the programs, perhaps rotating through them. I think I need to learn more about the other programs.

I've wondered about replacing my Venturing green uniform with the Boy Scout khaki. I know I could wear the COR patch on my green shirt, but it doesn't match and I think it would look funny. Of course, there's a chance I won't be in that position for too long. The 1st counselor in our Bishopric is threatening to move once his boys leave on their missions in November. If past patterns are any indication I'd move to that spot when he leaves removing me from Scouts all together, so it might not be worth buying a new uniform.

I'll probably finally break down and register as a merit badge counselor, but after four years preaching that merit badges are not part of Venturing, I haven't been able to do it yet.

I'm staffing Wood Badge this weekend--that will be nice. But I'm less excited about it this year. There are a few reasons for that, but mostly it's all the changes I'm going through (I think).

I guess I just need to start over. From the top. I need to read the literature relevant to my position and get myself trained as best I can.

It's just hard to change. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

High Adventure 2012 - Day 3

The final day of our trip, and probably the most challenging:

If you look closely, you can see a bright spot near the center of this photo. That's from a signal mirror near the trail head.

The destination. Elevation: 11,440 feet. Time (and an approaching storm) didn't allow us to continue to the high pass behind us at over 12,000 feet.

High Adventure 2012 - Day 2

Day 2 of 3:

High Adventure 2012 - Day 1

I just got back from what is likely to be the last big thing I do with my young men. We took both the Venturers and the Varsity Scouts. I'll let the pictures do the talking. This is Day 1 of 3.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What does the future hold?

One of the interesting things about Scouting in the LDS Church is that the leaders don't (usually) volunteer. They are called. That is, they are asked by an inspired leader to accept the responsibility. That also means that most Scouters don't retire. They are eventually (and often this comes too soon) released from their calling. Most are then called to serve in a different capacity.

I knew it would happen to me one day, but I wasn't expecting it yet. For the last four and a half years I've been in the Venturing program, first as the Advisor, then as the Associate Advisor and Young Mens President. While I haven't actually been released yet, I just got a new calling that will require my release from the young men.

I have been asked to be the second counselor in our ward Bishopric. While we haven't worked out all the details yet, I expect I will become our Charted Organization Representative. So I'll still be involved with Scouting, but in a completely different way. I'll also oversee the Deacon's quorum (Boy Scouts), so I may get involved there to a degree.

It will be quite a change for me. I will miss the close association I've had with the older youth in my ward. It has been a great blessing in my life and one I would gladly do again. Of course, until we find someone to replace me as Young Mens President, I'll still be involved in the Venturing program.

It will also mean changes for this blog. I don't yet know what those changes will be--I'll just have to see what happens. I don't expect I'll stop blogging about Scouts, but it may slow down as my focus changes to my responsibilities in the Bishopric.

When I first started this blog it was mostly as a place I could vent my frustrations and share my successes and ideas. I had hoped that something in my experience would be of use to someone else. In that sense, I think this effort has been worth it. Thanks to all who have followed and commented on my ramblings. Thanks, too, to the other Scouters I've been able to follow and learn from.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Good Turn?

Everyone knows Scouts do service. But there are some who don't understand the concept very well.

I don't know how often I've gotten a call from someone requesting the help of my young men on some project or another. It's always put forward as a great opportunity for service. Usually I get really annoyed at these things because it seems to me they more interested in free labor than in helping boys.

Often, these well-meaning individuals bring up the idea that this could count as "service-hours" for rank advancements or the like. Or they offer to provide pizza, or doughnuts, or some other form of non-monetary compensation. That's all well and good, but I don't think that's what we're here for.

Robert Baden-Powell described the daily good turn like this:
"You Scouts cannot do better than follow the example of the Knights.
One great point about them was that every day they had to do a Good Turn to somebody, and that is one of our rules.
When you get up in the morning, remember that you have to do a Good Turn for someone during the day. Tie a knot in your handkerchief or neckerchief to remind yourself of it.
If you should ever find that you had forgotten to do your daily Good Turn, you must do two the next day. Remember that by your Scout Promise you are on your honour to do it. But do not think that Scouts need do only one Good Turn a day. They must do one, but if they can do fifty, so much the better.
A Good Turn need only be a very small one. It is a Good Turn even if it is only putting a coin into a poor-box, or helping an old woman to cross the street, or making room on a seat for someone, or giving water to a thirsty horse, or removing a bit of banana skin off the pavement. But one must be done every day, and it only counts when you do not accept any reward in return."
If you remember your BSA history, you'll recall that William D. Boyce was lost in a London fog and received help from a Scout. The reason that experience was exceptional, and what led to Scouting coming to America was the fact that the boy refused a tip, claiming that he was a Scout and simply doing his daily Good Turn.

I think it's great that people not only recognize service provided by Scouts but actually associate Scouts with service. That just shows how much we have done. But I worry that maybe we're not exactly on the right track when we do service "projects."

Don't get me wrong; organized projects to provide service are great. Responding to pleas for help is a good thing. Young men in the LDS church do their duty partly by carrying out assignments from their Bishop to provide service to others in need. It is wonderful. There's no reason to stop.

What I wonder about, however, is the focus on doing "projects" to fulfill requirements. Or accepting "payment" (in the form of doughnuts) for service rendered. I think Scouts need to go back to the basics of a Good Turn every day.

