keeping track of my adventures in guiding!

As ever, the challenge is retaining

Noodling about the ‘back end’ of the blog reminded me of a post from a while ago,

So one year on, how are we going, and has anything changed?

The differentiation between Juniors and Seniors does certainly seem to help – you can definitely tell when a kid is getting too old for Juniors, they seem to be decidedly ratty for a term or two before going up to Seniors, when all of a sudden they calm down again and are just thrilled to be there. Its to the point that I almost wonder if our hardline about not moving up to Seniors until you are 10 is appropriate (Australian Guiding is very flexible on ages, and each unit makes its own decisions about such things), but on the other hand, at least having a clear line means that we are on ‘solid ground’ with the kids in setting the rules. They do tend to respond better to an arbitrary but consistent rule, than a flexible one.

Our utilisation of Patrol leaders and seconders is still not as strong as it should be, and its probably not helping retention of the girls who might be in line for such roles, particularly at the Seniors age group where the stability of the group (and the fact that the girls elect, rather than the leaders appoint) has meant that the number of kids able to access formal leadership roles is limited. Perhaps this will open up a little next year though, as a we will create at least one but possibly two additional seniors patrols to cope with anticipated numbers, and we should also have a couple of the oldest girls looking to move up to Rangers towards the end of the year, which should create some change in the kids holding positions.

We are still struggling to do ‘girl-led guiding’ in a way which is useful, although we are definitely being more “there’s the instructions, now sort yourselves out”, particularly with the Senior Guides. I’ve found myself being less directive in recent months with the older girls, and more willing to let them just go for it, which they seem to appreciate, even as initially they protest that “but you didn’t SAY!” No, indeed, I didn’t, but given you’ve been a Guide for three years, I expect you to figure out you’ll need lots of small wood to keep that fire going…! I have noticed that once they twig onto the fact that the adults are stepping back, that they do manage to fill the gaps themselves, so that will certainly be an area to continue with, especially as a few of our Seniors start getting ready to move up further. Ideally, if numbers can keep relatively steady, but the end of next year we would have a functioning system of girls three years of Juniors, followed by three years of Seniors, before moving up to Rangers at 13ish. But we shall see – in our eagerness to maintain a Rangers group, we shall have to be wary of poaching the oldest Seniors too early, and undermining the concept.

Looking back over our member lists for the year, I’m surprised to see how few we’ve lost to other activities – of course there are some, but nowhere near the numbers recent years have taught me to expect. Not sure if we’re doing something in particular that’s improved retention, or if its just luck. Probably just luck!! Of course, having several girls having been with us for years creates its own challenge, of being sure to not repeat things too often (apart from things that have become Unit Traditions which give a rhythm to the year), and it also has the added complication of nostalgia “ohhh but when we did X badge it was waaaaaaaaaaay more fun”.

Anyway, shortly it will be the long summer break, and we shall see if this year’s excellent retention holds up. My gut feeling is that we’ll lose 2-3 kids over the summer, but at this stage, I’m not taking bets on which ones. Sometimes you just know, sometimes its not clear. This year: Clear As Mud!






Growing the Guiding Glow

Last night we had a bring-a-friend/open night.

The open night was meant to be advertised in our local monthly paper, but I’m not entirely convinced it happened – I know at my house for whatever reason we had the “July” edition delivered, rather than the “August” edition, which was very odd! I suppose it will be interesting to see if we get any enquiries in September when/if the August edition is delivered!

Still, it didn’t matter, as we had lots of friends come to visit for the night! Its always gratifying to see a crowd on these evenings, as I remember the awkwardness of bring-a-friend nights at my Guides group when I was a kid, when there were hardly any new kids along, but we all went to heaps of effort “just in case”… a bit weird! Nice too that a decent proportion of the friends were from our Seniors girls, not just the littlies.

In terms of program, we pinched a lot of ideas from Quolls’ Guiding’s Glow Stick Olympics:

If you decide to go down this path, BUY A LOT OF GLOW STICKS!! We used 100 during the course of the evening!

The activities we did were a tiggy game, with glow sticks tucked into waist bands, limbo, tug-of-war, pass-the-glow stick (not terribly successful actually), discus and javelin.

The discus and javelin activities worked really well – we gave each ‘patrol’ (glow stick colour groups!) 10 glow sticks, some paper and some sticky tape, and let them figure out the best approach.

We also did a little bit of ten pin bowling (ish) as a fill in at the end.

Overall, I think it was a reasonably successful evening – apparently about 4 of the friends asked co-leader for extra information at the end – but honestly, the night didn’t quite have the flow that marks a great evening. We seemed to spend a lot of time trying to quiet and focus fidgetty kids, both co-leader and I were tired and not as ‘with it’ as we’d like to be…

And also, as I think I’ve discussed previously, co-leader and I seem to be better at making boring things fun, than in just making fun things fun! Pure games nights don’t really seem to be our forte!

Well, we’ll see if next week brings some newbies, as that is the true marker of success!

