9. Jump right in

Part 9 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“To keep young members on their toes, try to give them at least one brand new experience to enjoy each term. It can be as small or as big as you like – whether it’s a fun sports event, a food–tasting session or an international trip – all activities are enriching in their own way.”

This is a thought provoking topic! Are we giving our girls new experiences?

It is a difficult one to judge, what we think may be a new experience for the girls could turn out to be a little run of the mill. When we invited in a yoga teacher for a session, one parent commented how much her daughters enjoy yoga. Plus kids have so many opportunities to try out archery, climbing and pedal karts that a day at an activity centre may nor be as exciting as I would’ve found it.

This won’t be for every girl, but here are some of the experiences we have offered which have been quite unique:

Watching the Paralympic athletics. I cannot say another group will ever have this opportunity with us! In 2012 we took a group of Brownies to watch the events in the stadium, while some may have seen other events that year I think this is the only activity we will never be able to repeat! (Although taking the Brownies to another sporting event could be a good idea.)

Spy night. There was a lot of buzz following this themed evening in our unit. The Brownies and leaders dressed up, everyone had code names (I was Alpha Snake) and the Brownies took on four tasks, including a laser room, to claim the four clues to the whereabouts of their Easter eggs. I think these are the rare activities the Brownies cannot experience elsewhere.

Kidzania. This summer we’re hoping to take the Brownies to this interactive indoor city for kids. I know for some they will have visited before but as Brownies we haven’t, and I know some parents want their girls to go but cannot personally take them. I hope this will be an exciting new activity.

Visiting the Police Station. I think this has been the best unit meeting trip we’ve had. The police officers were so accommodating. The Brownies were very excited to see the  vehicles, handcuffs, cells, and all aspects behind the scenes.

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8. Keep up to date

Part 8 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Having the latest information is key to leading well, and keeping your email address up to date on Go! will ensure you receive all Girlguiding communications. These, along with our website, will give you the need–to–know on everything from insurance to events.”

I am not one for social media, but for Brownies our leadership team set up a closed group for the parents to keep more informed. Due to this I technically have a Facebook profile, but I keep it clear of friends as I do not want those distractions. What I do use it for is keeping up to date with all things Girlguiding and some other interests too.

I can spend ages scrolling through my Facebook feed, finding out about events tacking place locally for Brownies, discussions from fellow leaders and taking inspiration from what other units have done. We recently got the paints out and each Brownie painted a mini masterpiece following an idea from Facebook – it was messy fun! It all stemmed from one Brownie saying the stain glass paint set we bought her for Christmas went in the bin because her Mum doesn’t let her get paints out. Well, what is Brownies here for!

It also gives us great ideas for trips. We are very close to being within a neighbouring county, and therefore while we don’t receive direct updates about what they are up to we can find out about trips and events they’re offering through Facebook. We’ve joined a few events at venues much closer than the ones offered in our County, and the Brownies gets some great new experiences.

Keeping the parents informed works so much better with Facebook too. On the morning of each meeting I add a status as to what the Brownies are doing that evening. Then in the days following we add a few photos to show what they did. We also use it to remind of consent forms, due payments and changes to meeting times and venues. Plus we can see who has seen the message!

7. Be inspired… and inspiring

Part 7 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“In guiding, we promise to ‘be true to myself’, which means taking steps to be happy in your own skin. Self–reflection isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding – and being ourselves can inspire others.”

Who the heck am I? And what inspires me?

I suppose I am inspired to make our Brownie unit the best it can possibly be. But I cannot help feeling I am holding some things back, as it isn’t who I am and therefore is difficult / I do not agree with sharing it with the Brownies.

So to start, the good things about who I am and how they impact the group:

I like to challenge myself, and therefore I don’t always choose the easiest option when it comes to planning activities. It is rare the unit uses Baker Ross pre-planned crafts. In the past we have done an owl stitched soft toy on Brownie Holiday – the sewing aspect was quite a challenge. We have also done sequin pinned Easter eggs, not quite so challenging. I think it has been since then, about three years ago, I’ve avoided these sorts of crafts.

