Why are we still training?

“Every boy deserves a trained leader.”

“Train ’em, trust ’em, let ’em lead!”

If there’s one thing that’s everywhere in Scouting, it’s training. We train our youth leaders to run their troop. We teach Scout skills – that’s a form of training.   Even in Cub Scouts, we teach the boys to say the promise and the Law of the Pack in the course of “instilling the values” As adults, we take online training for youth protection, Cub Scout leadership, safe swim, weather hazards, and others. We attend Scoutmaster leader-specific training, outdoor skills training, BALOO training, and the list goes on.

The etymology of the word “train”, from the Online Etymology Dictionary, is:

“instruct, discipline, teach,” 1540s, from train (n.), probably from earlier sense of “draw out and manipulate in order to bring to a desired form” (late 14c.), specifically of the growth of branches, vines, etc. from mid-15c. The meaning “to travel by railway” is recorded from 1856.

You can see the similarities between what we know as a “train” – a succession of railway cars, the branches of a grapevine as they climb the trellis, or even the long trailing part of a bride’s dress – and the concept of “training” as it pertains to teaching. When we train someone, we align their thoughts and methods with those of a set standard – in our case, the Scout Oath and Law and the various policies and procedures of the BSA.

Perhaps “training” is the right word to use for adult leaders, at least in the first stages of their learning experience. After all, we would like new leaders to learn the “right way” to do things – the program as designed – and communicate consistently across the board and across the country. Likewise, youth leaders need indoctrination into the patrol method and troop organization, their job duties, while all Scouts need to learn Scout skills. Baden-Powell said “a boy ought to learn the right way” and that’s how we teach.

However, after the nuts & bolts are covered, further learning becomes more a matter of development rather than training. We’d like to encourage creative ways of problem-solving. There isn’t just one right way to prepare a meal, improvise a shelter, or build a gateway. Every Scoutmaster conference and board of review is going to be different. Once we get past the basics, the “how” of solving problems starts to take over from the “what” and “why”.

Recently, Mike Myatt of N2Growth wrote in his blog that training is dead, or at least it should be. He points out several shortcomings of conventional training, including the presumption of a need for indoctrination on what are assumed to be “best practices”. It’s usually one-way communication with little in the way of feedback and represents past practices. Myatt suggests instead that we move toward development, where leaders are coached, mentored and led toward being unique – thinking “out of the box” as it’s so often called. He goes on to list a number of ways development improves upon the conventional training model. The article is well worth a read, especially if you are responsible for training.

Boy Scouts of America is actually moving more in this direction. The newest syllabuses being published encourage discussion leaders to open a dialog with students, rather than lecturing to them. Personal anecdotes supporting the material are encouraged. In fact, the training division is becoming referred to as “volunteer development”.

We’re all called upon to teach, at one time or another, to youth or adults. Think of your responsibility as one of developing the other person and tailor your message accordingly. In many cases, we can let the train leave the station and take the alternate road to developing leaders.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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