By Michael Dunne
The BSA's new "training continuum" provides volunteer leaders with a seamless transition from one program to the next, with little repetition in content and much flexibility in presentation and scheduling.
As he does every spring when Webelos Scouts cross over from packs into Troop 69, Scoutmaster Fred Norris met with the parents of his newest Boy Scouts.
This time, however, to help introduce the parents to how the St. Amant, La., troop operates, Norris used an additional toolBoy Scout Fast Start, an orientation video for leaders and parents.
The 32-minute videotape outlined how a Boy Scout troop is run, the elements of a good meeting and how they relate to the monthly program feature, and the role of the troop committee. When the tape ended, troop committee chairman Rosann Williams stood up and said: "That introduces you to what Troop 69 is all about."
Assistant Scoutmaster Neal Laws said he liked the fact that the tape "didn't overload you with details." And he especially appreciated a segment showing a parent hesitant to join the troop committee because he hadn't been a Scout in his youth.
"A lot of new parents don't get involved in troop leadership because they don't know what types of things they would do," he said.
Fred Norris didn't have to wait long for evidence of the video's impact on parent involvement. As he chatted with parents after the meeting, a woman informed the Scoutmaster that she had just volunteered to be the troop committee's treasurer.
A seamless program
While useful as an information tool for families new to Scouting, Fast Start training's major impact is on new Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Venturing leaders. Delivered immediately after a leader registers and before he or she meets with any youth members, the videotapes and related printed materials provide an immediate comfort level that enables a new leader to say, "I can do this!" (For example, Fast Start provides Cub Scout leaders with information on planning and conducting their first meeting and demonstrates a model meeting they can use.)
Fast Start training in a volunteer's area is just the first step in a revised BSA program that is referred to as "the training continuum." It is designed as a seamless program, in which leaders easily graduate from one course to the next with little duplication in content.
After Fast Start for unit-level leaders in all programs comes New Leader Essentials, a 90-minute course that examines the values, aims, history, funding, and methods of Scouting. It emphasizes, for example, the age-appropriate content of Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Varsity, and Venturing programs, and how Scouting's values and methods work together.
Leader Specific Training follows, preparing volunteers for their individual responsibilities, such as den leader, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, coach, committee member, or crew Advisor.
The new Wood Badge
Once leaders qualify as officially trained for their positions, they are ready for the BSA's top leadership course, Wood Badge for the 21st Century.
Less focused on outdoor skills, the redesigned course strengthens volunteers' ability to work with and lead groups of youth and adults. It is designed to give leaders the tools to understand how teams work; know what leadership style is appropriate to use in various situations; manage conflict; plan; communicate; and understand how to set a vision and make it come to life.
It can be offered in two three-day weekends or in a weeklong course. It can also be taken by leaders in all BSA programs at the same time.
Pack 104 Cubmaster Steve Elwart of Vicksburg, Miss., can testify to the fact that the training in the new Wood Badge includes the latest in leadership information and techniques.
His refining company recently sent employees for training designed to help institute a new software program. When the instructor asked, "Who here has heard of the four stages of team development?" only Elwart raised his hand.
Later, the instructor asked if anyone could explain how a leader needs to use different styles, depending on the nature of the team being led. Elwart again was the only one to respond.
"At the end of the day, [the instructor] asked me where I had learned what I knew," Elwart said. "I told him, 'Boy Scouts.' I think he was surprised."
The training continuum's goal of "lifelong learning" also includes supplemental training, like monthly roundtables, a University of Scouting, Cub Scout pow wows, special program training, and publications.
Meeting volunteer needs
"James E. West, the BSA's first Chief Scout Executive, was once asked what were the three most important things for a Scout leader," said John Alline, director of training for the national Boy Scout Division. "His answer was short and to the point: 'Training, training, and training.'"
It's the same today, Alline added. "Parents enrolling a child in Scouting expect all the unit's leaders to be trained and able to use the program to the best advantage of youth. The new training courses are designed to meet the many needs of volunteers at the time they need them. The training is flexible enough for councils and district training committees to deliver in large or small groups, by unit or with one or two leaders."
Ralph V. Balfoort is an assistant district commissioner for Venturing in Fort Orange District of the Twin Rivers Council in Albany, N.Y. He thinks new volunteers will really benefit from the new training.
"New Leader Essentials is a good introduction to the entire spectrum of the BSA program, from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts to Venturing, and how they can, should, and do follow, one from the other," he said.
"The Scoutmaster Specific Training is a wonderful overview of the troop and how it's supposed to operate. It also doesn't get bogged down in the administrative details that are the purview of the troop committee.
"And Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills finally gives us, as instructors, the chance to really get the participants involved by lengthening the time allotted to each segment and including hands-on learning."
In California's Monterey Bay Area Council, Loma Prieta District training chairman Jim von Schmacht finds the new training "coalesces all the common training elements into the New Leader Essentials, which can be delivered separately from the rest of the program-specific training."
The new continuum offers a lot more flexibility, "which is important to meet the needs of our leaders who have an ever-shortening window of training time," he says.
Pack 1 Cubmaster Michelle Carr of New Bedford, Mass., said she really likes the Leader Specific Training "because it spends more time on each position" than the old training in the Narragansett Area Council.
"I have done the Tiger Den Leader [Specific Training] and listened in on den leader as well as Cubmaster portions. The information is good and thorough."
Mark Landry of Southeast Louisiana Council's Chitimacha District training team said: "In Scouting, we often say, 'Every boy deserves a trained leader.' The new training continuum is your gateway to teaching the youth of our nation and delivering the promise" of Scouting.
"However," he added, "these courses are only the beginning of a lifelong journey the Boy Scouts want all leaders to make."
Freelance writer Michael Dunne lives in Baton Rouge, La.
Copyright © 2002 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.