Mike Walton (blackeagle)

Wood Badge

By: Posted On: 2019-02-18

Participants and staff of Quivira Council's Wood Badge course C5-198-13 (photo from Quivira Council used by permission)


I spent a few hours over the weekend working on topics for these weekly entries.  Many of them come to my brain and fingers quickly, and I have little to no problem typing out the content which I hope you find enjoyable reading. I also hope the material is a little educational as far as Scouting is concerned, and inspirational enough for you to at least think about joining us in the fun, thrill, and satisfaction of working with youth and other adults in the "Game of Scouting."

I had a little bit more time to think about what to write today.  Our federal government went "broke" at the end of last year, and by the new year, our leaders were still not in agreement to unlock the buildings, turn the lights and computers back on, and welcome us employees and some contractors back to work for pay. The last time this happened, I was in uniform.  I did not doubt that our government would have my and every other service member's back -- but try explaining that to Pentagon Federal Credit Union, the holder of the lien on the minivan I bought for my family.  Or the managers at Kroger or Winn-Dixie when my check for groceries did not clear the first time around.  Or the guy supervising the pumps at the Gas-n-Go when you thought you had ten dollars on your card and he tells you "Buddy, I feel 'ya, but you owe me $2.08 more."

The first former wife was smart -- smarter than me at those times -- not only to be there but also to hand over the difference in cash during each case.  Then her words to me:  "A Scout is resourceful, isn't that one of the rules?"

Close enough, Millie.  Thrifty is more like it.

Now sitting at in the hotel room, decades later, watching as one group and then another group all gripe at each other over things important to the nation as a whole but could not get the other "side" to listen, let alone come closer to a compromise, my email box "dinged" and "dinged".  No matter what side of the "political fence line" those who wrote to me was on, it was as if everyone out here in "Realityland" all sat down and thought:

"Man, those guys and gals need to go to Wood Badge and perhaps to play the Game of Life while participating in the course!"

Wood Badge. Two separate words.

I participated in Wood Badge, as an Exploring volunteer during one of the first experimental courses within that program; and later as a Boy Scout Assistant Scoutmaster and Unit Commissioner.  I had the opportunity to serve as a staffer for three courses later in my life.  In each event, I learned far more than just how to work with others -- youth and adults -- and how the basic Scouting outdoor skills had more than "survival purposes" but "life and management purposes" as well.

Perhaps you've heard of Wood Badge, but nobody ever explained it to you.  Or they did, saying crap like "Oh, it's a secret. You have to pay to do the course, and then you can't tell anyone what you did..."  Or worse, they would hand you a piece of duplicated paper which explains what the BSA's website says about Wood Badge -- not very appealing:

"Wood Badge is a Scouting leadership program and the related award for adult leaders in the programs of Scout associations throughout the world. Wood Badge courses aim to make Scouters better leaders by teaching advanced leadership skills, and by creating a bond and commitment to the Scout movement. Courses generally have a combined classroom and practical outdoors-based phase followed by a Wood Badge ticket, also known as the project phase. By "working the ticket," participants put their newly gained experience into practice to attain ticket goals aiding the Scouting movement. The first Wood Badge training organized by Francis "Skipper" Gidney and lectured at by Robert Baden-Powell and others at Gilwell Park, happened in England in September 1919. Wood Badge training has since spread across the world with international variations."

Yeah, it told you in a thumbnail how the Wood Badge course is structured, but it doesn't tell you much else.  It does not tell you also that "the course is viewed with such high acclaim, that several Forbes and Inc. top corporations provide partial or full scholarship for their employees who participate in such courses."  When IBM or Apple or Coca-Cola USA or other corporates pay the fees for one of their employees to spend a week or three weekends away from work to learn, experience and put into practice mentorship, leadership and small group dynamics  -- it's GOT to be something good.

The Wood Badge course, as it is taught in the United States (and in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Rim), is typically a one week (eight days) long course.  Depending on the BSA local Council, it is taught at their summer camp or a training facility.  In some cases, the course is broken up into three or four weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) sessions, which can be taught in state or federal parks, recreation areas, or another outdoor facility.  The course is taught by trained, experienced volunteers and professionals -- most with the BSA, but some with other organizations and community/regional resources. 