A Good Turn usually isn't planned ahead. It isn't rewarded with pizza. It is a spontaneous act of kindness or thoughtfulness carried out selflessly simply because it is the right thing to do.

During my personal scripture study this week I had some similar thoughts. In the Book of Mormon, after the prophet Alma organized the church he ordained priests to teach the people. "And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God,... (Mosiah 18:26, emphasis added).

Shouldn't that be our attitude as Scouts? The only reward we should ever expect for our service is the grace of God to help us do even more.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A little help from my friends

It seems that I go through phases with this blog. Sometimes I have a lot to say. Other times I go for a while without any thoughts to share. I think I'm in the latter category at the moment. I was just wondering what I might be able to post about. Good thing there are others out there saying the same stuff I'm thinking.

Eric the Half-bee recently posted some really great stuff on his Volun-told Scouter blog. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here and here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My man-cub

After my wife and I found out we were having a baby boy, she started to work on a present for him/me. He showed up a bit on the small side so he couldn't try it out until recently--just in time for our last court of honor.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The next step

Last night, I witnessed a major milestone in the lives of two of my young men.

These two young men (twins) have been with me almost as long as I have been in Venturing. They were teachers when I moved into the ward and joined my Venturing crew just after I attended Wood Badge and started to figure out what I was doing.

I was privileged to help both earn their Eagle.

One of them really took to Venturing and earned his Silver award and then spearheaded an effort to start a community based Venturing crew.

The other didn't get quite as excited about Venturing but still managed to earn the Religious Life Bronze award. 

Given how their birthday interacted with the School year, I got to keep them several months longer than I would others. They have been a great help to our Venturing crew, our Priest's quorum, and to me.

But last night they both earned their most important Scout award yet. They each received a call from the Lord to serve a mission. Interestingly enough, they will both serve in Brazil (different missions, but awfully close) and enter the MTC (in Brazil) on the same day.

Congratulations, guys!

Additional Scout awards

A week ago at our combined Troop/Team/Crew court of honor, I shared a thought that went something like this:
We have just handed out several Scout awards tonight, and I'd like to tell you a little about them. I'll use my own awards as an illustration. I don't do it to brag, but simply to facilitate the thoughts I want to share. 
As a Cub Scout, I went through the process, the same as you. I earned my Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, and Webelos ranks. I also earned my Arrow of Light award. I don't remember a lot about this stage. I don't remember what I had to do to earn these awards and now they don't mean a whole lot to me, but I earned them.

As a Boy Scout, I did the same thing. I went through the ranks from Tenderfoot, to Second Class to First Class. I earned merit badges and worked my way from Star to Life. On my 15th birthday I had my board of review for Eagle (I held it up for everyone to see). This one does mean something to me. I worked hard for it. And I sincerely hope every one of you will earn this one too.
Along with these Scout awards I earned some religious awards associated with Scouts. As a Cub Scout I earned my Faith in God award.
As a Boy Scout, I earned my On My Honor award. this is an award you can earn, too. There are only two requirements: Earn the rank of Star (most of you are already there), and complete one section (Deacon, Teacher, or Priest) from your Duty to God booklet. I really hope you'll earn this one too.
But there is one more Scout award I want to share with you. Some of you (referring to the adults present) may have earned this one, too. Others, I hope, are working toward it. (At this point I held up my missionary name tag--sorry, no picture.)

You may wonder why I refer to my missionary name tag as a Scout award. It may help to know that when I talk about a Scout, I don't simply mean someone who comes to our meetings on Wednesday night or who wears the uniform once in a while. To me, a Scout is not someone who can recite the Scout oath and law, but someone who really lives the Scout oath and law.

Let me put it another way. If you are not living the oath and law; if you aren't doing your best to do your duty to God; if you aren't helping other people all the time; if you aren't trustworthy and loyal and all the rest, then you might as well throw these other awards in the garbage--because that's what they're worth.

Scouting isn't about awards. The awards are nice, but if the values aren't written in your heart, the awards don't mean anything.

But if you are a Scout; if you really do live those values; if you really strive to do your duty to God; if you are providing selfless service to others; if Scouting is written in your heart and not just on your uniform there is another award available to you. I'm still working on it myself. There isn't anything to wear on your uniform but there is a ceremony involved. The presenter comes up to the person who earned the award and says: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I'm sure anyone reading this post has heard the term "super-scouter." It may have even been applied to you. I think there are some who are starting to apply it to me and I'm not sure I like it.

The term almost always comes across with a slightly negative connotation. Sort of like, "Oh, So-and-so is one of those Super-Scouters who knows everything ever written in any handbook but doesn't know squat about boys."

Okay, so I've never heard it put exactly that way, but that's the impression I get. (That, and most "super-scouters" I know have district-level positions rather than unit-level positions--that might make a difference.)

So, what is a super-scouter anyway? Are there items we can all agree on? How about these, for starters:
  • A super-scouter always wears a complete uniform to any Scouting function.
  • A super-scouter knows and follows BSA policies and rules (even when it means he has to say no to a fun activity like paint-balling).
  • A super-scouter has received all the training he should associated with his responsibility, including Wood Badge.
  • A super-scouter does his best to implement the Scouting program in his unit.
  • A super-scouter has a vision and testimony of the Scouting program and encourages other Scouters to catch that vision/gain that testimony.
There might be other things that distinguish a super-scouter, but those are the ones I came up with off the top of my head. And guess what? I don't see anything negative about those things! In fact, I'd say if you are a scouter and those don't apply to you, then you aren't doing your job.

