The ideas box

One of our concerns as Senior Section leaders is making sure that the girls have ownership of our programme and what they choose to do, but also to make sure everyone has a say. There were assumptions I made early on about what the girls did and didn’t like and when we did an anonymous online evaluation of our term programmes some of them were correct, and others were not.

We struggle to get the girls to plan their term programme, and I sense that this struggle is normal. We have new challenges now as when we began we had five girls aged 14-16 all from the same high school. Now we have ten girls aged 14-19 and in that group we have 1 in full-time employment, 1 college student, 1 university student and the rest go to three different high schools. So we came up with an idea to try and make this a bit easier – the suggestion/ideas box.

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I brought in an old shoe box from our Guides’ cupboard that wasn’t being used, we all brought in old Girlguiding magazines and Jenny brought in some general magazines and the girls set to work on turning our old shoe box into what you see above using decoupage.

As far as I can tell this involved them cutting bits of magazines out and gluing them to the box, then brushing them down with PVA glue to give it that coated/shiny effect.

(Can you tell arts & crafts is really not my thing?!)

Our last meeting and next meeting we are doing trips outside our meeting place, so it won’t be until our final meeting before Christmas that this will start getting utilised. My hope is to have it there at every meeting with some cut out paper so that when they come up with an idea during the various tangents and chattering that goes on they can write it down, put it in the box and when we come to doing term planning they’ve already got some ideas. And I guess us leaders can pop in ideas as well, and when we are doing a term planning night it hopefully will help!

Or it might not work at all.

We’ll have to see!

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Gang Show 2014

Gang Show week has hit Edinburgh!

There isn’t much to say, other than we took our Guides and Senior Section and didn’t lose anyone which I always deem as a success!

It was lovely to see my friend’s daughter having her last year in the Junior Gang as a Brownie – she was awesome as were all the Brownies.

I was also proud to see two of our Guides performing well, and even having a special part with their violins for one of the numbers.

But most of all I was proud of our girls as a whole. There was a group near us in the theatre who were rustling sweetie bags all through the first act which drove me and a few others totally nutty. We had said to the girls they could bring money for ice cream at the interval, or bring some sweets, but emphasised the need for the sweets not to be noisy!

All of our girls listened. Most of them had sweets and shared them around with each other before the show started and during the interval. A few had some sweets during the show but did it very quietly without disturbing others around them. I was so impressed by their consideration for others and also just in general the way they shared – I’d brought a couple of packets of vegetarian ‘Percy Pigs’ – our veggie Guide thanked me for choosing the ‘veggie’ ones so she could have some, and then when there was only one left at the interval, the girls split it into four so they could all have one – no fighting about the last one and obviously wanted it to be fair. It made me giggle that they’d spent the effort trying to share a single percy pig like that!

All of our parents were lovely about making sure we knew the girls were leaving with a parent too. I had e-mailed them all to explain this and our ‘checklist’ (if you’ve been to Edinburgh Gang Show you’ll understand the chaos of 100s of Scouts & Guides of all ages trying to be picked up in the city centre all at the same time by parents). We always have a ticklist of arrivals and departures so we know who is with us and who isn’t at all times. They were very gracious to come over so we saw they were picking up the girls and that we knew about it, so there were no freak outs about losing any girls or wondering where they had gone. Thank you awesome parents!!

Until next year…

When your lovely Brownies turn into teenage Guides…

I think once you’ve been part of leading a unit for a while, we all have those nights where you come home and you feel like this:

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And you wonder why you do it, and whether it’s possible that aliens abducted all the lovely girls that arrived from Brownies as super enthusiastic, attentive, polite Guides and exchanged them for clones that look like the same girls but injected them with an attitude that seems designed to destroy your spirit.

A bit like this:

Seem a familiar sight to any other Guide leaders out there? Of course, when we were teenagers, we were never like that. Ahem.

When I turned 16, I got signed up as an Assistant Guider in an inner city Guide unit. It was a large unit, and the area around us was probably one that local authority had labelled as ‘socially deprived’.

It was tough. But eventually with consistency and gaining trust we did get somewhere. But man it was flippin’ exhausting at times!

