2. Embrace opportunity

Part 2 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Good leaders make an effort to constantly brush up on their abilities. We’re always amazed at the enthusiasm with which our volunteers take on new challenges, which is why we offer extensive and varied development opportunities to do so.”

One of the upsides to being a leader during my Senior Section years was that I could take on extra opportunities. Having the option to train as a Peer Educator not only allowed me to visit other units and share the knowledge I had learned but it also gave me valuable time to develop my leadership skills.

Training as a Peer Educator took me out of my comfort zone and into a weekend long training with a bunch of people of similar age that I’d never met before. It was confidence building right from the start. Over the weekend we looked at how to lead discussions with the girls, how to tackle safeguarding moments and how to spread the word about what we do.

It involved a lot of team work with a large group of people. It involved leading an activity to a group of fellow Senior Section members. It involved long periods of working with new people. It was a rather draining couple of days for me but I definitely benefitted from it.

I was then able to travel around the county meeting new leaders and their Brownies and Guides. I was welcomed into each new unit and given total control over two weeks of their programme. I created my own resources to help the sessions run smoothly.

Being a Peer Educator was an opportunity I really loved being a part of and I’m so glad I embraced it while I could.

Moving forwards, I plan to continue looking for new opportunities. One in particular I have coming up is a PR/Photography training session which I am excited for. The great thing about Girlguiding is there are plenty of opportunities to take part in. Some seem a little more confusing than others, I have often looked at outdoor activity training and have been so confused about how much work is involved. Maybe once I have the time I will enquire about how these ones work (if I have the funds for it).

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Step 1. Believe in yourself

Inspired by a recent Girlguiding blog post / magazine article I am starting a series of 12 blog posts about steps to becoming a great leader and how I have tried to achieve them in the past. You can read the Girlguiding article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

Step 1 – Believe in yourself

“Remember: you are awesome. By staying positive, trusting yourself, and not being afraid to ask for help, you can set a great example. And keep in mind that it’s OK to fail – it’s part of learning.”

So… when have I failed in Girlguiding? And how did I overcome it?

The first thing that springs to mind was my first Brownie Holiday. Our unit did not have a licenced leader able to take Brownies away overnight, so as soon as I completed my Leadership qualification I started on this.

My mistake? Assuming more Brownies would sign up to attend and therefore under charging the parents.

There was so much interest from the girls, but out of  group of 24 only 8 girls signed up. This could’ve been parents reluctant to send their kids with a training leader, I’m not sure why the number was so low, but I started to panic I couldn’t even use the weekend toward my qualification.

Speaking to District Commissioner we managed to find three Brownies from her unit who wanted to join us making the numbers up to 11. I had the numbers for the weekend but the amount I had charged was still too low. I had to do the awful task of writing to the parents and explaining the situation. Luckily all were okay to pay extra for the trip.

It was an awful experience and one I hope never to find myself in again. I now charge a fee under the impression of a much lower number. If we have extra money we use it towards bigger activities or return some after the event.

This was very much a ‘learn from your mistakes’ moment and I have grown from it.

Another mistake I had to learn from the hard way was accepting a Brownie transfer. We had one request from a parent who’s daughter couldn’t attend her old unit due to a sibling’s medical sessions taking place at the same time, following an accident. As a charity it seemed the right thing to do, especially considering a girl had just left us unexpectedly due to a family incident.

Unfortunately this led to nasty phone calls from another parent, asking why this girl had special treatment as her daughter was wishing to move to us to join a friend, she had been on our regular waiting list. In my opinion her daughter was a completely different situation and could’ve stayed in her old unit but having these conversations isn’t the way I wish to spend a Wednesday evening.

From this I learned to run any Brownie transfer through the District Commissioner, so it can be a joint decision rather than all on my shoulders. Perhaps my decision wasn’t the right one, but from now on I’ll be getting a second opinion!

Girlguiding can be tough sometimes, and causes stress you wouldn’t want to volunteer for, but you learn from mistakes and use the support group around you to work these things out. It is these moments you develop confidence from, and the fun moments definitely outweigh these little rare moments.

International Pen Pals!

For Thinking Day 2017 I organised a pen pal exchange from our Brownie unit with some American Girl Scout troops. Being in the UK it is very easy for us to find international pen pals as there are so many more groups in America having the same idea. I found some troops by placing a post in the appropriate WAGGGS forum and leaving my guiding email address. It didn’t take long to receive floods of requests, more than I expected, and set about selecting 2 units that would add up to the same number of girls (American troops tend to be a lot smaller than ours) and sending my apologies to the others.

We were now linked with a Brownie troop from Georgia and a Junior troop from Illinois and we all set about writing letters! Having run a pen pal exchange before I had experience with girls missing the sessions, girls leaving mid project and new girls starting so requested that instead of writing to a particular girl all the letters were addressed ‘Dear New Friend’. This also worked well in making sure girls who write very long letters are linked with a likewise girl!

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Of course we had a mixture of letters. Some of our older girls wrote full a4 pages with careful handwriting and drawings and lots of information about Brownies. Others it was a little more of  struggle to get a letter out of but it was a great excuse to chat with the girls about their favourite things at Brownies, and lots drew their favourite things as well as a bit of writing. One of the troops introduced us to SWAPS. Little crafts with a safety pin in them that are often exchanged between groups in America. I found a simple cute trefoil craft that the Brownies spent 15 minutes making for their new friends.

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I also wrote up some information on Girlguiding and what we do at Brownies in the UK, and we also sent over badges from our county.

Then in late January we received our parcels! It was very exciting to see what they sent over. The Brownie troop sent us letters, badges and swaps (some cute red, white and blue gems), they also sent us some American currency and a ‘Try Its’ book of American Girl Scout activities! The Junior troop sent us long letters, photos and more badges!

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It was such an exciting evening to give out the letters. The Brownies spent a lot of time reading their own, sharing them with their friends and comparing who’s pen pal was friends with who! We also prepared a print out with a drawing of a girl scout so they could colour in the uniform, and space to write down where their new pen pal was from and their troop name. The evening passed so quickly we forgot to even take photos! We were so happy to receive some photos from the Junior Troop with the letters we sent. them

Overall I felt it was a fantastic World Thinking Day activity, and one where the Brownies have a special memory to keep of a friend they now have all the way around the world. I’d highly recommend this experience!