I suspect that most of the time, the term super-scouter is used by those who aren't doing everything they should to describe those who are. It's like they want to justify their own lack of commitment by saying "what I do is normal and all that other stuff is extra."

Now, let's look at those same points again from the other side of the coin:
  • A super-scouter always wears a complete uniform to any Scouting function. (He is more interested in getting awards for himself than he is in helping the boys--just look at all those square knots; what more proof do you need? OR Stop bugging me to wear my uniform, I don't like it. It makes me look like a nerd.)
  • A super-scouter knows and follows BSA policies and rules. (He won't let us have any fun. We're not going to get hurt doing that. He just doesn't get it.)
  • A super-scouter had received the training he should associated with his responsibility, including Wood Badge. (Who has time for all those meetings? And I am not going to Wood Badge. Once you go to Wood Badge they've got you for life.)
  • A super-scouter does his best to implement the Scouting program in his unit. (This may be seen as a sloppily run troop-meeting (run by youth) and less focus on being an advancement machine.)
  • A super-scouter has a vision and testimony of the Scouting program and encourages other Scouters to catch that vision/gain that testimony. (I wish he would stop bugging me to go to Wood Badge!)
Maybe I'm being a bit snarky, but the point is this: "Super-Scouters" are trying their best to do their job. They are doing their best to use the Scouting programs to bless the lives of those involved (both youth and adults). They see things from a perspective that others may not understand, and they may not know exactly how to achieve their vision, but they try. Sometimes that comes across as being a know-it-all. Sometimes it comes across as pestering someone to go to Wood Badge.

I'm not saying super-scouters are perfect--everyone has room for improvement--but I am saying that we might want to reconsider our language. Considering what a Scout "is," should we expect any less from our Scouters? Maybe we should change our language from "super-scouters v. normal scouters" to "scouters v. the rest of us slackers."

Monday, May 28, 2012

A boy, doing a man's job

Once upon a time there lived a young Boy Scout named David. One day, David's father gave him a very important job. He was to travel far from home to deliver a care package to his three older brothers, who were serving in the army.

 After arriving at his destination, he found his brothers among the other troops and greeted them with joy. They were making preparations to go to battle, with the enemy camped just across the valley.

While talking with his brothers, David became aware of a commotion in the camp. One of the enemy soldiers had come out, alone, and challenged anyone who would listen to a duel. But he was no ordinary soldier. He was a giant. Standing over nine feet tall and heavily armored, he was an intimidating opponent, especially in a duel wih primitive weapons. So intimidating, in fact, that not a single person in the entire army was not afraid of him.

Except for David, that is.

Remember, David was a Scout, and as a Scout he had learned to be brave. Of course, David's courage came from something else he learned as a Scout--his trust in God.

Volunteering to go out and fight he giant (Goliath, by name), David expressed his faith by saying "the Lord will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine."

Refusing the king's armor in favor of his own tried-and-true sling, David went out to fight. Armed only with a few rocks and his faith, David beat Goliath.

David was just a boy. After seeing Goliath he could have turned around and gone home. It wasn't really his responsibility to fight, was it? Shouldn't that job have fallen to the king, or the captain of the army, or any other adult there? But David was a Boy Scout and was prepared and capable of doing a man's job.

When Robert Baden-Powell was under seige in Mafeking, he recruited a group of boys to do jobs normally reserved for men. This was one of the foundational ideas of the Scouting movement--that boys could do what many men wouldn't. Using the ideal of a "Scout" as the hook, Baden-Powell developed a system of training that would turn boys into men.

That is the very reason the LDS church supports Scouting. It helps us take boys and send them out to do the job of a man, as missionaries.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A change of strategy

Last night my Venturing crew was supposed to have a party. Two of our members are graduating from High School this week and the others wanted to throw a party for them. It has been on our calendar for at least two months.

When I got there last night, we had only two Venturers. Neither were the ones graduating from High School, and neither of them was the activity chair for this activity. Not having anything else to do, we set up a game of "ultimate bowling." (It's like regular bowling, but you do it in the church gym using whatever you can find for pins and a basketball for a ball. There are also chairs set up as obstacles, and you have to bowl from the stage.)

Part way through our game, two others showed up, including the activity chair. He didn't have anything planned or prepared, despite having been given reminders as recently as Monday.

After our game of ultimate bowling, we held a reflection. One of the things that came up was that if your current strategy (for knocking down the pins) isn't working, it can be a good idea to change your strategy. You just might find something that works better.

I got thinking about this after the activity and decided that maybe I need to change my strategy with these young men. I will almost immediately lose two of them to graduation, the singles ward, and missions. That includes our crew president, who has been the one to really pull the others along the last year or so. I already have one who almost never comes due to work and two that just plain never come. That gives me two who are there faithfully almost every week, unless there is a sports event. 

I will have one Teacher move up to join us this fall, but I don't remember seeing him an an activity in the last four years anyway, so that might not help me much.

