First, remember what a
Scoutmastersí Conference really is all about. It's your time to get to know and
develop a working relationship with that Scout and to gage how good or bad a
time he's having being a Scout and a Scout in YOUR TROOP.
I've got to divide how to do this
into the "obvious" and the "not-so-obvious" parts, for many Scouters like
yourself already know how to do it...the technical parts. What everyone seems to
have a problem with are how to start and how to stop and some guidance on how
the "middle" should go...
*this should be at a time mutually
agreed upon by both you and the Scout. While a "scheduled" Scoutmastersí
Conference is okay, try not to plan back-to-back Scoutmastersí Conferences
unless you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO. Why? Even though you WON'T, one Scout talking
with you and then twenty-minutes later another Scout talking with you has this
*no rushing. Yeah, it's a
requirement, but you're doing more than "meeting a requirement" if you do it
right...you are getting to know that Scout on more than just an "exterior
basis." And he's getting to know you as more than just "the Scoutmaster of my
*remember youth protection. There
are some people that will jump to an opportunity to bash our program because
from their vantage point, you're doing something "improper." Don't give them
that chance. My BEST Scoutmaster Conferences are those in which I meet in grand
open places...mall food courts, parks with open field of vision, ball game
stands, anywhere where there's more than two or three sets of eyes looking at
you. Wear a Scouting hat. "Tell them" that you're a Scouter by your appearance
and behavior. And most of all, keep that appropriate distance between you and
*think "outside the Troop meeting"
for the Scoutmastersí Conference. There's nothing that says you cannot talk with
the Scout during a campout, or at summer camp in the dining hall, or on the
lakefront. There's nothing that says you two have to be sitting or standing
(preferably one or the other, but hey....if you two are bicycling toward a
location, that's cool too.) The point is that you're TALKING with the
Scout...not "interviewing him." You're COACHING him, not "instructing him."
*finally, have fun. This is a
requirement, yeah, so? So your intent is to learn more about John than you did
last month, or the last time you talked with him. And for him to learn more
about you than the last time.
Okay. Enough with the obvious
stuff. Here's the stuff that's not so obvious:
*The length of the Scoutmastersí
Conference should be long enough for you to know three or four more things about
him that you didn't know before; and short enough for him to understand the
significance of this step toward Eagle. Given those parameters, I can't tell you
how LONG or SHORT a Scoutmastersí Conference should be. A good "rule of thumb"
is about 20 minutes...but hey, if the two of you are having a great time talking
about the last campout or the Royals or the fact that your wife calls you
"bullethead" and he's wondering why...don't let the clock keep you from talking.
Likewise, if he's having a time talking with you...and you with him...don't
prolong the agony no more than you two have to! Don't worry...the next time WILL
get better for both of you!!
The intent of the Scoutmastersí
Conference is for YOU to impart some of YOUR PERSONAL CHARACTER TO THAT SCOUT.
Your honesty. Your integrity. Your sense of what's right and what's wrong. This
is that Scout's chance to see YOUR APPLICATION OF THE SCOUTING IDEALS and to
emulate your application through his own personal application.
In other words, itís not so much a
check on his character as it is yours.
*You can talk about anything under
the sun. Not just Scouting...you and he already get enough "talk about
Scouting." Talk about your families. Your pets and your siblings. The things you
enjoyed about school at his age and the things you hated about school at his
age. The TV shows that kids his age would watch (don't know?? ASK!). The movies.
Anything that will allow you to use that to compare or match up to the Scouting
ideals. You're trying to get to know this Scout as a PERSON and not just as
"Paul, working toward First Class."
*There used to be a set of
guidebooks that gave generic questions about that particular rank. Forget that!
At each step along the way, you want to ask five key questions (five fingers,
*Tell me about the best time you've
had so far in our Troop
*Tell me about something that made
you think about the Scout Law, or the Promise (Oath), or something that had to
do with Scouts
*Tell me about something really
messed up about our Troop
*Tell me about something that you
wished that you could do better -- in or out of Scouting
*Tell me something about yourself
that has NOTHING to do with Scouting
Those answers to those leading
questions will give you as Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster some idea of how
the ideals of Scouting has "hit home" or not...whether or not the Scout is
having fun or not, and most importantly, opens him up to asking follow up
questions and to carry on a CONVERSATION with the Scout.
*Once again, this is NOT a
"question and answer session." Come ready to talk with this Scout (going back to
the "don't rush it" part) about life and living...the Scouting way.
*There are some things you DO NOT
WANT TO TALK ABOUT. Okay. Let me rephrase that. There are some things you SHOULD
NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT with that Scout, by yourself, during this time. You
probably have some idea, but here's the short list and why:
*You don't want to talk about
fellow Scouters. This is a conference between YOU and that Scout. If other
Scouters come up, try to redirect the conversation back to the two of you by
saying something like "Well, Mr. Holland is a good Scouter, and I'm glad to have
him here...but I don't think it's fair that we talk about him without him being
Now, if Mr. Holland has done
something WRONG (in the eyes of the Scout, not in your eyes or ears!!), let him
talk and explain it. Then, you've got some reporting and sharing to do....
