Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Identifying poisonous plants

This is something I've wondered about a bit, but since I'm in Venturing and not Boy Scouts, it isn't something I've actually had to deal with. But I still wonder.

Requirement 11 for the Tenderfoot Rank reads:
"Identify local poisonous plants; tell how to treat for exposure to them."

In the Boy Scout Handbook, the poisonous plants they list are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Here in Utah, none of those are common. In fact, according to the USDA Plants Database, neither poison sumac or poison oak (either species: pacific or atlantic) are located in the state. A species of poison ivy is, but it isn't very common. I have only seen it in a handful of places.

This makes it kind of difficult to teach identification to our scouts. I have some ideas on how I would do it (involving a hike in one of the areas where I know it is), but the way I think it is normally done, is the scouts look at the pictures in the handbook during their troop meeting, talk about them a little and then the Scoutmaster signs it off. I'd be willing to bet 99% of our scouts wouldn't recognize poison ivy if they were to fall headfirst into a thicket of it.

Okay, I'm kind of rambling here. Let's see if I can get back on topic. Quality of instruction aside, what I've really wondered about is, when the requirement says to "identify local poisonous plants" is it limited to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac? These are probably the most common poisonous plants and the most widespread, but they are certainly not the only poisonous plants local to any given area.

What about poison hemlock, water hemlock, deathcamas, jimsonweed, black henbane, false hellebore, and any number of other poisonous plants found in your area (even house plants)? Granted, these aren't necessarily toxic to the touch, but all are toxic if eaten. Isn't that important too?

I'm not suggesting that our tenderfoot scouts become expert botanists, but what does the requirement mean? What point is there in having scouts in Vernal, Utah learning to identify poison sumac, which they may never see in their life, and ignoring deathcamas, which they could find on almost every campout (and given the nature of boys, they might actually try to eat)?

There are a lot of resources to help identify poisonous plants (try local poison control centers, or field guides), and I think it would be good for our scouts to know a few of the ones they might see locally. It shouldn't be too difficult to expand beyond poison ivy. The question is, should we? And if you do, where do you draw the line?

I'd be interested in hearing some other viewpoints on this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stages of Team Development

During Wood Badge, both as a participant and a staff member, I noticed that one of the more popular presentations was about the Stages of Team Development. This one really seemed to affect people

I’ve just been going over the Introduction to LeadershipSkills for Crews course, preparing to teach it to my young men in March. One of the sections there is about the stages of team development. Reading through it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to put together.

Much of this comes from the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews (ILSC) course. (Note: There is also an Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops that probably has the same information.)

I think I actually got a more complete understanding of this concept from the ILSC than I did from Wood Badge (blasphemy, I know!).

At Wood Badge, the topic is introduced using clips from the movie Remember the Titans. It’s great, and probably one of the reasons it is so memorable and has such an impact.

At ILSC, you begin not with a team, but the progression of an individual. I’ll use myself as an example.

When I was first called as the Venturing Advisor, I was pretty excited. I thought it would be a really great calling to have and was looking forward to it. My enthusiasm was pretty high. But I didn’t know anything about Venturing. My skill level was low.

(The relationship between enthusiasm and skill level becomes an important part of the stages, pay attention to it.)

As I started to learn about Venturing and get into things, my enthusiasm started to drop. I still didn’t know much about Venturing or how to do it (skill level still low, but slowly increasing). Furthermore, it seemed like nobody new anything about Venturing. Our ward YM president even told me he didn’t care about Venturing. I had only one boy who would come to activities (hard to do much with one boy…) and he almost never talked. And when he did, it wasn’t ever serious. (Example: he suggested our crew uniform should be a loin cloth.) It was maddening. The more I tried, the more I seemed to fail. I got discouraged. Round table, for me, became a therapy session more than anything. My enthusiasm and skill level were both low.

Eventually, I started to get better. As my skills improved, through training, round table, and Wood Badge, I started to make progress. I got more boys and was able to implement more activities. I got them out of the gym and away from the basketball. I introduced the Venturing awards and even saw some interest. My skills were improving and my enthusiasm started to go back up.

Now, ideally, a person will get to a point where their skills are high and things are running smoothly. Their enthusiasm, likewise is high.  I say ideally because, to be honest, I don’t know that I’m there yet. I know enough about Venturing to know everything we’re doing wrong. And I’m not sure I have the skills (or have used them well enough) to get things there. It’s still a struggle. I’d like to do better. For illustrative purposes, though, we’ll say I’ve made it.

