Welcome to the LDS Scouter Blog. We hope to provide you with valuable information, share useful resources and maybe even improve some attitudes and Ward Scouting programs. The recommended way to use this blog is to start with the post, "Why I started this blog." Then browse through the post titles in the archive (found in the sidebar) for topics of interest.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Merit Badge Counselor

Yesterday we had University of Scouting. I was asked to teach the Merit Badge Counselor course. It's not a difficult process, being a Merit Badge Counselor, but there are some key ingredients to success. The course agenda starts with the aims of Scouting, which are:
1. The ideals of Scouting (the Oath, Law, Motto and Slogan)
2. The patrol method
3. The outdoors
4. Advancement
5. Association with adults
6. Personal growth
7. Leadership development
8. The uniform

Merit badges factor into each of those aims to some degree, but particularly with association with adults. Or rather I should say, a variety of adults. (Because in almost all Scouting activity there is some adult supervision, but when doing Merit Badges, a Scout has the opportunity to get to know someone they otherwise wouldn't). Enter the Merit Badge Counselor! This is a person, who by vocation, avocation or special training has the knowledge to guide and instruct a scout on a particular subject.

Merit Badge Counselors must meet certain requirements:
  • he or she must register annually with the BSA and submit a Merit Badge Counselor form each year.
  • must be at least 18 years old.
  • be of good character (i.e., a good role model).
  • be proficient in the merit badge subject matter.
  • be able (and willing) to work with scout-age youth.
  • be approved by the Counsel advancement committee.

Those conditions being met, there are few other limitations. (Two-deep leadership isn't specifically required for Merit Badge Counselors, but according to the Gospel of firebirdluver, it would be unwise to put oneself in a situation where there might be the appearance of evil. In other words, never be alone with a Scout and always have another adult present. Besides, each Scout earning a merit badge should have a buddy to work through the badge with). Youth Protection training is also very important for Merit Badge Counselors.

There is no limit to the number of Merit Badges a Counselor can make him or herself available to teach, although he or she must be approved for each Merit Badge by the Council.

In fact, one of the few limits is that a Counselor cannot change the requirements of a Merit Badge. A Scout must do only the requirements, no more, no less. (Which isn't to say that if the Scout is interested, the Counselor can't help pave the way for the Scout to do more, just that the Scout isn't required to do more. This rule makes the merit badges fair and equitable for everyone). The exception to the rule is in the case of a special needs scout.

Two things that I think are important to note are that Scoutmasters and their assistants are not automatically approved to be Merit Badge Counselors. I was involved in a troop some years ago where the Scoutmaster, who was a good and well-meaning man, taught the Photography Merit Badge. During the course of the instruction, it became apparent that he had common knowledge (nothing technical or specific) of film photography, but was completely in the dark about anything digital. He should have found someone better trained to teach the Scouts.

The other important note is that a Merit Badge is an individual award. Group instruction is great and can be very beneficial to both the Scout group (who can help each other accomplish their goals) and to the Counselor (who then doesn't have to repeat the instruction over and over). However, each Scout must individually pass off all of the requirements.

The process for a Scout earning a merit badge goes something like this:

  • The Scout decides he wishes to pursue a Merit Badge. He tells his Scoutmaster.
  • The Scoutmaster either approves or dis-approves the Merit Badge. (Why might a Scoutmaster tell a Scout he can't work on a Merit Badge? Well, there could be a number of reasons; perhaps the boy is already working on several Merit Badges and the Scoutmaster feels it would be appropriate for the Scout to finish some of them before he starts another. There are some Merit Badges that are better earned in a certain order (Family Life, Cit. in the Community, Cit. in the Nation, Cit. in the World).
  • If approved, then the Scoutmaster gives the Scout a Blue Card and tells the Scout the name of a counselor for that Merit Badge. (It is the Scoutmaster's prerogative to either select a Counselor or let the Scout select one from a list. This might help the Scout be exposed to a number of different individuals, as he might otherwise be tempted to always select people he knows).
  • The Scout contacts the Counselor, discusses the topic, makes arrangements to complete the requirements and meet again with the Counselor. This may have to happen more than once.
  • The Scout works on the requirements. When complete, he contacts the Counselor, who ensures the Scout has completed all the requirements and signs the appropriate documentation (Blue Card). The Counselor keeps his or her portion of the Blue Card.
  • The Scout takes the Blue Card to the Scoutmaster, who verifies completion of the Merit Badge.
  • The Scoutmaster gives the Blue Card to the Advancement Chair.
  • The Advancement Chair submits the award to the Council and purchases the award.
  • The award is presented to the Scout, along with the Scout's portion of the Blue Card.

My recommendation is to carefully complete and guard any documentation (Blue Card) while completing a Merit Badge. Even if it's only partially complete, because a partially completed Merit Badge can still be completed up until a Scout's 18th birthday. (But if you lose it, you'll probably have to start over). Also, it's not entirely unknown for Counsel records to be incomplete, so it's good to have a copy of your own to back up your claim that you have completed the requirements for an award.

