Seven steps to running a well-behaved and co-operative troop

  1. Know your scouts

children and young people are not small adults. Childhood is about growing up. Scouts need to achieve through a series of steps that will build up their self confidence. Scouts should be involved and feel part of their Patrol and Troop, taking part in its activities and contributing through forums. Scouting does not require the same levels of discipline that schools needs to impose. Remember, that they come to Scouts enjoy themselves; this is part of their free time, so coach and encourage, rather than restrict and prevent. The scouting method is young people in partnership with adults. Make sure you find time through the many events and activities in the Scouting calendar to get to know all your Scouts individually. This will have a good, long-term effect on the behaviour within the Troop.

2. Offer praise and recognition

Young people are very competitive. The Patrol system with its peer leadership lends itself very easily to competition where the first or the best are rewarded. The first Patrol to fall in (standing ‘at ease’ in their Patrols, awaiting instructions) the smartest, the quietest, can all be praised and awarded points. The Scouts themselves will want to win, or move on quickly to the next element of the programme. Provided you have the cooperation of the Patrol Leaders, you will find that the Troop will become self-regulating. Excessive talking or those delaying the meeting will not be tolerated. The points system can run just for the evening, the month or the term. Systems need to be fair and open and not abused. Although tempting, it is generally better to award points for doing well, than deducting the for poor behaviour.

Use any point system with sensitivity. Older Scouts will not respond with quite the same enthusiasm as an 11 year old and a Patrol Leader may respond better for simply having received a word of praise when they have done something well.

If you cannot face running a points system every meeting, use only occasionally and run a competitive meeting just once in a while.

3. Establish a good routine

Routine is important in a Troop meeting, but that is not to say that the Programme cannot be flexible. Troop meetings should normally start and finish at the same time each week (parents after all need to work to a routine to get get their Scouts there in the first place). The routine needs to extend to the open ceremony, the flag break and reflection and perhaps a quick inspection. It is all part of what makes Scouting different from every other part of their life. Bringing the troop together, standing smartly ‘at ease’, ready to come to ‘the alert’, helps to build togetherness and a simple pride in both themselves and the Troop.

4. Set the boundaries

Young people need to know there are limits to their behaviour. They need to know what is acceptable and what is not. We have Scout Law and Promise and Leaders do need to remind their Scout when any of these are broken. Many Troops now produce a Code of Conduct (see page 7). This is a statement of what is acceptable behaviour for both the Scouts and their Leaders. It is very important that this is something that is not imposed on the Troop, but discussed and mutually agreed. Generally Scouts have little difficulty agreeing how they should behave. In the main they want to just get on with the programme or enjoy the game for as long as possible. They know that when they take a long time to ‘fall in’ because they are too busy chatting, they delay the process.

Getting agreement on uniform, if that is also part of the code, can require rather more delicate handling by the leaders. All the Troops will need a few simple rules but be realistic about how many you really need. It is important that everyone observes the rules once agreed. Don’t make exceptions. If you do, it ceases to be a rule fairly enforced.

5. Discipline

A Troop will require discipline if the agreed boundaries are to be kept in place. This will require firm and fair control. Sometimes just a authoritative tone in the voice is all that is required. Young people enjoying themselves can easily get carried away with the company of others and will have overstep the mark.

Some troops use a yellow or red card and most Scouts will immediately know what it means to be shown a card. Other Troops might deduct points (penalising the whole patrol), or remove the Scout altogether from the environment to ‘cool down’. Some Troops have a small book of unacceptable behaviour and a Scout who has crossed the boundary will have the ‘crime’ recorded in the book with due ceremony.

Make sure this does not attract the status of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO)! You could operate a system whereby, if their name appears three times in the book, they will be suspended or miss a particular activity. Good behaviour, or other positive contributions, can equally well removed a name from the book.

If the behaviour continues to break the boundaries, contact may need to be made with the Scout’s parents or carers. There may be others reasons behind the misbehaviour. when understood, this will either make easier to manage, or require a different approach altogether.

6. Make sure they know why

For Scouts, the reason why good behaviour is needed should be obvious. It will have been discussed when the Code of Conduct was agreed (or renewed). However, if a Scout does misbehave, explain to him or her again why the behaviour is unacceptable and that you expect better from them. Try to avoid this being too confrontational, but equally, challenging behaviour needs to be confronted. If boundaries are crossed and there is no response from the Leaders, then the boundary will be seen to have moved.

7. You are the Leader

Always remember that you are in charge and responsible. So, keep your cool and don’t allow yourself to get wound up. Avoid hysterical shouting, although raising your voice and ‘looking cross’, can very quickly have the desire effect. remember, sometimes talking quieter, rather than louder, can be very effective as it causes others to be quiet if they are to hear what are you saying. Make it a regular practice to hold your hand in the air, which requires everyone else in the room to do likewise. This way everyone will be standing quietly waiting to hear what you have to say.

This text is part of “Troop essentials: a Guide for running a successful scout troop” (page 32) from The Scout Association.