The unit I have now is nothing like as challenging as that one. I have had some challenging behaviour to deal with at times. But the 10-14 age range in girls is a tough one. I remember going through it myself, I remember my sister going through it, my friends’ younger sisters going through it and have no desire to turn back the clock to do it again.

You will find that some of your girls go through nights when they seem sulky and will moan that they ‘can’t be bothered‘ or ‘don’t want to do that’. You’ll find girls who have been firm friends get into fights or stop speaking to each other. You may have to deal with gossip, or discovery of bullying. Girls may be very self conscious about what they look like. And there’ll just be general moments of ‘attitude’.

So how do you handle it?

1. Consistency. It’s especially important I think in a time where there is so much changing. The girls seem to like routine, though they also enjoy nights that are different every now and again. I find that when we go through phases where we really struggle with the girls, it’s when we’ve been trying to fit too much into meetings or we’re not in a routine they know.

2. Find ways for the girls to learn how to take responsibility. They want to be adults, but are still learning how to be adults. I find that having their patrol boxes, planning sheets and everything helps with this. If they forget something, I don’t ‘save the day’, but encourage them to find something else to do instead, and remind them that this is why it’s important. They do eventually learn to remember things because it results in better, more fun activities!

3. Raising the hand for silence. I don’t want to yell, and when I do it usually doesn’t work because they aren’t listening anyway. Yes, you will get terrific arm muscles, because you may find yourself with that arm raised for a really long time. I don’t speak when I’ve got my arm raised. I’ll just stand there until they are all completely silent.

We also have a whistle which we will use to get girls attention if they continue to be noisy. This was brought in at the request of the girls when making their unit guidelines this year – they told us we should yell at them more often if they didn’t ‘shut up’ (their words!). I said I didn’t want to be yelling, so we did the whistle thing. We try not to use it too often.

4. Time Management. I always give the girls plenty of time to tidy up. I will give them a 10 minute, five minute and one minute ‘you need have cleared up now’. Sometimes they ask to do something extra at the end – they know if they don’t clear up after themselves quickly (and properly) there won’t be time.

5. Say thank you. It’s really easy to nag and find things to criticise. ‘Jane you’ve made a huge mess on the floor, go get a brush to clean it up’. ‘Tracy, why are you standing chatting when the rest of your patrol is doing all the work?’. Even if it’s something you’d expect them to do, and especially if some of them are getting on with it and others aren’t – say thank you. ‘Thank you for putting that chair away’. ‘Well done that’s a great job with the dishes’.

6. Be encouraging. Compliment them when they’ve planned their Go For It activities so they all know what they are doing. Tell them “it’s lovely to see you working well as a team” when they are. Encourage the girl who participates even though she some times gives up because she feels there’s no point if she’s not going to be the best.

7. Remind them of their Unit Guidelines. Our girls all have a copy of the promise, Guide law and the unit guidelines we create each year together in their patrol boxes. They are also posted on our noticeboard in the meeting place. I remind them that they made them, and I also remind them of the promise we all made. I also tell them that if they catch me not keeping them, they should pull me up on it too! For example: one of our unit rules is electronic devices (like phones & iPods) are put away and not brought out during the meeting because it can be rude. It goes for the unit leaders too. Sometimes if a leader is running late or a girl isn’t there, I’ll say to the girls ‘I’ve got my phone out just in case we hear from x because they don’t seem to be here yet. Is that ok?‘ that way they know I’m not just texting my friend and not paying attention to them. I’m checking to see if my phone going off is because a leader has got caught in traffic or a parent is letting me know her daughter has come down sick.

Equally, I will say to the girls they can use their phones if it is for a constructive reason (e.g. finding a recipe for an activity they want to do).

8. Talk to the girls privately when difficult situations come up rather than with the whole unit as an audience. Be calm. The two times there has been hitting in our unit, I’ve taken the girls involved aside while the rest of the unit are engaged in activity and talked them through it in a way that gets them thinking about what they are doing, and how our actions can affect others, and how we can communicate/act in more constructive ways when we feeling angry or frustrated. Last time ended in two girls giggling because I mentioned periods and PMT and how even though we may feel like it, we can’t go about hitting people when we are feeling a bit wonky with all the hormones. “I can’t believe you mentioned periods!!!!” was the response as two girls who two seconds before had been engaged in a fully fledged cat fight went off to their patrols best pals again, tension lifted.

