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There are countless great things about being a troop leader – connecting with your daughter and her friends (if you’re a parent), giving back to your community, and the feeling of joy at seeing a girl’s life change for the better. But there are also many difficulties, and these difficulties only seem to increase as the girls grow up and bridge to new levels. Leading older troops and keeping engagement high can be especially hard when the girls have more things going on in their lives—between driver’s ed, AP and IB exams, SAT and ACT testing, part-time jobs, college visits and applications, and prom, junior and senior year of high school are particularly busy!
So how can you keep your troop engaged when their priorities are shifting and free time is at a premium? Easy: just use your E.A.R.S.!
E: Set clear EXPECTATIONS
As a leader, it’s your job to set clear expectations for your girls. This can start with the Girl Scout Law and Promise, but should extend to how you’d like them to behave during troop meetings and outings as well as how they should treat each other. Set aside some time to figure out your troop’s goals together and agree on them early—the beginning of each school year is a great time to get started, but any time works!
Your expectations will vary depending on your troop goals. You may expect them to prioritize Girl Scouts as much as any other extracurricular; maybe school comes first, then Girl Scouts, then a part-time job—or maybe it’s soccer, then school, then Girl Scouts. It may vary by each girl in your troop but if this is your overall goal, Girl Scouts should make everyone’s list.
Or maybe you set a goal of earning two Journeys in a year, so you expect them to pay attention during a meeting and not use it simply as a “social hour.” You might even try a “no phones” rule, or award girls with dessert or another treat after the business portion is over.
Make sure that once you set expectations for your girls, you’re willing to follow them too! Don’t cancel meetings unless it’s an emergency, and try to stay off your phone if you’ve asked them to do so as well.
Remember, you can’t reach your troop’s full potential for success if you don’t all agree on what success means to your troop!
A: Give girls AGENCY
It may have been logical to plan each troop meeting, activity, and outing when the girls were younger, but now that they’re well into their teens, what better way to keep them engaged than by making them as involved in the process as possible?
Assign a meeting to each girl to plan, providing any materials needed. If you hold your troop meetings at your house, you can also ask them to pick a dinner recipe and shop for ingredients. My own troop has been doing this for two years and we recently took it a step further—each girl starts by picking a country and they then find a dish that they feel represents the country. Before we eat, they teach the rest of the troop about the significance and history of the dish.
Having the girls set the meeting agenda and take care of as many details as possible doesn’t just give you time back (all volunteer leaders know how much time and energy it takes to plan a fun activity for every meeting!), it also teaches the girls responsibility.
Not sure where to start? Have the girls flip through Journey ideas on Pinterest or ask them to identify a skill they can teach the rest of the troop—maybe they’re a secret whiz at nail art, woodworking, or changing a car tire! Whatever the agenda, they’ll be more engaged when they get to call the shots.
R: Make it RELATABLE
Trends and interests change fast for today’s girls, and it can be tough for troop leaders to keep up. You don’t need to start referencing memes or using Snapchat to be relatable—just listen to the girls and you’ll quickly find out what’s important to them.
Not every troop is created equal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For example, some troops love earning Journeys while others have interests in topics that there isn’t a specific badge program for. If you have a troop that falls into the latter category, ask them what sort of Journey they’d like to work toward, then work together as a troop to make the program fit your needs!
Most importantly, try to understand what’s important to them. If prom season is coming up and they’re stressed about dresses, schedule a group volunteer day with an organization like the Princess Project so they can give back to their community in a way that’s meaningful to them.
S: Ask for SUPPORT
Once you’re armed with these tips, leading an older troop will get easier, but you still can’t do it alone. If you have a co-leader, you’ll need to make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of how you schedule and format troop meetings.
You’ll also want to get buy-in from parents from the start—make them part of the goal-setting in the Expectations step, and ask for their input.
If you’re still really stuck, you can turn to your local council for advice or check out Volunteer Essentials for helpful tips. With growing support from fellow leaders and other adults and volunteers, engagement among your girls will flourish as they see how many people are on their side.
High school can be a busy and stressful time, so remind your troop that Girl Scouts is a safe place of sisterhood. Talk about why they joined Girl Scouts and what they’d like to get out of the troop—then use that as inspiration to build an engaged group of girls ready to take on the world!
Lia Seth—Lia leads a troop of Ambassador Girl Scouts in Palo Alto and is a Lifetime Girl Scout Member. She is a Bay Area native and works as an HR Generalist. She loves finding and testing new recipes, watching 49ers football, and playing and hosting pub trivia events. Her writing has been featured by Pearson Education, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and local NPR radio stations.