I'm not sure what I need to do, but I think a change of strategy is in order. We haven't been having great activities lately. We have had great ideas, but they just haven't translated into action. Maybe my team development is at a lower stage and needs a bit more leadership from the top. I almost wonder if I need to go back to the beginning--start from scratch, as it were.

Whatever the case, my current strategy doesn't seem to be working any more, and I think I need a change. I just need to figure out what to try next....

Monday, May 7, 2012

Scout Camp: The Movie

Scout Camp: The Movie came out a few years ago and I saw it with my youth at a Council sponsored centennial camp in 2010. The reason I am blogging about it now is that news of a sequel got me thinking about it. The sequel is to carry the subtitle The Klondike and is supposed to be "a tribute to Scoutmasters." They are currently looking for help funding the movie through Kickstarter

I am really torn about this. On the one hand, I think we need more good family-friendly movies. And I am all in favor of having Scouting be the focus. But I was sorely disappointed in the first movie.

I may be in the minority here, but I don't care. I thought the movie had some really good potential but that it just fell flat. It could have been so much better. It should have been better. Just like the Scouts portrayed in the movie should have been better.

I understand they were trying to show what it's "really like" on Scout camp. I understand it was supposed to be a comedy (I think I chuckled once or twice). But I also think they missed a real opportunity.

What I saw when I watched the movie, were a bunch of boys who didn't care about Scouts, and who seemed to largely miss the point about all the values we're trying to teach.

If you haven't seen the movie, it follows the adventures of one troop, the Fire dragons.  The fire dragons are in constant competition with another troop, the Owls. (What ever happened to having troops with multiple patrols?) I understand friendly competitions, but it just goes too far when the fighting starts. (What about "a Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout"?). The message I guess was that it's important to stand up for yourself.

There was also too much potty humor, for my taste, (what happened to "a Scout is clean"?) and judging from the reaction of my boys, it wasn't funny to youth either.

Speaking of the humor, most of the gags just went on too long. Remember the ten minute sequence of the aquatics director trying to light a match?

One thing I really disliked was how they portrayed the adults in the movie. Maybe they wanted to make the youth be the focus. Maybe they wanted to show that boys can be good, competent leaders. Whatever the case, the way it came across to me was that the adults (with the exception of the camp host) were utterly incompetent, out of touch, or just plain lame.

Why can't someone make a Scouting movie showing what it should be like? Why can't we have heroes who, in a difficult situation, know what is the right thing to do, because their lives are guided by the Scout oath and law? Why can't we have a show for youth with strong adult characters who can be role-models for youth instead of a prop simply to add comedy? What would be the problem with showing how Scouting can change and improve the lives of the youth involved? (I guess Scout Camp tried to do this, but it seemed like it was more of an afterthought than an important focus.)

For those of you who are like me, there is a Scouting movie out there that does these things. It's called "Follow Me, Boys!" It's a much better movie, in my opinion.

Monday, April 23, 2012

St. George's Day

Robert Baden-Powell called St. George "the Patron Saint of Boy Scouts everywhere."
Image found at Pine Tree Web -

From Scouting For Boys:
"St. George was born in Cappadocia in the year AD 303. He enlisted as a cavalry soldier when he was seventeen, and soon became renowned for his bravery.
On one occasion he came to a city named Salem, near which lived a dragon who had to be fed daily with one of the citizens, drawn by lot.
The day St. George came there, the lot had fallen upon the king’s daughter, Cleolinda. St. George resolved that she should not die, and so he went out and attacked the dragon, who lived in a swamp close by, and killed him.
St. George was typical of what a Scout should be:
When he was faced by a difficulty or danger, however great it appeared—even in the shape of a dragon—he did not avoid it or fear it, but went at it with all the power he could put into himself and his horse. Although inadequately armed for such an encounter, having merely a spear, he charged in, did his best, and finally succeeded in overcoming a difficulty which nobody had dared to tackle.
That is exactly the way in which a Scout should face a difficulty or danger, no matter how great or terrifying it may appear to him or how ill-equipped he may be for the struggle.
He should go at it boldly and confidently, using every power that he can to try to overcome it, and the probability is that he will succeed.
St. George’s Day is April 23rd. On that day all good Scouts make a special point of thinking about the Promise and the Scout Law. Remember this on the next 23rd April and send greetings to Brother Scouts around the world."

To all my Brother Scouts around the world, I salute you.

Image found at US Scouting Service Project -

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Today (April 19) is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The remembrance day marks the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

Last night my wife and I caught a program on television, telling the stories of seven survivors of the holocaust. One of the men (Stephen Nasser) told about how his experience as a Scout helped him survive. It is absolutely amazing.
"In the Scouts I have learned something, which was our slogan--Be Prepared. And, apparently I was and I'm still a good Scout. I'm prepared for anything. Nothing throws me off. To me nothing is a problem, everything is a challenge. And that was a challenge from day to day to survive and try to help your brother survive.
He also tells a story of finding a dead mouse in his soup. The other prisoners were excited to think that he might throw it away (so they could have it, as it was the only meat there was):
"I said no way. I have that much what I learned from Scouts. It has a lot of protein and I have to survive. I hate to think of it. I ate the mouse."
You can watch the entire hour-long show on-line at

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wood Badge Staff Development

On Saturday I attended my first staff development meeting for this year's Wood Badge course. I get to be a Troop Guide for the second year in a row. Which means, I already have all my presentations basically ready--I just need to do some tweaking.