9. Keep hold of your sense of humour. It’s much easier when you can find the funny side of things.

10. Be yourself, and accept that you are in their eyes ‘a grown up’ and therefore don’t understand, are very uncool and don’t know anything. You’ll find that when you openly admit to being boring and uncool instead of being ‘down with the kids’, they take you more seriously and may even compliment you and giggle with you on a rare occasion. They may even ask you for advice (!) (which is rare because obviously teenagers already know everything).

One final thing: Take heart and don’t give up, because if you don’t you may find the lovely ten year old that disappeared into a teenager for a while, becomes a fabulously mature and helpful older teenager a couple of years later…just in time for her to move up to Senior Section! 😉

You’ll (hopefully) find all those nights you came home with extra grey hairs was worth it…

Valuing our volunteers…

This week I attended our County’s annual review. My main reason for attending was because this fabulous lady – our Unit Leader at Guides – was getting awarded her 10 year Long Service Award.

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Our District Commissioner had let me know she was down to get it, and I was like ‘I will be there!‘ Oh yeah, and I warned my fellow leader that I was coming to cheer loudly when they announced her name! 🙂 (It turned out two other leaders I know from our area were getting Long Service Awards, and two of our Division got Good Service Awards too – so that led to more cheering).

It was a fantastic night, held in our City Chambers (fancy!) and our County Commissioner team led the night fabulously with little bits of humour. You know an ‘AGM’ type meeting is good if you’re not falling asleep and you don’t realise how late it has gotten because it seems to have flown by!

It was also enlightening. I heard that the average number of years a leader stays in Guiding as a volunteer is 2 years (umm…yup – that sounds about right – that was the case with me back at the start of the Millennium). And then I also had the shock of discovering that my Senior Section unit account for the only Chief Guide Challenge to be awarded  in the whole of Edinburgh this year. Apparently none were awarded at all last year. I was equally shocked to discover how few Young Leadership Qualifications have been awarded over the last two years, and I believe that my thought that many leaders don’t have an awful lot of knowledge of the Senior Section programme, and Senior Section members aren’t being supported and encouraged to achieve through the programme available which is so accessible.

Things like the Service Awards I think are so important in showing value to leaders who have given so much dedication as volunteers. I’m hoping to investigate more ways in which we can show how much we value volunteers in Girlguiding. It’s never the reason any of us do it, but I think it’s good to find ways to show our appreciation.

I’ve spent many years now working in communities. For the last eight, a major part of my last two jobs has been what is known in the community learning and development circles as ‘building capacity’ – both of individuals, groups and the community as a whole.

In my last job, part of my role was the recruitment, training and support of volunteers, and later was asked by a national charity to support similar local charities to the one I worked for to advise them in how they could grow support and awareness for their work too. When it’s been part of your working life for so long, it’s tough to take that recruitment and support hat off, especially when it involves a movement you are passionate about.

I guess that’s why I’m always trying to find ways to grow the capacity of Girlguiding. It’s also why I blog here – I hope that this blog is helpful for those interested in getting involved, or who already are. Girlguiding helped me gain so many skills and so much confidence as a young girl growing into a young woman. And since coming back three years ago, I have been reminded of that so much. I hope that I’ve been giving back to the girls I work with, because I know they’ve been helping me relearn old skills and inspiring me to do more in our community and dream bigger

Remembrance Sunday woes…

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(Thank you to a local resident who has given me permission to use the photo above)

Remembrance Sunday.

An important day, and especially poignant this year as it marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1.

I was brought up with it instilled to me by my Guiders that it was important for us all to represent in our uniforms on Remembrance Sunday. The churches the units I was a member of always had reserved seating for all the youth organisations and made a big deal about us  being there. Often older members of the community who would be there would come up to us and say how nice it was to see us there, and comment on our uniforms.