Before we go on, let’s chart the progression I’ve just described. We’ll plot my progress on a chart with skill level on the X axis and enthusiasm on the Y axis. This graph is of my own making and is not found either in the ILSC or at Wood Badge. I came up with it after studying the topic for ILSC. 
See the progression? At the beginning, I had low skill level but high enthusiasm. As I started out, I got discouraged and my enthusiasm dropped. Eventually, both skill level and enthusiasm start to rise until both skill level and enthusiasm are high.

Teams actually go through the exact stame stages as they develop. At Wood Badge we name the stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Let’s show them on our graph:
The divisions here probably aren’t exact, but you get the point.

As a team starts out, everyone is excited and has high enthusiasm, but their skill as a team is not very high. Individual team members may be wanting to go in different directions. This is the Forming stage.

Sooner or later, those different directions clash. This is the Storming stage. Enthusiasm drops and skill level (as a team) is still pretty low.

Eventually, things start to turn around. The team gets better at working together and start to coalesce around a common goal. Enthusiasm and skill level are both on the rise. This is the Norming stage.

In the Performing stage, the team starts performing. They have come together. Their collective skill level is high and their enthusiasm is once again high.

Now, a couple important points. There is no time frame on here. Forming and storming could happen very quickly or take a long time. Also, teams (or individuals) don’t always stay in the performing stage once they get there. Team membes get adjusted and the team might slide back to Storming. An individual might get complacent and forget some of his training (or abandon it altogether) and performance could suffer, pushing him back to a different stage. These stages are flexible.

This is where leadership comes in.

Remember the Teaching EDGE? That’s the different steps we use to teach a skill: Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and Enable.  Well, there’s also the Leading EDGE. It helps leaders understand how to adjust their leadership styles in response to the stages of team development. Wood Badge teaches this, but being separated from the stages by a whole day, I wonder if it gets lost. ILSC combines to two into one lesson.

Basically, each leading style (Explaining, Demonstrating, Guiding, and Enabling) corresponds to one of the stages of team development. Like this:
 Starting out (Forming), a team (or individual) often needs a leader to Explain exactly what to do and how to do it.

In the Storming stage, it is often better for the leader to Demonstrate. The team knows what needs to be done, but the leader can help by showing them how to do it.

As the team starts to come together (Norming), the leader can begin to back away and Guide the team in accomplishing its tasks. They coach the team in taking charge of the effort. This is exactly what happens with individual patrols and their troop guide at Wood Badge, and it should happen with our individual units.

Once they are performing, the leader should Enable the team to succeed by allowing them to function on their own, using the skills they have learned. At this stage the leader is off to the side and doesn’t interfere with the team’s progress by trying to “help.”

The leader needs to be aware of the progress of the team through these stages and adjust accordingly. If the team is ready to move from Storming to Norming but the leader never shifts from Demonstrate to Guide, I suspect the teams progress will get stuck and they won’t move into the next stage.  Leaders need to allow their teams to move on. I think we too often get stuck in the Explain and Demonstrate stages and too seldom step back to Guide and Enable the teams to perform. Of course, there’s also the possiblility that we step back too soon when a team needs more Explanation and Demonstration, but that’s probably much less common.

It’s a tricky skill to master, and one I personally need to work on.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

From the fortune cookies at dinner the other night:

"Leaders are like eagles. They don't flock, you find them one at a time."

"Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Our Venturing crew did a snowshoeing trip this weekend. It was great. In fact, I think it more closely fit the ideal for a Venturing activity than any other activity we have done. At least in regards to the planning and implementation process.

Let's back up a bit. The ideal process to go through in planning a Venturing activity goes something like this:
1. Find out what the boys want to do (from Activity Interest Survey [AIS] or similar form)
2. Find out what resources are available (from Program Capability Inventory [PCI] or similar form)
3. Match crew interests to resources available and plan calendar. Youth members are assigned by the crew president to chair individual activities.
4. Invite consultants (identified from PCI) to come teach skills or otherwise assist with the project. The activity chair does this. The activity chair makes final plans for the activity with help from other youth and/or consultants if necessary.
5. Carry out the project/activity
6. Evaluate the project/activity

Now, we weren't quite perfect on this.

1. We didn't have the Activity Interest Survey complete. I've done this before, but we've never really successfully implemented it. For this activity, we knew the boys wanted to do it because I suggested it as a possible activity sometime and they all said they would like to do that.

