In order to keep a Scout Troop established along the lines of the Patrol Method and being Boy-led, it is important that new Scouts in the Troop are taught about the Patrol Method and know its importance and the responsibilities it requires of each Scout.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as having an “Introduction to the Patrol Method” Class every year. The truth is, maintaining a Boy-led, Patrol-Method Troop is a lot of work, and that’s why some Scoutmasters have given up trying. However, I’ve always been glad it wasn’t that easy. The Patrol System isn’t easy, but neither is Scouting, for that matter. And that’s what makes it worth doing.
A properly functioning boy-led Troop is self-sustaining. Through the constant care and attention of the Scoutmaster and the boy leaders, new Scouts who enter the Troop learn by both emulating the older Scouts and being directly taught about the Scout method by them. There are five areas of the Patrol Method that are especially important when it comes to teaching it new Scouts:
A Proper Foundation
Whether New Scouts cross over from Webelos or whether they are completely new to Scouting, the environment of the Scout Troop will be fundamentally different from anything they have yet experienced. For their first few weeks and months after joining the Troop, they will be carefully watching and observing what others do around them until they get used to what to expect and what is expected of them.
When seeking to establish a solid, boy-led Troop that is run by the Patrol System, it is very helpful to have the older Scouts already used to this system and fully understanding the basics of the Patrol System.
In a Troop that I was in, there was a very critical period where half the Troop were older Scouts who were not used to the Patrol System and the other half were new Scouts who had just crossed over from Webelos. As Senior Patrol Leader during this period, it was very difficult for me to establish the Troop along the lines of the Patrol System because most of the younger Scouts naturally followed the example of the older boys who, in turn, continued to conduct themselves outside of the Patrol System as part of old habit.
It is for this reason that the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader should not neglect the older boys in the Troop and only focus on new members. After all, it is the goal of a boy-led Troop that the older Scouts should pass on the good traditions and lessons they learned to the younger Scouts. To that end, the older Scouts must thoroughly understand the Patrol System and be aware of their responsibility to teach this to the younger Scouts. And that brings me to:
The Patrol Leader’s Council
I hope in a future post to go into more depth about the Patrol Leader’s Council, for it is probably the most important component of the Patrol System and the boy-led Troop. Back in the early days of Scouting in England, the Patrol Leaders’ Council was known as the “Court of Honor”. These days, that term is mostly used to refer to a Scouting awards ceremony. The reason the Patrol Leaders’ Council was called the Court of Honor was because it was its responsibility to defend and uphold the honor of the Troop.
The head of the Patrol Leaders’ Council is the Senior Patrol Leader, not the Scoutmaster. However, it is the Scoutmaster’s job to help teach the Senior Patrol Leader how to make the most of these very important meetings.
During this time, not only are the Troop plans and schedules decided upon by the Patrol Leaders, but also valuable instruction can be given on the basic elements of the Patrol System and how to put them into practice in the Troop. As the Senior Patrol Leader was elected by all of the members of the Troop, he holds a great deal of influence with them. That is why it is imperative that he has a thorough understanding of the Patrol System and is desirous of doing all he can to help the Troop carry it out.
If it is the S.P.L.’s responsibility to teach the Patrol Leaders about the Patrol System, it is an excellent way of helping him to become thoroughly familiar with it himself and for the Patrol Leaders to see that he is behind it 100%.
The Patrol Meeting
Responsibility and the Chain-of-command go hand-in-hand. Unless the chain-of-command is clearly defined and really used, most, if not all of, the benefits of personal responsibility are lost to the Troop. Just as it is the Senior Patrol Leader’s job to work directly with the Patrol Leaders, it is the Patrol Leader’s job to take full responsibility for their Patrol and each of its members.
As they learn from the S.P.L. and the Scoutmaster what it really means to take responsibility for their Patrol, it is their job to not only practice this more and more, but also to pass down the knowledge of the Patrol System that they learned to their Patrol. The best way to do this is to have regular Patrol Meetings that are separate from the Troop Meetings.
As John Thurman said, the Patrol must have a genuine life apart from the Troop. It is not the Troop that gives the Patrols definition, it is the Patrols that come together to form a Troop. It is at these separate Patrol meetings that the full potential of the Patrol System is realized. It is here that the Patrol Leaders are fully in charge and can teach their Patrol and lead their Patrol in many activities.
Then, when the Patrols come together for a Troop Meeting or Troop activities, the Patrol Leaders hold responsibility for the success or failure of their Patrol’s performance.
As all of this happens in the Troop, the new Scouts are watching and learning from the lessons, mistakes, and successes of their Patrol and Patrol Leader. All of this will come into play at the Patrol Leader Elections.
These Patrol Leader Elections should be held regularly and be treated very importantly. It is here that the individual Patrol members get to exercise their responsibility by choosing whoever they think is most capable to lead their Patrol and help it excel. By choosing whether to reelect the Patrol Leader or install another Scout in his place, they give the Patrol Leader incentive to do his very best.
It is not, however, only the S.P.L. and Patrol Leaders who hold real responsibility. When each Patrol is looked at in the light of being an independent and self-sustaining unit, there many responsibilities in the Patrol that need to be filled.
In a well-organized Patrol, each member has a duty and responsibility, whether it be Quartermaster, Scribe, Game Master, or etc. In this position they are the authority in this area and have responsibility over this area of the Patrol’s function. This includes new Scouts as well. As they continue to get more and more experience in Scouting, they will get jobs in their Patrol that require more responsibility and leadership.
The difficult part is matching up these individual jobs with the different individuals in the Patrol who have those strengths. This is the Patrol Leader’s responsibility, and it is one of the jobs that challenges his leadership and delegation skills the most.
So, in summary, there are five key areas of the Patrol System that are very important to watch when new Scouts join or are going to join the Troop. These are: laying the proper foundation; the Patrol-Leader’s Council; the Patrol Meeting; Patrol Leader Elections; and responsibility for each individual in the Troop.
When new Scouts join the Troop, it is very helpful if there is already a proper foundation of the Patrol Method among the older Scouts. One of the Aims of the Patrol Method is that it is actively passed down from the older Scouts to the younger.
The Patrol Leader’s Council is vital to maintaining the Patrol Method in a Troop. It is through this group that the Scoutmaster and S.P.L. can teach the importance of the Patrol Method to the P.L.s and can pass this down the chain of command.
The Patrol Meeting is equally important for the Patrol Method to work. It is through these that the Patrol Leader can, in turn, pass what he has learned down to the individual members of the Patrol, including new Scouts.
Finally, it is important that every Scout have a particular responsibility in their Patrol. No one wants to feel like they are just another part of the crowd, and in the Patrol System, they shouldn’t be. Each Scout should have real responsibility in his Patrol and play an active role in supporting and helping his Patrol succeed as a team.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post was helpful to you. My writing skills aren’t the best, and I’m pretty sure I probably missed something. If you have any questions, please leave them in a comment and I’ll get answer as soon as possible. If any Scoutmasters have something to add, please leave a comment as well.
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Thanks again! Scout on, my friends!