When I returned to Guiding three years ago, I was surprised to see how little Girlguiding was represented at our local Remembrance events. The second year I was there, we managed to get the Guides to have their flags in the colour party. I was so angry when I saw the church newsletter commenting on how wonderful it was to see the Boys Brigade and Scouts in attendance – no mention of the Guides and Brownies!

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m not one to stay silent. I was not going to have the girls feel unvalued or unequal to the boys’ organisations (though granted, Scouts aren’t an all boy organisation, which I personally think is a real shame). So the next year, we had our ‘colours’ at the local community war memorial service AND the church one (same as the Scouts and Boys Brigade) and the Girlguiding and Scouts were both asked to do readings – not just the boys anymore! We still didn’t have seats in the church again though.

However, I did notice that none of the youth organisations in our area were laying poppy wreaths which I thought strange. I was on the case like as soon as the service was over last year.

This year, I got on the ball in August! I spoke to our Division Commissioner about getting our new Division Banner out for the War Memorial service and carried by our Senior Section. I asked if Girlguiding could lay a poppy wreath (and mentioned it to the Boys Brigade and Scouts too). And I asked the church in advance if we were to do a reading so I could make sure we had a girl comfortable with being in a church and public speaking. And I asked if we could try and ensure we were seated all of Girlguiding sections together, making the point this was one of the few times that the Rainbows, Brownies and Guides were all together – and that it helped the younger ones to see older ones to make them more comfortable with moving up to the next section if our faces become familiar.

All was good.

And then three out of six leaders were unavailable. Which meant that I had to be both the Guide and Senior Section unit leader for the morning!

Our war memorial service went well. One of my flag bearers didn’t appear til the last second (not ideal) but we got there. Luckily I was there as the Anchor Boys (the Rainbow equivalent of the Boys Brigade) were looking lost as we paraded out of the church graveyard across the the memorial behind the colour party (which all their leaders were in). The poor wee lad at the front looked in panic, and I was able to subtley tell him to keep going to make a line of Anchor Boys behind the colour party, and at the end to follow the colour party and promise that the Girl Guides would follow on behind them!

However, the youth service after was a different story. Our Banner carrier was the only other leader present (as she is also a Ranger) and we had to give the banner back to our Division Commissioner because she couldn’t attend the youth service. There’s the scramble for seats before they all get taken by the Scouts. I had told the two Guides carrying the unit flag before the War Memorial service that they needed to collect their flag on the way back from the hall.

In the rush – I took the banner from our Rangers and promised to get their bags from the hall as I began putting the banner away with our Division Commissioner so she could leave to get to her next engagement. Our Ranger who is also a Guide leader took the Guides into the church to get seats – making sure we had one on the aisle for our Ranger doing the reading. However, 3 out of 4 of the youth service colour party forgot they were meant to be in the colour party and went with her! Only when I finally got in the church with the bags having also been fielding Rainbows and Brownies and their leaders to tell them to find seats with the Guides  and Rangers…I sat down just as the service was about to start, with the Rainbows as the seats with the Guides and Senior Section were all taken. Then one of the Guides tapped our Ranger/Guide Leader on the shoulder and said ‘I think I’m supposed to be over there‘. Fast chinese whispers of ‘Laurie, Laurie….the colour party isn’t there’. I looked round to see the two girls who had been at our Friday rehearsal and spoken to before and made sure the flag was already….and asked them from across the pews ‘Where’s the flag?’ to which they replied “we don’t know” as the minister walked in to start the service.

Then as the colour party went past I suddenly noticed our Guide carrying the ‘Queen’s flag’ was alone without her Colour guard.

Afterwards I said we all just had to laugh about it. I felt so bad for the parents and the girls. Next year, hopefully all our leaders will be there and we can have a fast plan of action so there’s not two of us running like headless chickens not noticing that we have Guides with us that should be in another place!

The other point from the day was an interesting one. My Mum and our next door neighbour (who nursed troops in India during World War 2) came down to the War Memorial Service to pay their respects and see me! Later that night, my Mum asked me ‘Why were none of the girls wearing Guide uniform? They looked awful compared to the Scouts!’