It was a really good meeting and I met several new people. I think we have a pretty good staff lined up. I'm glad I get to be a part of it.

Several people practiced their presentations. Troop Guides practiced Listening to Learn. Since I've been there before I felt like I was able to provide more input and contribute more than I did last year. A few of the troop guides were interested in seeing my presentation to get ideas for theirs.

I also had one interesting thing happen. During the presentation on the stages of team development, the staff member in charge showed a slide that looked awfully familiar:
This was a chart I created for a post on this blog back in January. He had apparently found it doing an images search on the internet. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Recognition v. Advancement

I'm working on a presentation about the Venturing Silver Award for round table this month, which got me thinking about the Venturing method of recognition. And I decided I've been wrong. Sort of.

In the past I have tried to emphasize the difference between the Boy Scout method of "Advancement" and the Venturing method of "Recognition." I've told people that Advancement is not a method of Venturing. I've often interpreted that to mean that the Venturing awards aren't as important to the program as Scout ranks are to the Boy Scouts.

That has actually been a fairly hard position for me to hold, since I love the Venturing awards and think every Venturer should work on them. I also think that they provide ideas and structure to potential activities. And I think leaders who aren't at least sharing information about the awards with their youth are negligent in their duties. But, since Advancement isn't a Venturing method, it isn't a big deal if the youth don't work on the awards. To support this idea I have occasionally referred to the Journey to Excellence program. Nowhere in either the 2011 or 2012 Journey to Excellence scorecard for crews are awards mentioned. Obviously that means they're not that big a focus, right?

With this view in mind I have, in the past, described the Venturing method of Recognition as being broader than the awards. Sure, it includes the awards, but it also means we should be acknowledging any important achievement in the lives of our youth. It possibly opens the door to custom "awards" for anything the crew deems important.

I still think that recognition is broader than advancement, but I've changed my mind a bit on the importance of the awards.

Let's review the official literature.

From, under Venturing methods:
  • Recognition. Recognition comes through the Venturing advancement program and through the acknowledgement of a youth's competence and ability by peers and adults. (emphasis added)
  • Teaching Others. All of the Venturing awards require Venturers to teach what they have learned to others. When they teach others often, Venturers are better able to retain the skill or knowledge taught, they gain confidence in their ability to speak and relate to others, and they acquire skills that can benefit them for the rest of their lives as a hobby or occupation. (emphasis added)
If the awards weren't that important, why would they be mentioned twice under two different methods?

From the 2011 Guide to Advancement (
"The purpose of the Venturing awards program is to facilitate these four goals; provide a pathway for personal development; encourage learning, growth, and service; and recognize high levels of achievement.
 "Except for Sea Scouts, Venturers work on awards, not ranks, and they can choose to work along with others in a crew or go it alone. They may also work simultaneously on the Bronze, Gold, and Silver awards; there are time-oriented requirements, but not between the earning of one award to the next." [In theory, a Venturer could earn bronze, gold, and silver all on the same day.]
 What I've come to realize is that the change from Advancement (as a Boy Scout method) to Recognition (as a Venturing method) isn't so much to lessen the importance of the awards as it is to emphasize the nature of the awards. Let me try to explain.

In Boy Scouts, the advancement focus is rank. A boy progresses from tenderfoot to second class to first class and on toward Eagle. Once he reaches Eagle, he's done. Sure he can earn more merit badges and get palms, but his advancement is essentially over. It's a linear progression from one level to the next.

That's not how it is in Venturing. We don't have ranks--we have awards. And while there is a limited advancement structure from bronze to gold to silver, that's not the whole picture.

The following is a simple diagram I've put together to illustrate the various awards available to Venturers. The basic structure is Bronze, Gold, Silver. But there are five different bronze awards: outdoor, religious life, sports, arts and hobbies, and sea scouts (I've left off sea scouts because they are a special case and I'm not going to deal with that here). The outdoor, religious life, and sports bronze have an associated "expert level award": ranger, trust, and quest.
The result of this structure is pretty cool, I think. After a Venturer earns a bronze award, he has several options for what to do next. He can choose to earn the Gold and then Silver, or he can go for the expert level award associated with whatever bronze award he earned, or he can earn second bronze award.

For example, one youth may start by earning the Religious Life Bronze award, then earn Gold and Silver. Even though he has now earned the highest award in Venturing, he then decides to go back and earn the Trust award. (The arrows in the diagram show the path of advancement in terms of order earned.)

Another youth might not care much about earning Silver right away but go for the Outdoor bronze and then Ranger award. After earning Ranger he then chooses to go for Gold and Silver. After earning Silver, he decides to work on the Sports bronze.
It's possible that a youth might even choose to take a path that looks something like this, starting with Outdoor bronze and ending with Trust:

This non-linear, personalized progression through the awards is one of the things that I really, really like about Venturing. It can be tailored to just about anyone's interests, and youth can go any direction they want.