Merit Badge counseling can be a very rewarding experience for the Counselor. If you have some in-depth knowledge on a subject, please consider applying to be a Merit Badge Counselor. It could change a life!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Setting Them Up For Failure

We team teach the Valiant 10 and 11's in our ward. In one of those strange flukes, both classes are all boys. There are over a dozen in there, and a majority are in the younger class, so they will stay with us for the whole year. Surprisingly, I think this is actually the most I have ever enjoyed a calling in the Church. I know it is not one most people would ask for. It was certainly not my ideal calling ten years ago. This is our fourth year teaching Primary in this ward, and during that time we have taught almost all of these boys before, so we have gotten to really know and love them. They may not be the best at sitting still, but they are really good kids.

I want to open up the discussion for a bit on various aspects of teaching and mentoring boys. I don't claim to be an expert in the area (is anyone, really?), but it is a topic that is near to my heart, and I have found a few things to be helpful in my experiences with boys, so I'll share those, and if anyone has any others, I hope they will share as well in the comments or by e-mail.

Something that often comes up in the Ask Andy columns is that the goal of leaders should be to help the boys succeed, but what often happens instead is leaders finding ways for the boys to fail.
To be clear, by, "helping the boys succeed," I am not suggested doing everything for them or making sure they get pushed through an achievement or advancement. That is not success for the boy, since he doesn't get anything out of it besides a badge. There is no learning, growing or real sense of achievement. Boys Scouts especially is about stepping back to let the boys do things for themselves and learn from their mistakes.

The setting up for failure comes in when adults try to interfere too much in the other direction. Sometimes we try to add in our own rules that we think are best, when really what we are doing is thinking of ways for the boys to fail. One example is an advancement committee that denies Scouts rank advancement due to troop imposed attendance requirements (third from the last letter on that page). Another is a Scoutmaster who tries to subjectively decide whether a boy is "ready" to advance, when he has met all of the requirements (here's one example, first letter on the page.)

I think even the small and subtle things we do, thinking we are being clever or tricky, can accumulate in a way that may be harmful to the boys' attitudes. I was recently reading the section in Teaching: No Greater Call about teaching with questions (one of our favorite methods, because it helps the boys become really engaged with the lesson). The book says, "When asking such questions, be open to all answers (see “Listening,” pages 66–67). Encourage learners to ponder the scriptures and gospel principles being discussed and to express their ideas. Do not try to get them to give specific answers to questions; they will quickly become aware of what you are doing and either stop participating or start guessing instead of thinking. When you need a specific answer, it is best to ask a factual question or present the information in some other way." I have been in classes where this is exactly what happens. It doesn't take long for students to become disinterested in the discussion because they can't ever get the "right" answer.

It is a difficult skill to learn - how to push the boys enough to build character, but not make things impossible for them. I see it at home too with my oldest son. We want to build him into a fine young man, but I think sometimes we expect so much, and we spend so much time pointing out his faults that he must feel like he's never going to get things right. It is difficult but very important to find just the right level of difficulty for him, things that he can accomplish but will require some effort on his part, and then to step back and not point out every mistake, but to help him see how much he has grown.

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions on this topic or anything else related to teaching and raising boys, please contribute to the discussion.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ministering to Youth

The Church held another Worldwide Leader Training Meeting yesterday. Some of you may have attended. If you didn't, you can find the broadcast in streaming video, streaming audio and mp3 formats here on the Church website.

I think the segment most relevant to Scout, Young Men and Primary leaders is the second to last, "Ministering to Youth." It gives specific guidelines, an outline, for recognizing and helping the youth under our stewardship who need help. I know this is something I have found difficult in my Primary callings, and I suspect there are others who find it difficult as well. You should find watching or listening to the segment to be helpful.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Scouting and Family History

An unexpected side effect of the Year of Celebration last year for me was family history research. I already knew that my dad was an Eagle Scout and that his dad earned the Silver Beaver, but as I worked on some of the requirements for my ribbons, I ended up learning quite a bit more, which led me to asking more questions and learning even more about the history of Scouting and how it related to my family and the Church.

One of the requirements I chose to do was to write an article about a Scouting leader who made a positive difference in my life. I decided to write about my granddad, because, even though he was not my Scouting leader, he was a Scouting leader, and he definitely had a big impact on my life. I asked my dad some questions, and in the course of writing the article, learned not only some fun things about both my dad and granddad, I realized a few things about leadership that I had not thought about before. You can read the full article here.

I also made a Scouting Family Tree. This involved asking my brothers and dad for a few details so that I could fill out the chart. Through this I learned things I didn't know about my brothers' differing exeriences and opinions about Scouting.

I even came across, through chance, some interesting information about the history of Scouting in the Church. You may know that the Church became the first official chartered organization of the BSA three years after Scouting came to the US. But did you know that the Church actually implemented Scouting as part of the YMMIA two years before that, and that it was Gordon B. Hinkley's father who made the motion to make the affiliation official? (source) I thought that was an interesting bit of trivia.

Scouting can provide a similar opportunity to open up some family history conversations with your relations. It might give you some common ground you never knew you had with fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, etc. One leader I know has been enthusiastic and done great things ever since she was called. I was not surprised to learn that it was due in large part to her dad being an avid Scouter. It is certainly a worthy legacy to live up to.

I look forward to being able to pass on the things I learned to my boys, to be able to share with them their Scouting family history.