I explained every one of them was wearing uniform.

She had not realised that there was no ‘bottom half’ to the uniform but the main issue was that several of the girls have the stripey t shirt – she didn’t recognise it as Guide uniform. The fact they were all wearing different items of clothing – gilets, t-shirts, hoodies, zip up jumpers…was also confusing.

‘Maybe that’s why they think you weren’t there’ she said (noting my rant about the year the Guides got no acknowledgment for having been there).

Speaking to our Unit Leader, she recalled a visit we had from the church elders one year when they made the statement ‘So Guides isn’t a uniformed organisation anymore then?‘ She looked around the room and ALL the girls were wearing ‘uniform’.

It made me realise that people expect Guides to be bright blue, and the fact that the Guide uniform doesn’t have the Guide Trefoil logo on the tops anymore is a problem. And having noticed some chat on the Girlguiding facebook group about one person’s town not letting the Guides parade because ‘it’s only for uniformed organisations’ has made me realise that the uniform change is good!

Although the Senior Section polo shirts are recognisable, I don’t think their hoodies are (especially as there are two different colours – neither of which are aqua!). With that thought in mind, we are now speaking about getting unit neckers to hopefully have for events so that the girls are more obviously part of Girlguiding.

It’s funny how someone from outside of Girlguiding can often give you a new perspective on something that you don’t see because you’re ‘in it’.

Anyway, I was proud of all the girls who made the effort to attend!

Sparklers and Poppies…

As this week was Guy Fawkes Night, we had Sparklers at Senior Section. There is a Guide unit that meets at the same time as us, and they were also doing sparklers (thankfully not in the same place – that could have been carnage!)

Already I’m seeing the girls looking more exhausted and struggling to make meetings. The Scottish education system has changed a lot (it seems to change radically every ten years) and the current changes are just awful. It means the pupils have to fit much more in less time – so they get so much homework. I feel so bad for them, and angry that our government expects schools to cover so much, which means young people end up missing out in reality. And poor teachers get stressed.

So this week we kept it simple. We had sparklers in the end but most of the meeting was spent with the girls updating their Look Wider folders and our unit scrapbook, doing some decoupage, eating popcorn and then ending with sparklers.

Thankfully Jenny had checked the deal on the Girlguiding policy on sparklers to discover the girls had to wear gloves, and I have several pairs the girls who had forgotten to bring some could borrow.

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I’m also super grateful to the three Rangers who are making the effort to join in with the memorial services in our area for Remembrance Sunday. This year Girlguiding will be laying a poppy wreath at our village’s cenotaph, and we’ll also have our Division banner as part of the War Memorial Colour Party (we don’t really parade, unless you count walking from the church hall and standing at the cenotaph which is essentially the border of the church graveyard – it takes all of 30 seconds). All the armed forces, community organisations, schools and public sector services are invited to attend and lay poppy wreaths. This year will be the first time the uniformed youth organisations in the area will do it too. Our Guides were excited when we told them, only for them to go home with letters and say they couldn’t come or wouldn’t be coming.

And then you’ve got girls who are having sleepovers the night before and making the effort to be there anyway – even if it means leaving fun things early or bringing a friend with them.

Trying organise who is doing what is stressful, as everyone involved is a volunteer – the organisers of the youth church service who decide on seating, the people who organise the community service at the war memorial. And of course you’re dealing with teenagers who (generally) haven’t mastered the concept of knowing their own diary yet! 🙂

For some reason I decided that we would carry on our tradition of gathering leaders from our different units to go to a local cake cafe afterwards that we started last year too. So there’s been that to organise as well (what was I thinking? Oh yeah, building friendship amongst the unit teams!).

Despite all of the stress, I know it  will be worth it. It means a lot to people in the community, I believe it’s an important tradition to teach about and ensure it is kept for the right reasons (lest we forget), and that it is one of the few times that the different sections of local Guiding and Scouting come together.

I’m hoping for a nice pot of peppermint tea and some yummy cheesecake as my reward at the end of it – alongside some of my fellow leaders.