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planning ahead

This week will be about planning for term two, and planning to grow.
On Tuesday, discussions at our District meeting will include planning for representation at local community festivals, while on Wednesday, after our Guide meeting, our unit leaders will meet to plan the program for term two.
We’re planning even earlier than usual, as we want to be able to hand out new programs to girls attending our bring a friend/open night next week, to give them a reason to return.
Term two is a long term – eleven weeks. I wonder if we should consider including a mid-term break, as used to happen with the previous leaders? Or perhaps schedule a break for each leader?
Our theme for second term is still a mystery to me – we have asked the girls to vote for which of the eyes, ears, hands or feet badges they would like to work towards – co-leader is compiling the results of the vote, so I guess I’ll find out once we begin planning! For my usual control-freaky self, this is a challenge, not already knowing!! We also asked the girls via survey what they would like to include more of in the program – i.e., more cooking, more craft etc. Again, the results of the survey remain a mystery to me! Agggh!!
In terms of planning to grow – we really need to build the units up. After a few girls leaving at the end of last year, and our rangers group getting established and thus resulting in four girls going up, we seem a bit thin on the ground, especially in the 10-13 age group. Hopefully, the open night and the community festivals early next term will build us up again. I’m sure an extra 3-4 girls would make all the difference, so we had patrols of 6 instead of patrols of 4. Four in a patrol just feels a bit too fragile, and the moment you have a kid or two away, ineffectual.
Well, that’s consideration for another day. Firstly we’ll need to get through mini camp with the Juniors! I suspect our scatty seven year olds may find putting up a tent more challenging than our sensible ten and eleven year olds!

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Should Girl Guides have a rotational system?

A comment on the very excellent forum this week has got me pondering. Should we, as Guide leaders, aim to move around units more often?

I’ve been wondering whether the stereotype of a leader who has “her” unit for 15, 20, 30 years is possibly a barrier to adult recruitment. When I first joined up as a leader (well, Unit Helper to begin), I was very, very, very concerned about the potential for over-involvement. I’d seen my Guide leader as a girl close our unit and merge with the one down the road as it all got too hard, and she had no back up or support. Naturally, as a teenager, I kind of thought her actions were selfish (she was abandoning us! how could she?!), but now I admire her – actually being able to draw a line and say, enough, I’m done, is something many Guide leaders struggle with. We’re often the sorts of people who will keep going if there isn’t an identified successor… and sometimes even when there is, out of a sense of duty and obligation.

So how does this link with rotations?

Well, I’ve been wondering if people looking from the outside in see people with 30 years committment to a unit and that frightens them. Firstly, they assume they’ll never be able to match that level of committment, and so why bother, and secondly, they wonder how they could ever be anything other than a “helper” in a unit where the other leader is so very established.

If, however, we began to think of, say, five years or seven years in a unit as a reasonable maximum tenure before moving on, might not this both encourage sharing of skills and knowledge across units, as well as making entry less intimidating for new people? They would see regular changes of “staffing” at various units, and recognise that it was appropriate and acceptable to move around if they wish to, try new mixes of leaders, move to different age groups.

I spent about 3 years with my group in NSW, and I loved it. Leaving was traumatic! And I would say it took about a year with my current group before I felt comfortable. So you don’t want to move tooooooo often. And change is hard! But I think I’m already looking ahead to my next move. I can see a time in the next few years when the Mister and I will leave our current house (it is very petite!) and move further into the suburbs. At that time, I think it would be right to move to a new unit.

Perhaps though, even before that, it would be appropriate to swap to another unit locally. Get to know a new bunch of kids, new group of parents, adapt to their local traditions, as well as bring in my own views. Maybe even just the odd term of swapping groups, or being an assistant at another group for a term, and taking a break from the main one?

Perhaps 5 years is too few to insist on a move. Afterall, I’ve been with the current group for four, and its not time to go yet…. or maybe I’m kidding myself and its time for a change.

So, the long and the short? Perhaps to improve recruitment of adults we need to look at ways to encourage movement between units of leaders. And perhaps I need to start figuring out my longer term leadership succession planning, so that when I do move on in a couple of years, I’ll actually be able to go without guilt.



I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a year where we really focus on promotions. I’m really keen to increase our numbers to a steady two full patrols in senior/upper seniors (10-14s), and hoping to get at least the same, if not a little higher in the juniors. Recruitment of younger ones will be particularly important, as we have quite a few girls this year shifting from juniors into seniors, so long as our retention holds up.

