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."