In Scouting, communicating and listening are skills essential to the eleven-year-old (EYO) Scout program. Not only do adults need good communication and listening skills, but so do EYO Scouts need to continue their journey in communication. As the EYO Scout leader, look for opportunities to teach boys how to communicate as well as how to listen.
The EYO program has multiple needs to communicate information. The EYO Scout leader needs to communicate to Scouts, parents, Primary leaders, Webelos leaders, and troop leaders. Boys need to communicate with other boys, Scouters, members of the Primary, and parents. Great leaders are great communicators. EYO Scout leaders need to make a conscious effort to develop communication skills.
When we discuss communication in Scouting we are talking about giving and receiving information. Scout leaders readily recognize the giving information as we talk with boys, teach boy leadership skills, and pass information to parents. But there is also receiving information. The EYO Scout leader should establish a relationship with each of his EYO Scouts. Receiving information is done primarily by communicating, and especially by listening. A boy feels connected to someone who will listen to him. Make a special effort to listen to the young Scout when he communicates during interviews and meetings. How well you listen to Scouts sends a strong message that you care. As an EYO Scout leader, I always made a point on Sundays to personally greet each Scout and call him by name—communicating that I recognized him and that he is important to me. Adult association is one of the methods of Scouting and establishing that association is done through communication.
When we listen to parents we learn from them what they know, what they want, and what they do not know. Parental support is a key element to a successful program. The better you communicate with your parents, the more successful your program will be. Once the EYO Scout patrol completes its annual plan, communicating the plan to parents goes a long way toward keeping parents informed and avoiding scheduling conflicts. The more parents know, the easier it is for them to ensure their sons are available to participate in your program. I like to have a semiannual parents’ meeting to review the EYO Scout program, followed by a social hour where I can listen to parents’ concerns.
As an EYO Scout leader, I used my communication skills to teach my EYO patrol leader his role and responsibilities to lead each meeting and outing. I would setup outings in such a way to ensure that after each part of the outing the Scouts had to report back to the EYO patrol leader on whatever topic we were exploring. For example, when we went on an outing to learn tree and plant identification, I would have members of the patrol put together a display during the outing and do a presentation to the other assistant Scoutmaster and myself of what they discovered. Whenever possible, the patrol leader would receive the report while we observed especially if it were individual activities. Doing the presentation in the woods was a quiet setting where no one but the other boys were present. We would be seated and usually the boys had built a tripod and had a display board to present to us their discoveries.
Having the Scouts present somewhat formally their discoveries describing, for example, each leaf or piece of bark helped improve their communication skills. It taught them poise and gave them self-confidence. We used the displays made on our outings at courts of honor as we presented tales of our adventures to parents, siblings, and others who were in attendance. Often, because we had practiced presentations while on the outing, the repetition at the court of honor was delivered well. I can still see the smiles on their faces and the sense of pride at having done a job well. The EYO Scouts walked away with new confidence and excitement about Scouting. The reporting (i.e., the communicating) solidified in the mind of the EYO Scout his experience. In addition, asking boys to report their experiences often reappeared in boards of review where they were able to communicate their Scouting experience better because it was so set in his mind.
Effective communication is a key element of Scouting—for boys, Scout leaders, parents, and just about everyone who is connected to the program. Take a moment and reflect on how well you use your communication skills in giving and receiving information. Determine what you can do better and put your plan in motion. Remember, great leaders are great communicators.
-Stan Stolpe has served in multiple Scouting positions at the unit, district, council, regional, and national levels in the U.S. and overseas. His current positions include district roundtable commissioner, district Cub Scout training chairman, and assistant Scoutmaster for a new Scout troop. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, serving in the Mount Vernon Virginia Stake. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.