While much of the course keys in on ways that the participants can work successfully with youth leaders and members, a large chunk of the course emphasizes working with other adults -- following the lead of the "patrol leader" and later "leading a group" as patrol leader.  It is intensive.  It is taught regardless of the weather (if the weather gets really bad, things are moved indoors, but the experienced staff continues onward with the training curriculum regardless).  There are no hazing or "stupid stuff" which occurs.  You are there to learn how to be good leaders, mentors, and listeners -- not to be berated, mocked at or beaten down.

The last two days of the course is designed to equip you to take the things you have learned and return to your home and practice and work through those skills with people you work with.  You develop, along with assistance from other patrol members and a patrol "guide," a personal roadmap.  A plan of action how you are going to use the many things taught during the week or three weekends and apply them to your office. Your community. Your family.  Yourself.  This is that "ticket" or "personal growth plan" you develop.  After approvals, you have between a year and a half and two years to "work your ticket" -- to execute YOUR plan.

What kinds of things would go in YOUR plan?  What's important to YOU as you took the tools, information and resources taught during the course.  I read of a woman who had two "ticket items" which appealed to me.  One of those to do things would increase her personal self-esteem.  She participated in Rotary and Toastmasters.  She exercised after work at one of those "drop-in" training gyms.  She learned sign language.  All so that when she was at work, she could talk with those who are likewise struggling with their lives.  She made the plan work for her.  The other ticket item was to improve her listening skills with her teenaged son.    

My ticket items included learning how to cook meals which were edible -- by me and by others whether I cooked indoors or outside.  It also included taking a money management workshop to increase my ability to save and invest.  I also wanted to do a good job as a Scoutmaster, so there were goals there to keep me going.  My ticket as an Exploring leader (Advisor) included learning how to deal with difficult people, and I took two mini-courses offered through the college that I was attending.  I also taught outdoor skills to a 4H group and a church group.  I took a vocal skills course for no credit to better work my speaking voice and to cope with my nerves when I speak before a larger audience.   

At the end of the 18 to 24 month period, you are presented your Wood Badge -- a leather thong with two small wooden beads attached to each end and tied.  You also receive a certificate and a distinctive neckerchief and "keeper" (woggle).   It is a world-wide badge of leadership -- the ONLY leadership training common to every Scouting association in the Free World.  It may also be financially beneficial to you as well because Wood Badge is one of those few "global courses" which will net you a small increase in salary.  Or a bonus because you participated and completed a "graduate school level course."  Or some other "bennie."   It becomes, believe it or not, highly personal and emotional time for those new holders -- and is a reason why I try to attend as many of those presentations as I can to stand and cheer, seeing their emotions and remembering my feelings.

The course exposes you to Scouting leadership and management. Why are things taught by youth when adults clearly "know what they're doing." I also found that things are shown and taught in a certain way because they aid in the education of the Scout or the adult Scouter.  How something which looks easy -- starting a fire, for instance -- is done a certain way to keep it going instead of letting it die - and why just taking out the gas can and WHOOSH the fire starts isn't a good way to get it done.  I also found out why bees and butterflies are just as important to our living on Earth as dairy cows and chickens.

Wood Badge does NOT turn one into "Rambo" nor one of those people on "Survivor" or "Fat Guys in the Woods."  It DOES turn one into a person who understands how important it is to work cooperatively, even if one disagrees with the idea or viewpoints of others.  I also learned how to listen to ideas and how to talk to others instead of talking AT others.  What gets people to do what you -- or someone else -- wants or needs to have done. Why is it that the best people to ask to help are those who seem to the busiest.

If during the course, we "convince you" to become a BSA volunteer or to take a chance at some other role in Scouting, that's cool too.  That's not an outcome, but inside every staff member has that as a "heart goal" -- to make our example, our training, our experiences be of positive, lasting value to you as you learn and "work your ticket" to personal success and achievement.

If every member of Congress attended a Wood Badge course, I for one would have no problem nor reservation checking off a block on my federal income tax form to help pay for it.  I think that they would benefit from a week-long session outside, learning how to deal with others not as "those others" but as "members of our team."   It is such a great team builder -- and personal goal motivator.  

( To learn more about Wood Badge and to register and sign up for a course near you, contact your local BSA Council or go to http://www.woodbadge.org )



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