Another challenge I give myself when it comes to planning in ensuring we either leave the unit place, or welcome a visitor, at least once per term. In the past year we have been on chip walk (of course), the park, had a visit from a local clay company, a yoga session and visit to Pets at Home. I’m also planning a bouncy castle for the end of term.

I do enjoy a craft, I keep scrapbooks, in the past I’ve made my own cards and bracelets. Oh, and I love to draw! I try to use these things sparingly in the unit though. I know the stigma of the ‘only does crafts every week’ Brownie units. When we do a craft I try to keep it something with some skill. On Brownie Holiday we made awesome dreamcatchers – I will write about those at some point – and for some that was their favourite activity over the on site stuff.

So on the self-reflective side – things I could do better at to help the unit…

Go outside more. I really wish I had the forethought to ensure more of our meetings could take place out on the green during the summer months. We head outside for gardening twice a year, plus sometimes games outside and chip walk. There has been the odd meeting where we decide to spend the entire meeting, circle included, outside. But this isn’t often enough. I hoped Brownie Holiday would tackle this, intending the be outside as much as possible, but some things were just so difficult.

Lead better planning pow-wows. Sometimes I look at the term ahead, a plan decided on by the Brownies, and I wish we could do so much more. But these are the ideas the Brownies have thought of and chosen. I do offer my ideas, but the number wanting to do science experiments and the more educational interest badges are few. There is so much Brownies could do that I never get a chance to lead!

Pamper / girly nights. This is difficult because I just don’t agree with it. I think at Brownies the girls should be playing games, learning about the world and team building. We always do fun activities too. But stopping everything for a pamper evening just seems a waste of time to me. I completely agree with teaching the Brownies how to care for their nails and hair, I recall these things being in my Brownie handbook, but facemasks, nail varnish etc, for a group of nine year olds just seems wrong to me. And I don’t want to encourage an interest in it. Especially when we can run Free Being Me sessions instead.

 

6. Support each other

Part 6 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Sometimes, guiding means leading from behind the scenes, providing support and reassurance. On those occasions, try to listen carefully and respectfully, give constructive feedback, facilitate rather than direct, and provide pep talks when needed. Enabling others – both fellow volunteers and young group members – to take on responsibility is an important part of being a great leader.”

In our unit we have two Adult Leaders and four Young Leaders. Technically one becomes an Adult Leader in Training this month, and another later this year. Three of these four have been with us now for four years, and one has been with us nearly two. Supporting these young people through their Young Leadership has been a difficult task for me but I try my best to offer them every opportunity to complete it.

Each term we have one session where the Brownies give us their list of activities they’d like to do this term. Following that the whole leadership team sits down and discusses how we turn that into a termly plan, and at this point I offer out evenings for the Young Leaders to take over. As Young Leaders they need to complete one activity on the promise, and another couple on the Brownie programme. I make sure they pick activities that are from a different aspect to what they have already done, but aside from that they choose whatever they wish to do.

As they do one activity a term it takes them about two years to complete everything in their qualification. I try to set aside time during term to sit with each Young Leader and check how things are going, and try to help them plan what they should do next towards their qualification.

This year our two eldest Young Leaders completed their awards and I am so happy for them. They worked so hard for it both in the unit and at home.

Again, this is an aspect of leading I find difficult, it doesn’t come naturally to me to mentor these girls through this. I’m unsure if I come across as pushy or demanding, or expecting too much from them. But they have also proved very capable of leading successful activities.

You may look at our numbers and think having four Young Leaders is a lot. In all honesty when the fourth came to us and asked if she could join I felt it difficult to say ‘no’ to a young person wishing to volunteer. But actually having four Young Leaders works in both our favour and the young leaders. It allows them time in the unit to sit out and write up some aspects of the award. They take it in turns to use a meeting to plan their own upcoming meeting. It is rare that all four are able to join us for trips and holiday, but we know it is likely we will have one or two supporting us.

I’ve since had two more Guides wishing to join as Brownie Helpers and it is such a shame we cannot take them. They are directed to the right people to make more enquiries but I think for many joining the group that meets before their own is much easier on them and their parents.

I think moving forward with this I will try to make the arrival time at Brownies, except when speaking with parents, as a time to check in with the Young Leaders.

