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Merit Badge Counselor - Effective Counseling session

I just finished registering as a Merit Badge Counselor and online training is complete. One thing I found lacking in the training and online resources is best practices for running an effective merit badge counseling session.

It has been 30 years since I completed a merit badge so my experience is fuzzy.

Does anyone know where I can find this type of information? Any pointers from fellow Merit Badge Counselors?

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It really depends what you are counseling and how many Scouts at once

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Bryan on Scouting: Step by Step: How to be a Merit Badge Counselor

A Guide for Merit Badge Counseling

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In addition to the resources to which @JenniferOlinger linked, I would say that one thing that makes my MBC sessions with scouts more effective is making sure that both the scout and I have clear understanding of what we’re trying to do at that particular session. If there is a written element involved (e.g. menus, shopping lists, equipment for Cooking MB), I ask that the scout send it to me via email if possible in advance, so that I can review it and be prepared to discuss it more efficiently with them.

I also make sure that I’ve read the merit badge pamphlet cover-to-cover, no matter how high my skill level might be (e.g. licensed engineer counseling Engineering MB) relative to the expectations for the scouts. I find that it helps ensure that my expectations for the scouts’ skill level are better aligned with the overall expectations.

I also like to talk to other counselors of the same badge in my area to make sure that I understand what interpretations they might have already obtained from council/nationals about particular requirements. That helps make sure that my expectations are reasonably well aligned with other counselors, as well as occasionally letting me know that I’ve missed an update to a requirement.

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That’s really good advice.

You know, there are a lot of complaints about MB Universities and the like… but I do wish we had more Universities or other gatherings of MB counselors for just this purpose. Maybe call them Merit Badge Symposiums? :slight_smile:

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The complaints I’m used to seeing are aimed more at “churning out” youth MBs from weekend or day events without really ensuring they’ve satisfied the requirements, rather than issues with coordinating among MBCs. “Effective Merit Badge Counseling” might make a good session at a local University of Scouting.

Maybe district advancement committees could coordinate among the various MBCs in their AO to facilitate stuff like this? Of course, there will be crusty MBCs who think we already know everything and don’t want to play with everybody.

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Yes, that’s what I was (tongue-in-cheek) referring to.

But sessions where MBCs actually discuss (and even practice) the “craft” of counseling I think would be quite valuable. Even more so if counselors of the same badges could be gathered (which would probably require a multi-council effort for less popular ones). I agree, it would also be great if UoS sessions could focus on improving the skills of existing counselors, rather than just introducing new ones, but getting any leaders (let alone MBCs) to take training is a constant challenge.

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  1. You are a merit badge counselor. Not a teacher. Not a lecturer.

  2. Read the Guide to Advancement 7.0.3.0 The Process of Counseling. And even though this section is listed in 7.0.3.2 Group Instruction, it applies to smaller sessions just as well.

There must be attention to each individual’s projects and fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that every Scout—actually and personally—completed them. If, for example, a requirement uses words like “show,” “demonstrate,” or “discuss,” then every Scout must do that. It is unacceptable to award badges on the basis of sitting in classrooms watching demonstrations, or remaining silent during discussions.

While I tend to agree with this characterization in general, there’s a lot that we can do as MBCs to enhance the scouts’ experience with the subject, and improve the quality of what and how they learn. To me, that includes some level of instruction, particularly when it seems like the scout isn’t quite getting what the requirement is asking for, or doesn’t understand how to do it. Since we can’t require them to read the pamphlet or their handbook, the only thing left is teaching, either by the counselor or someone in their unit, or telling them to go figure it out on their own.

I’m 100% with you on the importance of making sure that the youth are actually completing the requirements, as opposed to just being present when the requirements were completed (as I’ve seen occur in MB classes even as far back as when I was a scout).

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@CharleyHamilton is right – What’s the point of having MBCs that are subject matter experts if it’s not to share their knowledge and experience with Scouts?

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Yeah I wondered that too. I am nervous how much teaching I am responsible for. If the youth comes to me and shows me what they have done, how will they learn the subject if they aren’t instructed on it.

Regurgitating the answers from the MB book, they didn’t really learn a thing either.

