Beyond Brownies: Supporting Girls through Times of Transition
by Eva McMonagle, Volunteer, Service Unit 520
One of our goals as volunteers working with Girl Scouts is to help shape our scouts into independent women who understand the nuts and bolts of how to be a good citizen. Women who can be responsible people. Women who know how to plan an event or a trip. Women who understand the connection between cause and effect.
Girl-led programming is how we can support these young adults as they develop into women who can do anything they put their minds to.
How do we do it? Where do we start? How do we maintain order and sanity while turning the girls loose to run a troop meeting? I am going to share what worked for me, not as the definitive treatise on how to be a Girl Scout leader. Think of it as a compilation of helpful hints.
Welcome To Your New Life
The transition from being a Brownie troop leader to a Junior troop leader was a difficult one. As a Brownie leader, I planned the meeting and allowed the girls to make limited decisions. I was admired and respected simply for being the leader.
Then, something changed. As the girls got older, I was appalled by the tone of voice and the challenging language they used. I wanted them to stretch their wings and make their own decisions, but I wasn’t sure how far to let them go. I could envision troop meetings descending into total chaos.
In order to survive as a Junior leader, I practiced a lesson I had given the parents at our first Brownie encampment parent meeting. I suggested to the parents they were not to pack for the girls. They could watch their daughter pack, but girls were to practice their independence by packing their own bag. Each parent was now a supervisor. It’s scary to move from being a full-time teacher to being a supervisor. We’ll discuss a plan for transferring control of the meeting from you to the girls. First, let’s focus on maintaining a low level of chaos during the transition.
Controlling the Chaos
Have you seen a room full of kids eagerly describing a trip to Wild Waves Water Park? The energy builds in the room as each new description incites another comment. Held at a low level of chaos, each person gets a chance to give their input. Each new comment inspires more participation. A great deal of learning can happen during these times. On the other hand, a large amount of chaos can be damaging. My favorite meetings involve a low level of chaos, allowing the energy of the group to rise.
Here’s my most successful plan for maintaining low-level chaos:
- Find your hot spots before they arise within the troop meetings. What drives you crazy? For me, hearing the girls say mean things to each other infuriates me. Make a list of all the things the girls could do that will make you lose your cool. Now that you have your list, decide how you’re going to deal with it.
- Spend time with the girls to define the Girl Scout Law and what it means to them. Take time to create a group agreement that girls and troop leaders can use as a tool for ensuring everyone is accepted as a member of the group and understands what is expected. The group agreement is a place to clearly outline expectations for all group members, girls and adults.
- Practice respect in action. My co-leader and I reserved the right to interrupt the meeting to point out acts of disrespect as an opportunity to see what being respectful can look like. These were valuable lessons and everybody would be treated equally. Each time an infraction occurred, the meeting was stopped and the person was asked to apologize. It was wonderful!
Remember, as a Girl Scout leader, all actions have consequences. When you present the girls with a list of infractions and the penalty for breaking the rules, you must follow through. A major consequence for failure to follow through is loss of respect.
Girl Scout Troop Government - The Patrol System
From Juniors on, our troop was divided into smaller units called patrols. A patrol is a decision-making body, a work group. It is one style of Girl Scout government and we discovered that five or more girls is a good patrol size. Any fewer and the patrol is not functional. A patrol leader and assistant patrol leader are chosen for each patrol.
In the patrol style of government, the patrol leaders moderate discussions with the patrol about what badges to work on, service projects to do and the business of a troop. Then a separate meeting is held when the patrol leaders report the decisions of the patrols to their troop leaders to request the materials needed for their projects, discuss what field trips they’ve planned and ask for help as needed. The troop leaders provide the necessary resources to the patrol leaders, who then take the information back to their patrols.
Every year, my co-leader and I presented the three models of troop government (patrol, executive board and town meeting) to our troop and they voted for their favorite. Every year we did a combination of patrol and town meetings with great success. At the beginning of each Girl Scout meeting, a town meeting was held to do the business of the whole troop. Cookie Program preparation, service projects and field trips would all be discussed and decided on together. Ideally, this part of the meeting was led by a girl moderator rather than an adult troop leader. The troop leaders would add the items of interest from their leader’s meetings, along with any other council information.
Then the girls would break into their patrols. The patrol decided what parts of badges to work on together at the meeting and which to do individually. They also decided the order they would do the work, so they knew what was happening at the next meeting. The whole troop came back together again near the end of each meeting and the patrol leaders would discuss what materials and help they needed to complete their project.
We also used patrols to form the kaper charts. Each patrol took turns doing the flag ceremony at the beginning of each meeting, taking attendance, fixing snacks and cleaning up. In making the kaper charts for troop camping trips, the troop would decide what jobs were needed and each job was filled by a patrol. It was fun to watch their budding negotiating skills develop as they made sure each patrol got equal time with both the fun jobs and the not so fun jobs.
After our Girl Scout Juniors bridged, I met a troop leader who used patrol-only government and she liked it. At the troop meetings she limited herself to reminders about safety. Her troop retention rate was very high and the girls had a great time together.