5. Aim for the Sky

Part 5 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Young or old, there really is no age limit on learning – and we offer plenty of opportunities to help expand personal horizons. Want to improve on safeguarding or first aid? You could try one of our e–learning modules or find out about courses run locally.”

I could work a little harder on this of recent. I cannot actually recall the last training session I attended, probably the county training the year before last. There are so many opportunities in Guiding but sometimes fitting them into your diary can be difficult.

The County I run my Brownies in runs lots of training on first aid, safeguarding, being our best, games, outdoors, etc. I suppose what makes it a little more difficult for me is that I don’t live in that County. A Saturday morning three hour training takes five hours out of my day accounting for travel. I realise this is my own fault but it does put me off trying more things.

The upside is there is lots of e-learning on the Girlguiding website. I have done the Brownie training, the Senior Section training – to prepare me for helping our Young Leaders progress – and the branding training – to ensure our unit website was consistent.

Perhaps I shall make a commitment to complete every online training – to be as prepared as possible. I will update on my progress as I complete more training.

I am in fact signed up for one County training in a few weeks which looks at PR. I would like to be better at getting the word out about Girlguiding in local newspapers, I tried this once before and it wasn’t successful. This is completely new to me so I am very excited for it!

4. Work Together

Part 4 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Being a great leader isn’t about taking on everything yourself – which is a relief! Knowing when to delegate a job to is a valuable skill. For example, you could ask your team to help you identify others’ strengths, and decide who is best suited to a task. By tackling things together, our lives can feel easier and more fulfilled.”

Star Quest District Event

For the Big Brownie Birthday in 2014 I was so inspired by the ‘Star Quest’ resource I wanted to run one for the district! It was hard work but it was made easier by the district team. The District Commissioner organised a venue, the Guide leaders arranged for their Guides to lead a ‘Future’ themed activity, and all the leaders in the district lead the activities I had planned. We had star headband boppers, a newspaper tower competition and  funfair side show games. Another leader then led the campfire songs at the end of the afternoon. It was  fab session that Brownies from 4 different units all attended and enjoyed. Without a team around the session would not have been such a success.

Brownie Holiday

Getting through a Brownie Holiday weekend depends on the team working together and taking on different roles. As the licence holiday I do most of the planning and organising leading up to the event. My fellow leaders tackle the first aid and medication side of things, making sure we have all the health forms, administering medicine at required times. They also lead on the food, preparing each meal with the help of the Brownies and ensuring we take breaks for drinks and snacks. The young leader team are on hand to help with activities, helping dish out meals and also lead the ‘midnight feast’ with the girls on the last night. Having a team of people makes the weekend run very smoothly.

I think for the future I should try to offer my assistance at more district level events, perhaps offering to lead on organising another fun day.

 

3. Open your arms to everyone

Part 3 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“An effective leader brings people together, regardless of their background – so we need to provide young members and fellow volunteers with plenty of opportunities to learn about different cultures and beliefs. In meetings with other Leaders, for example, we can use inclusive language and adapt activities for those with extra needs.”

Adapting Guiding for those with extra needs

Over the years of being a Brownie leader we have had Brownies requiring different levels of additional help. We have had one Brownie who needed to have quick access to toilet facilities, one Brownie with Cerebral Palsy who used a walking frame and wheelchair to move around, one Brownie who was very nervous of everything. It takes some additional thought when planning meetings and activities but doesn’t mean the unit misses out on anything.

For example, I would never offer a trip knowing a particular Brownie could not attend due to medical reasons. Every trip is well thought out before even being offered to check for accessible travel (which is difficult in London but not impossible) with toilet stops also considered.

To help our nervous Brownie I started emailing the parent each week with a detailed explanation of what we would be doing. The parent had explained that the varied programme we offered made it difficult for her daughter to relax at meetings.

Using the ‘Including All’ resource was a great help in situations like these.

However, this topic overall is a tricky one to plan ahead for. How can you market your unit towards girls who wouldn’t normally take on these opportunities – how do you find them? In all the above cases we were unaware of any additional help required before they joined us, and one current one until two weeks in! I suppose the only way to continue this work is just to welcome anyone who enquires, and ensure everyone has equal opportunities.  I believe Girlguiding’s varied programme makes it is rather easy to welcome all.