My son just completed his first merit badge Sunday. Representatives from NOAA and other meteorologists from across the country put on learning sessions. My son had to take that knowledge and work with a MB counselor to sign off on the actual requirements. Without the class, he really wouldn’t have learned much.

Btw he was pumped that the specialists in their field explained everything. Really lit the Scouting bug for him, just hope the bar wasn’t set too high. He should be cracking out Scout rank this weekend too.

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I wonder how many unit leaders actually have an initial discussion with the Scout before the process begins as outened in the GTA:

There are some obstacles to having a consistent MB program in Scouting. While there are well written guidelines, an equal application doesn’t occur. Summer Camp allows a lot of MB’s to be earned, but they tend to rush through them in what I call a drive-in style.

If there was anything thing I would change to the MB program it would be allowing a “MB Counselor Requirement” where the Counselor gets to ask anything from the Pamphlet above the BSA requirements. It drives me crazy when a Scout only uses those wretched worksheets only do the requirements and nothing more. A MB Counselor can’t hold a Scout back if he/she knows the requirements which why I would like way that would make the Scout read the pamphlet.

When I was SM in my unit, I tried to emphasis this. Other leaders who had been ASM’s in other units, whipped out blank blue cards to give Scouts. It took some effort, but we started to follow the prescribed process.

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I mean, if the youth has actually done the work, that’s always a great thing, and I am more than happy to sign off on the requirement.

But as you say, a counselor can do so much more to help inspire interest, knowledge and awareness in youth. I will not require a youth to do more than the stated requirements, but I also think as counselors, we should also provide the opportunity to share some of our experiences or other relevant stories that might engage the scout further in the topic. And even if we’re not familiar, we should at least encourage or help them seek out more.

For example, one of my biggest beefs is that the Oceanography merit badge (like many of the STEM ones) is pretty boring. The requirements are mostly rote memorization of scientific facts, book reports, and only a single hands-on activity. And yet, oceanography (and science in general) is nothing like that. At the very least, I feel scouts should know that some really cool research is happening very close to where they live, including where I work. And even if they don’t visit our research lab, I usually take the chance to tell them what we’re up to, and why studying the ocean is so important, and why I do it in my day job.

That may not be a requirement of any particular badge, but as I read the GTA above, that conversation is a major point of the whole MB program. And it only takes 30 minutes. The trick is finding enough counselors who can really make this happen.

For example, one of the things that I do as a MBC whenever I talk to the scouts about their work, even if they come to me with it already complete, is what they think they learned in doing it. Why do they think that the requirement was included in the badge? What do they think they might do differently from what they have done in the past, if anything, now that they have completed the requirement? No matter how they answer, or even whether they answer at all, if the work is already done, and is compliant with the requirements, I’ll sign them off. That’s the rule.

I use those kinds of questions to engage in a discussion with the scouts, in the hopes that, if they’re interested in the topic, it supports that interest. I’m also trying to encourage some thoughts about and understanding of why the requirements are included, particularly for those scouts who might see a given MB or requirement as “busy work”, without any redeeming value. I agree that many of the requirements feel like busy work, particularly if a scout is already very skilled in that area. At the same time, I always try to point out that the old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall is just as applicable to other skill sets: practice!

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I have to respectfully take exception to half of this. I agree that MBCs are not lecturers, that would really go against the principles of Scouting. We are however absolutely Teachers! There may be different interpretations of what a Teacher is, with some considering the craft to be mostly lecturing and testing which I would argue is doing it wrong. A good teacher is a Guide, helping the Student to explore and develop knowledge. That is EXACTLY what MBCs are supposed to be doing, and there are plenty of references to Teaching beyond the requirements. Evaluation and sign off is absolutely “No More, No Less”, but there should be a lot more engagement and Teaching than just the bare minimum of the requirements.

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Here is what I did and do. Maybe it will help, maybe not. As always YMMV.

  • I do offer merit badge “classes” to get the ball rolling, and do some teaching/education. Why not? It’s what happens at summer camp, so I’m not really doing anything different.

  • I initially only registered myself for merit badges that I was an expert in or was good enough and felt comfortable counseling/teaching. I now am registered for quite a bit more, but usually am not the primary teacher, or am truly there just as a counselor to help mentor them with partials that they started at summer camp.