*You don't want to talk about
politics, nor political figures. Yeah, the President is a BSA member too, but
let's try to keep this focused on the SCOUTS' behavior or lack thereof and NOT
the President's nor anyone else's behavior. Same goes for celebrities....
*SEX. Man, that's a hot button. As
an adult, you have some obligations to share your feelings of what a young man
should be all about. But leave the in-depth explanation of sexual activity and
sexual enjoyment to the Scout's parents or religious leaders.
I had a parent to ask me to explain
sexuality to a Scout because they were too ashamed to do so themselves. I
refused, explaining that while Scouting encourages a Scout to be aware of his
body changes while he is developing from boy to man, that we are NOT in the
"sexual instruction and coaching" business. I would suggest the same approach to
In other words...talk about
protecting himself, waiting until the right time, and respect for both the girl
and himself are fine and are positive messages to any Scout...and works within
our Scouting ideals of Trustworthiness, Bravery, and Cleanliness; talk about
sexual acts, self-gratification, and "what I saw on TV last night...." (gross or
kewl) are NOT positive messages for a Scout and should be avoided.
I've been caught in the "Hey Mr.
Walton, you've had sex. What is it like?"-type questions. The best approach
there is to be honest but also understanding that such discussions best belong
with the parents of that Scout.
"Yeah, I've had sex,
Henry...several times. But I really feel that this part of the discussion should
be saved for your parents."
"But they aren't as cool as you are
when it comes to talking to me..."
"Thanks, but I really don't want to
go down that trail. As you'll learn when you get a little older -- if you don't
already know it now -- men whom really care about the girls they've been with
don't give up details. That's something that stays between the girl they were
with and themselves."
Bring it back to the Scouting
ideals...redirect it back to WHY YOU TWO ARE THERE.
I've also been caught in the
questions dealing with race. That's also a careful area to approach, but not
because of the obvious. The obvious says "you don't want to express a feeling
about race relations." That's true to a point. Instead of talking about your
feelings, how about asking the Scout to express HIS own feelings. Those points
can be redirected to the idea that Scouting was created for all boys to enjoy;
that every Scout has the same standards, and there's no "standards for boys of
one" racial or ethnic group as opposed to others.
You SHOULD talk about inequities,
and how he as a SCOUT can make those uneven things even as he grows up. He needs
to know from you, as an adult, that racism is not a good thing but it's
something that he, like you, will have to deal with as you both get older.
"What do you say when people call
you a nigger?" is one such question. (Editor's note - this was a question
directed at Mike Walton)
"Well, Bill, I don't like being
called any names...well, other than being called "Major Dad", I guess...there's
something about being brave that says that no matter what people call you, that
you know who and what you are. People whom call others names are looking for a
reaction...and when I don't give them the reaction they are looking for, they go
away. That's a part of being brave...what happens when someone calls YOU a
*How to close it up. Ask about the
Board of Review. How confident are you about this next step? What things you
think they'll ask you about? (Especially great question for a Scout or
Tenderfoot....they are already scared about this "Review Board" and the stuff
that other Scouts (and maybe Scouters) have teased or terrorized them with. This
is your chance to confirm that itís NOT an "examination" but rather a review of
what you've got out of Scouting.
He'll want to keep going -- and so
will you. You can stop by simply saying "Man, I'm glad that we got to talk a
bit. Anytime you want to talk again, let me know and I'll set aside some time
for you. And good luck on your Board of Review!"
And be sincere about it...your job
as Scoutmaster is to BE THERE for your Scout members. Not to be on their
beckoned call...but to be a resource to help them out as they move down the
Finally, you're going to ask me
"Okay...you didn't ask a SINGLE QUESTION about the skills he learned to earn,
say, Second Class. Where do I ask those kinds of questions in this Conference??"
You don't. At least not right
outright. The Scoutmastersí Conference is NOT a "grilling session" in which you
have the Scout prove to you that he's met all of the requirements for the rank
he's going to be boarded for. This is your time to get to know that Scout for
whom he is....if you ask those five leading questions, elements of his work
toward that rank will come out and you'll have some idea of what he needs to
work further on and what things he's mastered. Also you'll find our more
importantly, how well he's mastered the Scouting ideals...which is what the
Board is going to ask him about, so you've prepared him for that "meeting."
which is the other part of the Conference.
You learn about his mastery or not
of his Scouting skills during the Troop meetings and campouts and other
activities of the Troop...not during the 20 or so minutes you've spending with
him on a park bench or at the shopping center plaza.
Hope that all of this has helped
you to understand what the Scoutmasters' Conference is all about and how I've
been successful as a Scoutmaster, Explorer Advisor, Varsity Coach and Sea
Exploring Skipper in meeting with and talking about the personal growth of each
Scout or Explorer in my unit.
If I may be of further help to you,
please let me know. And once again, thanks for stopping by the US Scouting
Service Project's website...and do please continue to stop by and let others
know where we're at!
(MAJ) Mike L. Walton (settummanque, the blackeagle)
Board Member, US Scouting Service Project