Thursday, October 4, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn?

Last night we had one of those meetings. If you've been a Girl Scout leader for more than a week, you know the type of meeting I'm talking about. The type where you doublecheck to see if it's a full moon because you're just not sure what got into them. Don't get me wrong - I know we have a good group of girls. They're funny, enthusiastic, generally kind and get along a majority of the time. But let's just say we don't have any shy and retiring types in our midst, and when you put all those big personalities together they can have a tendency to get out of hand.

Unfortunately, this meeting involved a field trip to the local fire station to work on their First Aid badge. I know they were wound up because they were excited about the visit, but I  was also disappointed because I know they can behave better. We always joke that they are perfect angels when we have a guest speaker or visitor, so what went wrong this time?

In looking back at the meeting, I realized part of it was our fault. Usually when we have a guest speaker or a field trip, we take the time immediately beforehand to review the rules and set clear expectations for behavior. I don't know if it was because we were in a rush, or were being lazy, or just assumed they already knew, but we didn't take the time to do that last night. Sure, in a perfect world, they would behave whether we told them or not. But as leaders, we have a responsibility to mold and shape their behavior - and this isn't just a one-time lesson.

Here are some other lessons I need to keep in mind:

  • Be thorough with our expectations. It isn't just about being quiet - it's also about discussing what to expect during the visit, what we're hoping to learn, how and when to ask questions (and brainstorming appropriate questions), and what the consequences will be for misbehavior.
  • They're still my troop, even when others are leading. While I did "shush" them a few times during the presentation, I admit that I should have stepped in and spoke up when I saw their behavior deteriorating as a troop, or quietly pulled girls aside as needed.
  • Encourage girls to write down their questions in advance or bring paper so they can write them down as they think of them. As Cadettes, our girls are really past the age when they should be dominating the floor when we have a guest speaker by telling long drawn-out (and sometimes unrelated) stories - and instead focus on listening and learning from the expert. 
  • When possible, sit near the front of the room or space yourself throughout the group. The girls are far less likely to get out of hand if I'm sitting a few feet away or if I can catch their eye. In this setting, I sat at the back - big mistake.
  • Continue to reinforce the behavior we want. There have been times that our girls have amazed us with their good behavior, and we always take the time to praise them and remind them of this. "Remember how you behaved when so-and-so came to visit - that's how we want you to behave tonight."
  • Realize that we're always going to have "off" nights, and at the end of the day, all you can do is shrug them off and hope for better next time.
How do you manage your group when you're out in public? Or are all your girls perfect angels? (If so, tell me your secrets!)

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