When playing the role of merit badge counselor, we all want to present our material in a compelling and memorable way. Its not about ego, it’s about making the content relevant and engaging. Here are seven things that great merit badge counselors never do:
1. Apologize for boring merit badge content.
Beginning your session with an apology for overly technical or ‘classroom’ type content is never an effective way to engage your audience. In addition, it indicates that you haven’t taken the time to make your content relevant and interesting*. Great merit badge counselors begin with a statement about their excitement and passion for the topic, and how it will benefit boys.
2. Teach through ‘lectures’.
Talking at boys is a particularly poor way to communicate information. Although some information might be shared with a group though a (very) short lecture, exploring content through other means will almost always be more effective and more memorable. Great merit badge counselors use lectures very sparingly and instead incorporate interesting learning activities to teach their content.
3. Skip or add requirements.
Not only is this clearly against BSA policy, it also makes for an inconsistent and frustrating experience for boys. Great merit badge counselors deliver all the relevant content – nothing more, nothing less.
4. Keep boys sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Baden Powell is often quoted as saying, “A boy is not a sitting down animal,” and the experience of many adult Scouters agrees! This isn’t just an issue of boys getting bored, modern learning theory recognizes the value of using different teaching styles to keep the brain in an active learning mode. Great merit badge counselors constantly switch from one activity to the next in order to keep eyes, ears, and brains engaged.
5. Consider group teaching to be the same as group learning.
While it’s true that information can be delivered to a group, merit badges are awarded to individuals.As an example, taking part in a group discussion might be an effective way to gain understanding of a topic, it’s not the same as “explaining” a concept to a merit badge counselor. Great merit badge counselors make time for boys to individually fulfill merit badge requirements.
6. Ignore the word ‘demonstrate’.
In another blog post we talk about the value of ‘doing’ as a way of learning and a recent BSA blog post describes the importance of paying attention to verbs such as “discuss,” “show,” “tell,” “explain,” “demonstrate” or “identify” in describing a merit badge requirement. Great merit badge counselors stick to the policy, but they also know that know that when boys are demonstrating, showing, and explaining, they are also thinking and learning!
7. View merit badge counseling as an opportunity to show off their expertise.
When it becomes about the counselor not the boys, a merit badge has gotten off track. Merit badge counseling is about transferring skills and knowledge on to boys, not about bolstering the ego of an adult. As an example, the use of what I call ‘war stories’ can be used to illustrate a concept to a boy, but excessive use of personal stories for their own sake will bore boys and turn them off to the additional content being shared. Great merit badge counselors use only highly relevant personal stories, keeping the attention focused on the boys.
*Yes, we believe that with the appropriate planning every merit badge can be made interesting and engaging for boys. Don’t believe us? Try the Citizenship in the World merit badge Secret Agent Edition lesson plan!