Plans so far include:
* Doing a couple of sausage sizzle fund raisers – one in conjunction with our sister unit at a local bunnings, and at least one other (possibly two) outside our local supermarket.
* Adding our unit to the local council’s monthly newsletter, which includes a “what’s on” section. I’ve always been hesitant to do this as the paperwork indicates you should have an ‘event’ to promote, but many other groups seem to use it to promote their standard meetings, so why not join them?
* Participating in the local festival, although only through the open night this year, not the parade – it was simply too difficult last year.
* Having a bring a friend night each term, possibly two nights in the longer term 2 and term 3
* Putting together a ‘yearbook’ to send to all the families showing them what we’ve done during 2012 (full of photos, naturally), and including a bit of a speil about what Guides aims to do, and the four elements and seven fundamentals of the program. This is not quite so direct a promotion, but I figure it has the potential to assist with retention (reminding parents of the breadth we do, and how much fun their kids have had), and possibly help with recruitment as they could potentially show it to their friends with kids similar ages.
* Providing a copy of the year’s GGV activities program to each family, so there is plenty to look forward to. I’m also considering putting together a ‘year plan’ for our unit, including at least the months, if not the final dates, for camps and sleepovers, and possibly adventure days (hoping for two, maybe three during the year).

The trouble with all of this, of course, is that its terribly hard to evaluate whether or not you’ve been successful! Ah well, hopefully

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Earth calling!

Forward planning for the next term has got earlier and earlier at our unit – the most extreme example is that we’ve already planned which badges we’ll be working on next year! (Eyes, Ears, Hands, Feet) (yes, we quite like themes!) (our theme this year has been ‘elements’ – so water term one, fire term two, earth term three, and air term four).

We realised mid-last year that leaving our planning until the holidays meant that we had kids unsure of the date we were starting back, and meant that we always had to have a very low-key night on the first week, as we couldn’t require the kids to bring anything specific, or wear anything particular etc. Therefore, in an effort to get the kids ‘stuck into’ the term straight away, we’ve started planning earlier, and handing out the program two weeks before the end of term – so we get the kids primed for the next term before the current one is even finished.

So, my three of my co-leaders and I met yesterday arvo (other co-leader was unavailable at the last moment) to sort out term three, with a very civilised Sunday afternoon planning session which included cake and macarons!

Unfortunately, unlike our Water, Fire, and Air themes, there isn’t a specifically ‘Earth’ badge – so we’ve decided that the girls will work towards two badges – the ‘world’ create a challenge, and the ‘nature’ create a challenge! It should be a fabulous term – we’ll be making volcanoes and terrariums, doing some pottery, having a night all about flags (flag protocol, a couple of games, designing personal flags…), a ‘race around the continents’… and a trip to the Zoo!

Not sure how other units manage the very wishy washy requirements of the ‘create a challenge’ badges, but what we’ve gone with is that we set out specific nights in the program which will count towards each badge (with one extra specific night required for the older girls). If the girls attend those evenings, they get the badge, if not, they have to complete additional activities from home. While girls can get the ‘world’ badge from straight attendance, to get the ‘nature’ badge is going to require that they either come along to the zoo day or help out at National Tree Day.

We’ve also decided for the first time since I joined the unit (although I understand it used to happen) to have a night during the term which is just for the Juniors, and a second night (on the Thursday) which is just for the Seniors and Upper Seniors. Both of these nights will be bring-a-friend activities, and run in conjunction with our sister unit. The first night will be a usual at-the-hall night, with lots of games, while the second night will be held at a local shopping centre, where there’s a bowling alley – so kids will be able to have a game of bowling and then we’ll go to the little cafe in the centre for pizza and gossip.

This plan has come about as I noticed at our last bring-a-friend activity that the friends of the older girls looked mildly freaked out by the presence of a bunch of tiny little friends (aged five, six, seven), several of which were overwhelmed (with a couple of tears) – I think it emphasised our wide age range, and probably made Guides look less fun for the older girls than it really is – and it also suggested that our unit was run more ‘together’ than it really is. With our Seniors and Upper Seniors in their own patrols, we’re moving more and more towards a split program, but our bring-a-friend evenings to date really haven’t reflected that.

Anyway, it should be fun to have a night just for the littlies, and then a night just for the middlies & biggies! And fingers crossed, we’ll get a couple of extra kids out of it!

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The great land grab

Tonight I was a bit sneaky. We’re not meeting tomorrow (public holiday), so it occurred to me that I should pop up a sign outside the hall, just in case anyone forgot and turned up.

Fair enough, I think.

However, it had occurred to me late yesterday that we struggle to keep the parents in the loop about major things coming up… no matter how many notes we put out, I swear we’ve NEVER had a successful event where all the forms/money etc came in on time. Usually the story is “oh I didn’t realise…”.

Well, no more! At least, not for those who pick up their kids from the hall!! I have launched a land grab for pin-board space out the front of the hall, and put up a copy of the program, and brightly coloured signs full of exclamation marks about our upcoming sleepover and camp – right where the parents lurk while waiting for us to finish the meetings!

With any luck, this strategy will INCREASE time-appropriate enquiries, and DECREASE the ‘oh I didn’t realises’! I shall have to evaluate success at the end of term.

Problem is, I’m technically not entitled to the pin-board space, and only have permission for a single poster… Hence the land grab. Oh well, here’s hoping our good relationship with the hall owners continues and they view it benignly!! If I don’t get any push back, I’m going to claim it properly and put up photos and biscuit posters for some more colour and movement!

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