2. We also don't have the Program Capability Inventory complete. This is one of the responsibilities of the crew committee, and since we don't have a functional one, this didn't happen. However, in conversations I had with certain ward members I found out they had several sets of snowshoes that they would be happy to let us borrow. I passed this information on to our youth leadership.

3. Since we don't really have the AIS or PCI done, we can't do much for step three. This is perhaps one of the reasons we haven't done the kinds of activities I envision for a really great Venturing crew. We also have struggled the last little while getting a calendar in place. We had a year plan that expired at the end of December but we hadn't done really well implementing it anyway and hadn't been able to get together to plan the next year.

We were able to get a three month plan in-place however, and the boys did all of it. I gave them a calendar and some very brief instructions then left the room. The snowshoeing activity was the one they chose for January.

4. This is one area I'm really pleased with. Along with choosing the snowshoeing trip, they also planned to have the ward member come the week before and teach us about equipment, gear, safety, etc. that we would need to know in order to do this trip. The youth member in charge of this activity contacted the consultant and made the arrangements. All I had to do was show up. I even learned a few things I didn't know before.

5. We had a great time on the trip. It was simple--just a 2.5 mile loop up on the mountain. This picture was taken at the highest point of the trail, just before the largest downhill section.

You can see we had one boy and his dad who came on cross-country skis. We had two boys who couldn't make it (work and other family stuff). At the bottom of this hill we stopped for lunch then continued on, getting home in mid-afternoon.

The trail was packed down through lots of use--we didn't really need the snowshoes. But at least there was snow. I was afraid there wouldn't be with this mild winter we've had so far. But it was a good trip.

Now, I would have really liked to see us rent the yurt the Forest Service has up there, packed in all our gear on snowshoes and spent the night. But with the short planning and experience of the boys (I don't think they even knew about the yurt) it worked out really well to do a day trip.

6. We haven't done much for "official" evaluation, but on the way down the mountain we did talk about what went well and what didn't, and came up with some ideas for next time.

Okay, so it wasn't a perfect activity. But we had a great time. The boys were in charge and I think they learned quite a bit, both about snowshoeing as well as planning/carrying out an activity. And that's the important part.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Venturing Magazine

Quite some time ago I discovered the online Venturing Magazine. The only problem was that it was never updated. Until now.

The new and improved Venturing Magazine can be found at http://www.venturingmag.org/

There is also a Venturing Magazine Blog at http://venturingmag.blogspot.com/

I really hope to see this take off. It could be a great resource for Venturing crews.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Committee Needs

The committee chairman in my ward has told me that the committee will not have any more meetings until I have something that I need from him/them. So I put together a list of things that I would find useful in a committee.
  • I need a list of merit badge counselors in the ward. 
  • I need someone on the committee willing to track down and recruit said merit badge counselors.
  • I need to have the Venturing Program Capability Inventory completed and expanded so we know what resources our Venturing Crew has to draw on. This could fall to the same person who is tracking down merit badge counselors.
  • I could use help tracking Journey to Excellence for the Troop, Team, and Crew.
  • I need someone to handle Tour Plans.
  • I need an advancement chair so I don't have to do all the advancement for the Team and Crew, and I can get someone I trust more than person currently handling Troop advancement. This would also mean I'm not the one to pick up badges and awards. (But can I really trust someone else to do it right?)
  • I need someone to keep our membership records up to date so that when one person advances in the Priesthood, their Scouting membership is adjusted accordingly. 
  • I need someone to help track and encourage our other leaders to get the training they need.
  • I need program advisors to help the Varsity Scouts manage their team activities.
  • I desperately need help organizing and maintaining our budget.
  • I need someone to help head up our fundraising efforts. If left to me, we might not actually get a fundraiser.
  • I need help finding service projects for the young men to participate in. 
  • I need someone to help track health and medical forms.
  • I need someone to help organize and maintain our equipment. I know the quartermaster should be involved in this, but when you have a troop, team, and crew doing separate activities with the same equipment, it would really be nice to have a committee member help.
  • I really need a committee chair that will hold regular meetings and organize a committee to accomplish the above needs.
They actually do pretty well on scheduling boards of review when needed, so I didn't include that above.

Am I missing anything?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Eagle Scout

Yesterday I was privileged to conduct an Eagle Court of Honor for one of my young men. It was a great experience.

The young man's father spoke for a few minutes as part of the program and one thing he said really stuck with me. He told us that he asked his two Eagle Scout sons this question: "Is it an exceptional boy who earns his Eagle, or is it the process of earning Eagle that makes a boy exceptional?"

Their discussion led them to the conclusion that it's a little of both.