Originally published on Girl Scouts of Western Ohio’s blog on February 26, 2018
Girl Scout troops come in all shapes and sizes. And while the average troop for our council is around 12, we do have troops across Western Ohio that are thriving with 30+ girl members. That’s a lot of girls! Is it too much? That depends.
The general rule of thumb is that troops should have enough girls to provide a cooperative learning environment and still be small enough to allow for the development of individual girls. And with planning, a supportive team of adults, and adaptive management skills, you can do that with 30+ girls.
So if you’ve got a large troop, don’t despair. This can work! Here are some tips that leaders from large troops consider their essentials for troop management success.
Kids (and adults) thrive on structure and routine. The structure actually improves their ability to self-regulate. They like knowing that when they attend their Girl Scout meeting they’ll open with the Girl Scout Promise, snacks will be eaten, activities done, and they’ll close with the Friendship Squeeze. So start your troop off with a basic routine and then take that one step further with another troop tradition: troop government.
What’s troop government? It’s a simple and structured way of managing group decisions and discussions as girls begin to take the lead in helping plan their activities. It can have several different forms (the Daisy Circle, the Brownie Ring, Patrols, Executive Boards, and Town Meetings are the traditional ones), but each of them establishes an orderly way for adults to guide girls as they express opinions, share ideas, and learn to work together. Patrols are one of our favorites for large groups because they have girls participate in smaller group discussions and then choose a “patrol leader” to represent their group.
You can’t do it alone, so it’s time to recruit a team and delegate duties. The most successful large troops are supported by a team of dedicated volunteers who take on different roles and responsibilities. Although the assigned roles differ with each large troop, some of the common ones are:
Adults can hold multiple roles or switch off (be an activity leader at a meeting and then the supply shopper next month) so no one gets too overwhelmed. How do you recruit help? So glad you asked!
At the beginning of the troop year (or before the cookie sale or at the end of the year meeting, whenever works in your troop calendar), hold a caregiver meeting, lay out some ideas for roles and responsibilities in the troop, and ask for help. The key is being specific. Sometimes a general plea of “I need help” is hard for caregivers to hear because they’re hesitant to raise their hand without knowing what they’re agreeing to do. But if you say, “I need someone to manage the checkbook and receipts and compile the annual financial report,” that gives them some idea of what you need, and they’re more likely to volunteer.
Not asking for help is one of the regrets we hear frequently from new leaders. So don’t wait until you’re in the middle of the year and ready to give up because it’s all so overwhelming—make the ask now!
You have responsibilities outside of your troop (family, work, friends, other organizations you volunteer with, etc.) that are very important. So don’t be afraid to set some boundaries based on what you can (and can’t) plan, add, and/or do with the troop. Consider your responsibilities and schedule, figure out what’s doable within that framework, and share that with your team of volunteers, the caregivers, and the girls in the troop.
Setting limits can be as simple as establishing that your troop will meet monthly and will have 6 activities outside of regular meetings a year. Or telling your team of volunteers that April is a very busy month for you because of your work schedule, and you’ll need someone else to step up that month to plan meetings and get supplies.
Encourage your other volunteers to set some limits as well. For instance, the troop cookie manager might say, “I’m available to answer questions about the sale once I get off of work from 5 pm until 9 pm.” Or your shopper may ask that the supply list be sent to her from the activity leader at least 3 days ahead so she has time to fit it into her schedule that week.
You all know your schedules and responsibilities best, so don’t forget to take those into account when you’re planning your troop year with the girls!
Now that we’ve mentioned troop management essentials, like establishing a structure, sharing duties, and setting limits, it’s time to remember that even the best plans need room for adaptation. And sometimes they’ll need to be changed entirely! Your scheduled outdoor hike may get canceled due to a thunderstorm, leaving you with 30 girls in the lodge looking for a plan B activity. Your guest facilitator may have a family emergency the day of your meeting. Or the girls’ behavior and attention span on that day may just not mesh with the activity your team planned.
Thriving large troops (and small troops!) have volunteers who can take a situation and improvise. This may mean just being okay with switching around the schedule for the campout so the hike happens after the thunderstorm ends. Or having a few backup simple activities and games ready just in case the girls finish early or aren’t into the planned activity. It can even mean changing the activity entirely to fit the girls’ behavior or needs on that day. Sometimes the best troop memories and activities come out of a day when the schedule went out the window!
So what do you think of our essentials for managing a large troop? Put them into action, and your large troop (or small troop!) will be thriving!