Adam Ellsworth and his family live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where Adam has worked as a patent attorney for the last 12 years. During that time, Adam has worked closely with Latter-Day Saint young men and women, as well as with the Boy Scouts of America, while serving in a Young Men’s Presidency. He has also served as an early-morning seminary teacher, and as a member of his ward’s bishopric responsible for ensuring effective training youth and adult presidencies. Adam has contributed articles and been featured on podcasts for Leading Saints.
I was sitting in a training meeting provided by our stake Young Men’s presidency for ward Young Men presidencies and bishopric members overseeing the Young Men’s programs. Although the content was very useful, attendance was not very good. Out of 35 potential attendees, we had perhaps 12. During his remarks, our stake Young Men’s president said, “You should go to all the BSA training you can. It is excellent.” Tactlessly, I blurted out, “Why can’t this training be excellent?”
I immediately regretted my remark, and I quickly tried to clarify what I meant. Our stake training was very good and very informative. But why would we conduct one training and then recommend that we go somewhere else for “excellent” training? Why not make our training “excellent?”
I agree with my stake leader that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) provides excellent training. The BSA has partnered with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States for a century, but that partnership is soon coming to an end. It will be a tragedy if our parting ways with the BSA also means parting with all the great tools the BSA has provided to our leaders over the years, including excellent training of leaders and youth.
We can more effectively help our Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women’s presidencies seek and obtain guidance from Heavenly Father to lead their quorums and classes by following the example of the BSA in how they provide excellent training to their adult leaders.
So what makes BSA training excellent, and what can we do in our wards and stakes to emulate BSA training, so that people come away thinking, “that was excellent?” Below are five key principles we can all implement to provide excellent training to our youth and adult members.
Create a Culture of Continual Learning
The BSA training manual for the “Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills” (I.O.L.S) teaches that all leaders should understand training is a process that continues as long as you are active in Scouting. (I.O.L.S., page 7) The same should be true of each of us in our callings.
Ask any Scoutmaster in the U.S., and as soon as they were called, someone told them they had to get trained! But what about our Young Women’s leaders? Were they similarly contacted by an enthusiastic soul inviting them to obtain additional training? Why do we not always have the same expectation and urgency that they are trained as promptly, frequently, and effectively as Scoutmasters?
The same goes for Sunday School presidencies, Primary presidencies, nursery leaders, etc. As a church, we are not as effective as we could be at fostering an environment of consistent, frequent and excellent learning through training.
The effective training of Scout leaders by the BSA and the more recent establishment of teacher councils for the development of teachers have been exceptions to this poor overall record of training. However, this poor record of training our leaders and youth is a pattern we must change if we want our Church members to become effective leaders throughout our wards and stakes.
Develop a Long-Term Training Program
One way to create and maintain a culture of continual learning through training is to develop a long-term training program for our ward or stake, not just a one-time training meeting.
BSA’s “Guide to Leader Training” outlines four levels of training – “Joining” (Youth Protection Training is required prior to serving), “Basic,” “Supplemental,” and “Advanced.“ In other words, a Boy Scout adult leader has a clear progression of learning – from learning the basics to get started, to learning more and more advanced skills over time. But can wards and stakes emulate this approach of learning… line upon line? Yes!
While BSA provides a few time-intensive training opportunities, most of the training is in smaller increments at times convenient to the leaders. Similarly, every ward can arrange for one or two training meetings per year, and numerous shorter follow-up opportunities. For example, the stake may schedule a 1.5-hour meeting each year for all the adult Young Men’s and Young Women’s youth leaders, but they may visit with the separate presidencies as-needed, and whenever a new presidency member is called. Additionally, ward leaders may schedule an annual training meeting and then follow-up with more personal training messages throughout the year in presidency meetings and one-to-one interviews. In this fashion, training takes place in compact increments of 5-20 minutes. (For an example of a coordinated stake/ward training schedule, see the resources below)
Not only can wards and stakes emulate the frequency and consistency of BSA training, but also the progression from one skill to the next, from basic to advanced. Just as the BSA provides a clear progression of defined training opportunities, stakes and wards may coordinate to provide a clear progression of learning principles and skills. The stake may coordinate with ward leaders in a unified training program in which the stake provides some training principles to all ward leaders across the entire stake, and the wards provide complimentary messages to their own leaders. While a grand training overnight experience may not be possible, an effective series of progressive learning and training experiences is absolutely doable!
Like the BSA, our church has many skills and principles each member can learn to effectively serve in their callings. For presidencies, we may want to provide training in topics such as how do we effectively use an agenda, conduct meetings, plan activities, plan lessons, counsel together, foster unity, minister to the one, prepare spiritually prior to meetings, seek a vision and the list is as varied as the many different presidencies out there. There are far more leadership skills and principles we can teach than we can possibly cram into a 1-2 hour training meeting.
Instead, we can emulate the BSA’s practice of providing basic training of essential skills when a member is first called into a calling, and spreading out additional training over time. Prayerfully consider what are the one or two principles that are so vital to the functioning of a presidency that everyone should learn these principles at once. Teach those principles in the regularly-scheduled large-group training meeting and teach the remaining principles and skills over the course of a year. Make a schedule of the different skills and principles to be taught, and follow through in presidency meetings and one-to-one interviews. It would be worth your time to take a moment to consider the answers to the below questions:
- What would a long-term training program look like for your organization?
