Watching your girls discover their strengths through engaging activities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); the outdoors; and entrepreneurship might be one of the most satisfying aspects of your troop leader experience. But if you worry that you have zero experience in these any of these fields, you’re not alone. For many troop leaders, covering certain program areas feels intimidating when their own skills in a subject may be lacking.
But you don’t need to work in a STEM field to help your girls build a robot or be a professional artist to lead your girls in a craft. Every troop leader brings something unique to her troop, and you’ll find that no matter your individual interests, you’ll learn and grow alongside your girls—that’s the wonderful part of the Girl Scout experience!
Maranda Oliver, a troop leader in the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland council, understands what it’s like to guide girls through unfamiliar territory. She shared her confidence-building experiences with us, and we hope her story inspires you on your troop leader journey!
Prepare like a Girl Scout.
What makes you feel most confident? Is it diving into research? Is it striking a power pose in the mirror? Own any anxiety you might have about an activity, and do something that empowers you. “In my first year as a leader, I would say I probably had to give myself many pep talks, not just because of things out of my comfort zone, but because I was just learning who these girls were, and we were learning many things about each other,” says Maranda. “I didn’t want to give them a bad impression of what I, or they, could do.”
“I know that I practiced many things ahead of time, so I could be prepared,” she continues. “Sometimes I spent hours on finding every which way to make something work. But as we have grown with each other, I don’t practice beforehand as much as I used to. I don’t worry as much anymore.”
Remember that it’s OK for a troop leader to not have all the answers—you'll bond with your girls as you all learn by doing.
Find parallels between a chosen activity and your own experience.
Think you can’t talk about cybersecurity? Think again! If you know the difference between public and private information or how to spot an online scam, you have the basic knowledge you need to kick start your Daisies’ or Brownies’ cybersecurity badge work. If you've ever written a list of potential outcomes to help you make an important decision, then you understand the concepts of decision-tree algorithms, a cornerstone of programming. As you help your girls explore their interests, find the parallels between what you know and what you’ll learn in the activity; you’ll not only boost your confidence but also your girls’.
Show your girls that failure isn’t the end.
One of the most valuable life lessons from Girl Scouting? Failure is only a minor setback, and you can try again until you succeed. Be open with your girls, and let them know that not everything will go according to plan. By showing your troop that you’re not embarrassed or deterred by failure—or, at least, that you can laugh about it—you demonstrate perseverance, a key leadership attribute.
“I am completely open with my girls, but it wasn’t always that way. It was hard for me to admit that I am not good at everything!” shares Maranda. “When the girls were Daisies, I remember my very first failed craft with them. I felt so upset, like I had failed them. But at that age, the girls didn’t really mind, and I suppose they didn’t quite understand that their project wasn’t like ‘the picture’ that I had hoped it would be. They were happy. Then it happened again with something else, and the girls laughed with me. They didn’t care at all.”
“The point is that we tried it,” continues Maranda. “If it was a success, then great; they share it with their families and friends. If the activity was a failure, then we have a good story to go with it. I want them to understand that as an adult, I too make mistakes, and it is OK. We learn from it and try again or decide that this just isn’t something that will work for us.”
If you’re not the expert, find someone who is.
Setting the expectation that you should know everything is unrealistic, so consider bringing in an outside source to share their expertise. Look to the parents and caregivers in your troop and your community—are they or do they know someone who is a park ranger, biologist, or entrepreneur who could speak to your troop? Most people are happy to share their knowledge with an inquisitive audience, and you’ll open your girls’ eyes to career paths they may not have considered.
“We have had many guest speakers, because I can admit when I know something and when I have no clue,” acknowledges Maranda. “We have been to a yoga studio, invited a dance teacher and Department of Natural Resources game warden, and went to a greenhouse. If I feel the girls will get more out of hearing from a speaker or visiting their place of business, I will try my best to find someone. To find these experts, many times I rely on my girls’ parents; I ask if they know anyone. If they don’t, then I reach out to the school teachers or town/city librarians. They typically know of someone or where to look. If that doesn’t yield anything, other [subject matter experts] or social media and the internet are great resources. I think the lessons girls can learn from true experts are valuable.”
And if you do invite a guest to facilitate an activity or speak with your troop, don’t forget to have the girls thank them for their time. “My girls make a personalized thank-you card and send a box of Girl Scout Cookies,” says Maranda. “Eventually word gets around town, and pretty soon you don’t have to search as hard for your experts.”