So, I've changed my mind. The fact that the method is titled Recognition instead of Advancement will no longer, in my mind, lessen the importance of the awards. The awards are an essential part of Venturing. They provide structure and motivation to the program. From here on, I will un-apologetically promote earning of Venturing awards. I'll do more to encourage leaders to use the awards as part of the program. And I'll do even more to encourage my youth to earn their awards.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Doing it right?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday. Someone came into my office at work and told me he had been in a District Scout meeting (advancement committee, maybe?) and my name had come up. Apparently, the district executive told them that I had the only Venturing crew in the district that was doing it right. The criteria for this, of course, was that I had boys earn Venturing awards.

To me, that's an interesting measure of whether or not we're doing things right. Advancement isn't a method of Venturing--the awards are there, but they aren't a major focus. The Journey to Excellence criteria for Venturing doesn't even mention awards. But still it is seen as a major indicator of a crew that is "doing it right."

Yes, I've had boys earn awards, but I am the first (and perhaps only?) person to admit that doesn't mean I'm doing it right. There are a lot of things I think we need to improve. A lot.

We need to have much better activities. To do that we need to re-visit our Activity Interest Survey. We also need a Program Capability Inventory (despite my urging, the committee still hasn't done their job on this). We need to get outside more. We need to do more high adventure. We need boys to actually come to activities. Speaking of attendance, we need our Advisor to actually come to activities (I'm the associate advisor). We need to get our officers trained in with the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews. We need to do much better about our crew officers meetings. We have a lot to improve.

Why is it that with all these shortcomings I get credit for the only Venturing crew that is doing things right? It's the awards. That is the one thing that other people can see. They can't see our poor attendance on Wednesday night. They can't see our lack of camping trips. All they can see is that I've given out awards. (They can also see my green uniform....) That must mean something.

And it does. It means I have tried to tie our activities to award requirements, whether the boys are interested in the awards or not. It means I have introduced them to activities (like ethical controversies) that we wouldn't have done if not for the awards. It means I talk to the boys with some regularity about their goals and have told them I would like to see them earn these awards. Ultimately the choice is theirs. I haven't given out as many Venturing awards as I would like. I wish every one of my boys had a Bronze award. I wish more than one had chosen to go for Gold and Silver. But they have had the opportunity. They know about the awards. They know they are available. Some choose to put in a bit of effort, most don't. And that's okay. It's their choice.

I have often wondered about other Venturing advisors who are getting their boys to do some fantastic activities, but they don't know about the awards at all. They are doing great things, and most of their boys could earn some pretty cool awards if they would just take the time and effort to look at the requirements. The problem is that the Advisors don't care about the awards. Most don't seem to care about the Venturing program, period.

I have often tried to imagine what the excuses for not doing it could be. I keep coming back to Advisors saying something like, "they just aren't interested in awards any more." My response to this fictional exchange is "that may be so, but who are you to make that decision for them?"

I wish my leaders had told me about the Varsity and Exploring programs/awards when I was a boy. I like to think that I would have chosen to earn some of them. But I never knew about them, and consequently didn't have the chance to make that choice. I determined at the beginning that my boys would at least have the choice. I'm fortunate enough to have had a few choose to go for it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Leave No Trace

I get to be a troop guide for Wood Badge again this year and I've been reviewing my presentations from last year. One that I needed to modify a bit was the presentation on Leave No Trace.

One thing I worry about with this presentation is that it can be a pretty sensitive topic in my neck of the woods. Last year went well, but when I went as a participant it was a little more heated. One of my patrol members, like a lot of locals I know, was pretty set against Leave No Trace.

The perception is of big, bad government agencies telling people what they can't do on public land. I once heard of one person who reportedly once stormed out of a Scout meeting yelling something about "nobody is going to tell me what to do on my land."

My patrol mate went off on how he can't even take horses into the back-country anymore because they make him use weed-free hay, and it's too expensive, and their just trying to keep everyone out, and he should be able to do what he wants, etc., etc.

I can understand the resistance against big government and some bureaucrat in Washington dictating your life. But that's not what Leave No Trace is about. At least, I don't think so.

It's also nothing new.

This comes from Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell:
"Remember the only two things you leave behind you on breaking up camp: 1. Nothing. 2. Your thanks to the owner of the ground."
I also remember an illustration in my old Boy Scout handbook (it's also in my dad's even older one) that showed a sort of "before and after" set of pictures. The before was pristine and clean, the after was trashed. The caption on the illustration said something like "Let no one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came."

Although our understanding of what we now call Leave No Trace has changed since Baden-Powell's day, the Boy Scouts have always promoted responsible use of the land.

In my mind, Leave No Trace, is simply about the choices that I make when I am out with my boys. As someone who enjoys the outdoors, I don't want to mess it up for anyone else. That's it. I sum it all up in the phrase "A Scout is Courteous."

I just don't understand how people can have such a problem with that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


One of the things I've been trying to do to improve our Venturing activities is to close with a reflection. This is something that was mentioned in Brad Harris' book Trails to Testimony as a way to find spiritual lessons in our activities.

This wasn't actually a new idea to me, because it was incorporated into the old Venturing Leadership Skills Course. When I taught that course to my youth we used the reflections to teach the leadership lessons as part of the course. That same practice is continued with the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews (ILSC).

