HALFWAY THROUGH HIS first year as a den leader, Andy Albin of Pack 61 in Austin, Texas, learned to his surprise that he was undertrained. “I realized that, although I had some training, I didn’t have all of the right training for that position,” he says. “It bothered me that there was nobody in our pack who had attempted to make that clear to everyone.”
Todd Birkhoff made a similar discovery when he looked around Pack 351 in McHenry, Ill. Although he was fully trained, other leaders were not, which meant boys weren’t getting the best program possible. “As long as you have a trained leader, the boys are going to have a better experience,” he says.
To fill their packs’ training gaps, Albin and Birkhoff took on the role of pack trainer, in both cases as part of their Wood Badge tickets. (For a pack trainer position description, see Page 62 of the Cub Scout Leader Book.) In the years since, they’ve more than achieved their goal of getting pack leaders through the basic training sequence of Youth Protection Training and position-specific training. Birkhoff has had many non-leader parents take Youth Protection Training, for example, while Albin has helped set a tradition of attending advanced training. “We’ve had a steady stream of adults in this pack who have taken training like Wood Badge and have encouraged others who are coming along behind them to do the same,” he says.
So how can your pack create a culture that expects and encourages training? We asked Albin and Birkhoff to share some of what they’ve learned.
Set a good example. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work with adults any more than it works with boys. It’s hard to get people to attend training when you aren’t going yourself. That’s part of why, in addition to completing Wood Badge, Albin has taken two conferences at the Philmont Training Center and is planning to take Powder Horn this year.
He also encourages leaders to wear the knots they’ve earned. “If nothing else, people will come up and ask, ‘What’s this knot for?’ and ‘What’s that knot for?’” he says.
Establish expectations. If leaders understand from the outset that training is required, they’re more likely to attend. “I’m not going to tell a person, ‘Oh, don’t worry about training,’” Birkhoff says. “No, this is the training that we’re required to do to be a trained leader. It’s going to help you, it’s going to help the boys, it’s going to help the program altogether.”
That’s just the message Birkhoff gave a new Tiger Cub den leader last spring. “Three days later, I got an envelope in the mail, and there’s all his training certificates,” he says.
Eliminate obstacles. Most new leaders are happy to get trained, but some encounter roadblocks, such as a lack of computer access for online courses. Birkhoff doesn’t take no for an answer. His message is simple: “If you need help, let me know. I’ll come over to your place.”
Keep good records. A big part of promoting training is keeping track of what courses each leader has already taken. Albin created a large spreadsheet to track completion of every available training course, along with roundtable. Since he works at an architecture firm, he has access to a plotter and was able to print a poster-size version to display at meetings. His goal: to create some friendly competition among the leaders. “I’m not sure how effective that was, but that was my intent,” he says.
It’s also important to track training dates, especially for those courses that are only good for two or three years. (You can find a list at scouting.org/training.aspx.) Birkhoff checks his records every month or so and notifies leaders of courses that will expire in the next 60 days.
Both Albin and Birkhoff encourage their leaders to keep track of their training certificates — and to turn in copies.
Getting your leaders to complete training can be tough, but it makes a difference for the boys and the adults who lead them.