When I became Scoutmaster of my local troop, it was very strong with a long tradition of success, community support, and scout accomplishment. However, I had the sense that our troop had drifted from Baden-Powell’s ideals in a few fundamental ways. One of those was the Patrol Leader Council meeting.
Upon joining the troop, and assuming the role of Advancement Chair, I attended my first PLC meeting. In attendance was the current Scoutmaster, 8 or 9 other adult leaders, all of the current scouts in all leadership positions, and 4 or 5 senior scouts who were not in official leadership positions. The total was about 23 people – about 1/3 of them adults. The meeting was held in the teacher’s lounge of our local elementary school.
I can’t say that it was unsuccessful in planning troop activities. The troop was very successful in almost every way. But I felt like adults were too involved and the atmosphere was too formal.
When I was a boy, we had a several club houses. They served as the CP for 101st airborne, the bridge of the Enterprise, a lunar landing module, and King Arthur’s court. One we built ourselves from logs we cut with a bow saw. It had bunk beds, a lookout tower, and a fire pit.
Matt’s dad had procured the back end of an old panel van and dragged it deep in the woods with a tractor to make a club house. I recall it had a window port that unlatched to open for a piece of pipe to stick out: a perfect tank turret.
Ricky and Gary’s was an old abandoned root cellar about a mile down an old logging road – I’ll never have to worry about Vietnamese prison camps since I’ve escaped them so many times.
And Ronnie’s was an old barn far away from the nearest house where we set up a motorcycle repair center for when our dirt bikes broke down.
We planned our day’s adventures in those club houses – including where we might camp that night, what we might hunt or fish, our strategies for avoiding punishment for what ever mischief we had (or were going to) cause, and the invasion of Omaha beach.
There were no meeting minutes, follow up items, or Gant charts. Most of our plans failed and had to be adapted in real time. With the exception of Omaha beach – that one worked perfectly every time.
AN THERE WERE NO ADULTS.
I had a discussion with a former Scoutmaster who made a suggestion: move the PLC Meetings to my basement. It is a particularly rustic looking basement with a door to the drive way so Scouts can enter without going through the main house. I put up some Scout pictures and an American flag on the wall. There is a foosball table for breaks and a white board – although I would have much preferred a dirt floor and stick for diagramming.
Those attending include the SPL, his ASPL(s), Patrol Leaders, and Troop Guides. The Scribe is also there as a nonvoting PLC member. No other scouts are typically invited.
I attend to welcome them and to maintain the structural integrity of my home. Our Committee Chair attends as a second adult leader. I open the meeting to make sure they know the dates they need to fill in on the calendar. This takes 1 minute after which the committee chair and I retire upstairs for coffee with my wife – who brings snacks to the scouts about half way through. I come back down at 10 minutes before finish time to make sure their plan is complete and that I know what tasks adult have to do.
Scouts took over my basement, renamed it “The Scout Cave”, added some of their own decorations, and never knock when they came for PLC meetings.
There were a few food fights. And some salty language that I had to address.
Yet things got done. The PLC seemed more organic. More boy-like. More natural. I’m sure some adults would be appalled by the lack of apparent structure by corporate standards. But the plan, however well- or ill-conceived, belonged to the scouts. And, most importantly, they continuously got better with practice. I offered advice to my SPLs on some organizational tenets that they might adopt. But never did I address the PLC meeting as a whole about them. They opted to begin with a roses/thorns evaluation of previous troop activities and a recount of “who needs what” in regards to younger scout advancement. And they opted to skip uniforms for PLC meetings. (Big surprise.)
Follow on Scoutmasters have continued the tradition – the most recent leveraging a fire ring outside of his barn. I envy him.