A recent discussion with members of my troop committee got me thinking as to where advancement stands in the “big picture” of Boy Scouting.
The question raised was how to detect and encourage those Scouts whose time in rank was getting a little long, particularly Second Class scouts. It’s simple enough to find out, especially if you are using troop management software, by running a “time in rank” report. You can then see who hasn’t advanced in, say, the last year, and make plans for how to approach and counsel them. Patrol leaders can also review their patrol members’ books to find out which advancement items they need to complete, plan to teach some of the skills during patrol or troop meetings or campouts, and help their Scouts find other boys of sufficient rank to demonstrate those skills and obtain approval.
One of the key steps in advancement involves contact with troop adults through the Scoutmaster conference and board of review. It lets us dig a bit deeper than just completion of rank requirements and find out from the Scout what he thinks of the troop and of Scouting, see how he’s doing in his life outside of Scouting and see if he has any concerns that we could help him address.
But what if a Scout isn’t advancing, or doesn’t advance as quickly as other Scouts? In cases like this, it’s entirely appropriate and encouraged for the Scoutmaster to ask the Scout for a formal conference to address the issue. Scoutmaster conferences should be held with each Scout roughly once a year, supplemented by much more frequent informal “how are you doing?” chats, regardless of the pace of advancement. Through these discussions, the Scoutmaster can determine if the Scout is indeed interested in advancement but has reached stumbling blocks and can offer advice to both the Scout and his patrol leader as to how he can move forward.
After all, advancement isn’t for everyone, and is not a requirement to remain involved in Scouting. I’ve known Scouts who love the outdoors, camping and adventure, but never advanced beyond Second Class or First Class. Remember that advancement is but one of several methods used to deliver the values of Scouting. The more important goal is to ensure that the Scout is experiencing Scouting’s mission of character development, citizenship training and mental and physical fitness. If he doesn’t advance in rank but is still receiving and benefiting from the program (leadership, confidence, working with others, having fun, respect for the outdoors), then our mission is having an impact. We just don’t want him to be left behind advancement-wise if that is important to the Scout.