For those who may not be familiar with the idea, let me quote a few points from the ILSC:
"We can make our experiences more meaningful and effective if we reflect upon them. In Venturing, reflection is simply the process of the Venturers talking about their experiences immediately after an exercise or activity with a little bit of wise moderating."
 "You can use reflections to evaluate crew activities, and it will result in improved engagement by your Venturers in future planning and execution of activities. Leading reflections is a simple process that can greatly enhance the learning process."
 They say it's simple, and I guess it is, but I'm afraid I'm not very good at it. It takes some practice to do well, and it requires the leader to be on the look-out for meaningful experiences. I'm hoping that as we get used to doing them, the young men will take the lead in conducting the reflections as well as looking for meaning in our activities.

To begin a reflection, lay out the ground rules:
  1. No putdowns allowed; every response is welcome and valid.
  2. The person conducting the reflection should not show disapproval of a response or a person, either verbally or nonverbally. (This can be tough, especially when you have that one boy who insists on goofing off all the time....)
Facilitating the discussion is the really difficult part. They say you shouldn't focus too much on your own experiences, but let the Venturers speak. At the same time, the facilitator should guide the discussion to key teaching points. If you saw a lesson in the activity you want them to learn, you need to guide them to it and let them discover it rather than preaching to them. This is done through effective, open-ended questions.

Asking open-ended questions is key. Those are ones they can't answer with just a yes or no. Questions that begin with what, why, and how are good: "What was the purpose of the game?"

Asking youth to make judgements is also good: "Why was [x] a good idea?"

Feeling questions are also good: "How did it feel when the team started working together?"

To close the reflection, summarize the key points. If the reflection is done well, the youth mentioned all the important stuff and you don't need to follow it up with anything more than a summary. In my crew, we've been ending the reflection with a prayer. (This also has the added benefit of a sense of finality to the activity, keeping everyone together until the end, instead of slowly migrating to the gym sometime along the way.)

I have only been able to use this a couple times in the past month or so, but I think it really helps. We have had some pretty mediocre activities lately (partly due to attendance, partly to poor planning), but we were still able to find some good lessons in even the simplest of games.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Scouts v. Sports

Let me begin by saying I don't necessarily have anything against sports. But as an LDS Venturing advisor, I'm beginning to dislike them. At least the high school version.

Over the next month and a half, there is exactly one of our regular Wednesday nights that will not be interrupted by a track meet. This takes all but one of our young men (and he is working most nights). Weekends are just as bad. There seems to be a track meet nearly every weekend until the end of school. The weekends that don't have a track meet have a dance.

This translates into essentially zero Venturing activities until school ends.

I don't understand it. I did sports in High School. I ran track and cross country and I don't remember having to miss that many Scouting activities. I seem to remember having plenty of time to finish practice, tutor a fellow student, feed cows, and still make it to Scouts. I don't remember having to miss so much because of my involvement in sports.

Of course, I don't remember very many Scouting activities during that time, so maybe I did. I had always attributed that to the fact that we didn't "do" Varsity or Exploring like we should have. Then again, maybe I was too involved in sports to notice.

Either way, I'm beginning to really dislike High School sports.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Best Man in the Ward

I finished reading Trails to Testimony by Brad Harris a little while ago, and I keep thinking about it.

One thing that struck me was the need to have the Scoutmaster be the best man in the ward. This actually came from a talk in General Conference by Bishop C. Frederick Pingel. He was the bishop of a local ward, not in the Presiding bishopric. I don't know how often it happens that a ward bishop is invited to speak in General Conference, but that alone would be enough to make me sit up and pay attention. I mean, he must be on to something if he is invited to speak in that setting. (You can read his entire talk, here.)

Anyway, what he said was:
"It has been said that, as you organize a new ward, you first identify your best man and make him your Scoutmaster.... Brethren, don’t sacrifice here. I don’t know where to tell you to sacrifice, but don’t do it here."
My first reaction to that was to think about the Scoutmaster in my ward and ask, "is he really the best man in our ward?"

My next thought was, "If I were the bishop, who would I call as the Scoutmaster?" And I came up with a name of someone right away of who I think would be really good.

But several days later I had some other thoughts about it. First, the other Scout leaders probably ought to be as good of men as the Scoutmaster. I mean, so what if we have a great Boy Scout program only to have them all fall away when they join the Varsity Scouts or the Venturers?

Second, if the Bishop should choose the best men in the ward to be the Scout leaders, what does that say about how I should be acting as a Scout leader?

I've already been called to work with the youth. I don't know if I'm the best person in the ward, but if I'm not, I should be working on it.

How many times are we told that the Lord doesn't necessarily call the most qualified, but He qualifies who He calls? If our Scout leaders should be the best people in the ward, and I'm asked to be a Scout leader, shouldn't I take it upon myself to do everything I can to become the best person in the ward?

This doesn't mean I start comparing myself to everyone else. But it means I take extra care to read my scriptures and have personal and family prayers every day. It means I faithfully attend all of my meetings--sacrament, Sunday school, and priesthood. It means I should be perfect in paying my tithing and fast offerings. It means I should attend the temple regularly. It means I should do my home teaching every month. It means I should lead my family in having family home evening every week. It means I show up to help clean the chapel when it's our ward's turn. It means when the Elder's quorum does a service project or activity that I show up to participate. It means I should be less judgmental and more forgiving and loving. In short, I should be more like Christ.

If I am falling short in these areas then I might be falling short as a Scout leader. I'll be the first to admit I'm not perfect. I'm trying, but there are a few things on that list I can improve on.