- What are the two most important principles or skills you feel should be modeled for your organization members in a formal training meeting?
- What is a principle or skill you would like to strengthen in your current calling?
- Have you received training in connection with this principle or skill, or have you asked to receive training in connection with this principle or skill?
Make the Training a Model
The I.O.L.S. training manual teaches that participants will duplicate in their own troops the things they see, hear, and do while attending the course. (I.O.L.S., page 16)
How many times have we been in a training meeting where we were told what to do, but no one showed us how to do it? Likely, we have provided this type of training ourselves, because that is how “training” was modeled to us. Go to the Handbook, go to the scriptures, maybe prepare PowerPoint slides, and either lecture or have a Sunday School-type discussion of, “What do you think this means…?” Please, stop! The Boy Scouts provide a better way!
Training in the BSA utilizes the EDGE method:
- Educate (teach the principle),
- Demonstrate (model how to implement),
- Guide (allow participants to demonstrate, with coaching),
- Enable (allow participants to demonstrate without coaching).
By utilizing the EDGE method in our training meetings, we do not just tell the participants what they should do, we show them and then we guide them as they practice the skill or principle. In follow-up meetings, we can continue to guide them by observing and providing constructive feedback as they apply the principle with their presidencies until they are enabled to practice the skill or principle without any help.
Training should not be a lecture unless you want your participants to lecture. Training should not be merely a PowerPoint presentation unless you want your participants merely to provide a PowerPoint presentation to those they serve. Instead, training should model what you want your participants to do. With that said:
- What is a skill or principle you would like to have modeled for your organization in a training environment?
- How would you effectively model this skill or principle for others?
Extend Personal Invitations
The BSA strongly encourages its trainers to provide a letter and personal contact to each individual who should attend training. The I.O.L.S. training manual states: “It is not enough to schedule a course and advertise it in your council newsletter or on your council website.” (I.O.L.S., page 11) Additionally, when personal contact is made, trainers should tell the individuals “exactly how they will benefit from attending” the training. (Guide to Leader Training, page 15)
How often have we called a meeting of youth leaders or adult leaders by sending a bulk email to organization presidents or parents? If we want to improve our attendance from a handful of attendees to all invitees attending, we need to make the invitations personal. Write a letter. Make personal contact. Convey to each person why this training will benefit them.
- What would inspire you to attend a training meeting?
- How would you convey to members of your organization how a training meeting will benefit them?
Teach Small Groups
The BSA recommends training in small groups to allow participants to have hands-on experience in which they can actually practice the skill being taught. (I.O.L.S., page 7) Likewise, our training should include practicing what is taught in small groups. Although effective training can include instruction and discussion in a large group, the portion of the training that allows the participants to effectively learn the principle or skill being taught will come as they practice the principle or skill with another participant or small group of participants. Here’s more food for thought:
- Is there a skill or principle you have learned in your calling, or you would like to learn, that you could share with someone one-to-one?
- Can you make an opportunity for a member of your organization to demonstrate a skill or principle in a small group or one-to-one to help train other members of your organization?
- How can you make these opportunities a regular feature of your continual learning and training?
Make It Fun
Yes, fun! Not just spiritual.
The BSA Guide to Leader Training states: “People need to be convinced that something is worth their limited time. A good training course that is fun, gives participants resources to be successful, and gets them headed in the right direction can do that.” (Guide to Leader Training, page 6)
In a recent training I conducted with youth presidencies, we had an entertaining object lesson at the beginning, an entertaining game/object lesson in the middle, and teaching, modeling, and discussion for the remainder of the training. All of those who provided feedback felt that they had learned skills to help them as leaders. Some youth indicated, without the prompting of a specific question, that they had felt the Spirit. But, perhaps surprisingly, a majority of the youth indicated that their favorite parts of the training were the game/object lesson in the middle and object lesson at the beginning. Everyone who attended that training will know what I mean when I tell them, “your adult leaders were not called to cut the tomato!”
One of the reasons people come away from BSA training feeling that it was excellent, is that in the training they feel that they had fun and they learned skills they can apply in their roles as leaders. If we make time for participants to have fun and also to learn, they will remember the training as “excellent” and they will want to return to the next training. Let’s think again:
- What are some ways you can add an element of fun to your next training opportunity?
It is one of the tenets of our faith that we seek after all things praiseworthy. While wards and stakes in the U.S. will soon not be affiliated with the BSA, we as ward and stake leaders make a grave mistake if we do not seek after the praiseworthy aspects that the BSA provided to our youth organizations for generations. This includes the effective training of adults and youth to help youth lead an ambitious youth-led program.
We can help our youth lead and we can help connect them with heaven by training youth and leaders with effective and fun training. We can bless all our ward members to feel more effective and valuable as we foster a culture of intentional, consistent, and continual learning through training.
Encouraging Young Men to Lead, by Chris Allen (Leading Saints article)
Guide to Leader Training, BSA online manual (pdf)
Additional Resources from the Teaching Saints virtual summit of Leading Saints: “Including All Learners in the Lesson,” Casey Paul Griffiths; “Avoiding Death by Powerpoint,” Ben Bernards; “Improving Ward Teaching,” Grady Kerr