  • If it’s a new class I’ve never done, I try to watch someone else do it (as a co-MBC) or at least look through presentations (PPT) that others have done first. Also, it takes a lot of hours to put together a class, so I have also divided up the content with another instructor and we each take a few areas.

  • Many (most?) merit badges have homework that has to be done outside of class, and I make it clear up front before they sign up that they have to do work on their own and report back. Usually I break up a merit badge across multiple meetings as after about 60 minutes of Zoom their eyes glaze over.

Others like Swimming we’ve been able to get done in a single, very long session, or we do the book work items over Zoom and do the practical (swimming, shooting for target) at a different meeting.

  • I do follow-up with them from time to time to remind them about homework, and have not been opposed to ensuring that their parents are aware of it as well.

In the end I think my best good guideline is to try to be consistent with what they would be doing at summer camp. Most merit badges at camp run one hour a day for four days, so about 4 hours, so that seemed to me a good yard stick to compare what I do by, though because my class sizes are smaller some of them can go faster.

@JasonCostarakis really wrote the heart of it that is worth QFT
" have to respectfully take exception to half of this. I agree that MBCs are not lecturers, that would really go against the principles of Scouting. We are however absolutely Teachers! There may be different interpretations of what a Teacher is, with some considering the craft to be mostly lecturing and testing which I would argue is doing it wrong. A good teacher is a Guide, helping the Student to explore and develop knowledge. That is EXACTLY what MBCs are supposed to be doing, and there are plenty of references to Teaching beyond the requirements. Evaluation and sign off is absolutely “No More, No Less”, but there should be a lot more engagement and Teaching than just the bare minimum of the requirements."

Lastly, I would suggest that at some point you just got to jump in the pool. :slight_smile: Some classes will be amazing, some you will realize weren’t the best and it’s just areas to improve on. Even still, you are doing a postive something and providing opportunities to these scouts.

OK, I said lastly, but the other really lastly is that as we said many MB’s will have homework and the hardest part is seeing the scouts have partials for what seems like forever. Just remember it’s not a reflection on you if they do not push themselves to get their MBs done. Sooner or later they will get a sense of urgency (or their parents will) and all of a sudden there will be this big flurry of activity.

HTH,

Paul

Very much agree with both Williamsburg and Charley.

I was a HS teacher for 30 years. I worked out of the classroom with other teachers for a few. One of the worst classroom practices is to instruct and test in the same session. So, that means if there is instruction as part of a MB session, then in almost all cases the scout should be coming back later for testing. The term for this is spaced learning. This implies that one day MB classes are problematic.

Because of the prevalence of MB ‘Days’ so many of our scouts (and parents) think they can sign up, pay their money, and walk away with a Blue Card. Scott’s question was about methodology. Williamsburg’s comment goes back to the intent of the program. A careful reading of Guide to Adv shows that the intent is to have a scout work one-on-one with a Counselor.
There is a paper written by Bloom (of Bloom’s taxonomy - well known to all teachers) titled The Two Sigma Effect. In it he showed that one-on-one tutoring moved students two standard deviations (positively) from a class taught by a well respected teacher. The one-on-one was that dramaticly better.
Same thing will be true for scouts working on MBs with Counselors.

What I do to make sure scouts know what they need to do for the MB is give them a copy of the requirements and have them circle all the verbs. Went over really well in my math classes. Not.
We then talk about what those verbs entail. And, who will be doing what. Discuss, explain, describe all entail talking (NOT writing on a worksheet). Demonstrate, Do, Show require movement and not talking (NOT writing on a worksheet).
Almost no requirements ask for writting like the worksheets do. When a requirement has writting it’s explicit.
When a scout tries to hand me their worksheet I don’t put my hand out. I smile and explain that any work they did on paper is for their reference. And, internally cringe as it shows what they think the process is supposed to look like.

And I do agree with comments that the MB Counselors job includes both adding info that can be added and bringing the matierial to life. That’s where the personal backgroung comes in. Same effects with STEM awards.

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Depending on the merit badge, it could be a rough road if the counselor doesn’t teach. The trick is to stay out of “classroom mode” as much as possible.

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