As adult leaders we have a great influence on the young men, not only in what we say but in what we do. In fact, I'd bet that most of what they learn comes from what they see in their leaders.

As a Scout leader, I have an obligation to my youth to do my best. I should be a model of manhood. I should be as perfect as possible in obeying the Scout Oath and Law. I should truly be a Scout, in the best sense of the word.

Youth Leadership

There is an excellent article in Venturing Magazine about youth leadership, specifically as it relates to Venturing, but Boy Scout and Varsity Scout leaders may find it useful, too.

The "Let the Youth Do It" Dilemma
"It is not realistic, nor is it wise to throw out the question "What do you want to do this year?" to a bunch of teens.  An unstructured brainstorming session will almost certainly lead to a bunch of unattainable or inappropriate suggestions.  But the largest danger of all when thoughtlessly tossing responsibility to the youth is that nothing at all will happen.  It is often the case that no single youth is willing to champion an idea, or that if someone is willing to advocate for an idea, it will be inappropriate."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


My job (the way I pay for my Scouting addiction) involves improving habitat for mule deer, elk and other game species. One great way to enhance habitat for these species, at least in certain areas, is through fire. In the right place at the right time, a wildfire can be a great thing. As a result, there is often a conversation in my office about places we would like to see burn, but for whatever reason we can't get the agency who has the authority to do it to actually do it. Almost every time, someone suggests that what we need is a group of boy scouts to go camping there.
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Each month, our ward does a pot-luck dinner as a way to socialize and fellowship each other. We usually have a theme--we've done Mexican, Italian, Dutch oven, BBQ, and Family Favorites. Since February is Scout month, I suggested the theme for February could be "Boy Scouts." It got announced as everything from "Boy Scout food" to "what scouts would eat." Without fail, this elicited laughs and suggestions of burnt (or raw) pancakes, ramen noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, or something else equally disgusting. The actual turnout on the night of the activity was, I think, the lowest we've ever had. I wondered if we scared people off....
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These experiences, and others, have got me thinking that a lot of people (including church members) don't have very high opinions of Scouts. They see them as irresponsible boys who will probably make a mess of things if not watched carefully. I am more than a little disturbed when I encounter such thoughts. Sure, maybe our boys are a little like that, but what really bothers me is when we treat our Scouts as if they were like that. Many people expect nothing better.

Robert Baden-Powell had a different idea. Consider these quotes from Scouting For Boys.
"A true Scout is looked up to by other boys and by grownups as a fellow who can be trusted, a fellow who will not fail to do his duty however risky and dangerous it may be, a fellow who is jolly and cheery no matter how great the difficulty before him."

"Living in camp for a Scout who knows the game is a simple matter. He knows how to make himself comfortable in a thousand small ways, and then, when he does come back to civilization, he enjoys it all the more for having seen the contrast. And even there, in the city, he can do very much more for himself than the ordinary mortal, who has never really learned to provide for his own wants."
"An old Scout is full of resource. He can find a way out of any difficulty or discomfort."

"A camp is a roomy place. But there is no room in it for one chap, and that is the fellow who does not want to take his share in the many little odd jobs that have to be done. There is no room for the shirker or the grouser--well there is no room for them in the Boy Scouts at all, but least of all in camp."

"A Scout is very careful about fires. When he uses one he sees that it is well out before he leaves the place."

"Scouts are always tidy, whether in camp or not, as a matter of habit. If you are not tidy at home, you will not be tidy in camp; and if you're not tidy in camp you will be only a tenderfoot and no Scout."

"Every Scout must, of course, know how to cook his own meat and vegetables, and to make bread for himself, without regular cooking utensils."

"A good Scout... does not, like the ordinary boy, want to go and rob [birds] of their eggs, but he likes to watch how they hatch out their young and teach them to feed themselves and to fly."

"A Scout never damages a tree by hacking it with his knife or axe."

"Any boy can smoke--it is not such a very wonderful thing to do. But a Scout will not do it because he is not such a fool."

"It would be simply impossible for a man who drinks to be a Scout."

"The ordinary boy is apt to frown when working hard at physical exercises, but the Boy Scout is required to smile all the time."

"A Scout is at all times a gentleman."

"A Scout will never accept a 'tip', unless it is to pay for work done. It is often difficult to refuse, when it is offered, but for a Scout it is easy."

"No man worthy of the name will allow a woman to stand up if he has a seat. He will at once give it up to the woman and stand himself. As a Scout, you should set the example in this by being the first man in the carriage to do it."
There are many more examples but these will, I'm sure, show my point. Baden-Powell wanted his Scouts to be good. He wanted them to be a cut above the average boy. He wanted them to be a cut above the average man. And he expected it of them. Scouting for Boys is all about improving boys with the expectation that "a Scout is" something great.

I think we should remember that boys have a way of meeting expectations. If we treat them like irresponsible kids who can't do things right then that is what they will be. But if we expect them to be men, they will rise to the occasion. That is what Scouting is about. You take ordinary boys who are irresponsible, messy, and mean, put them in a uniform and a patrol, call them Scouts and tell them "A Scout Is...." And then you sit back and watch as the boy becomes a man.

Let's stop talking about our boys as they way they might be now, but as the Scouts we know they can become.