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.

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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.

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).

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!

Penpals2

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.

PenPals1

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!

Screenshot_20170415-094328

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!