In the modern Guiding programme, there are 5 essentials. And one of them is, “Commitment to a Common Standard”. So what does that mean?
Well, to my mind, what it means is that we should all be pulling in the same direction. Striving for the same aim. Working to achieve the same result. Laying aside personal opinions and preferences in order to be part of a unified movement. It doesn’t have to mean agreeing with everything that’s said – for of course we won’t all agree 100% with all the policies in such a large movement with such a diverse range of members, so there always has to be scope for us to make representations to Headquarters about any issues we feel strongly about, or to advise them of local circumstances they may not have been aware of and thus able to take into account when making their decision. But it means that once we’ve made our appeal and received a response to it, whatever that response may be, we accept the majority decision and whether we like or lump it, we don’t keep grumbling away, or ignore the rule just because it doesn’t suit us. A Guide is honest and can be trusted.
Yet, if you visit different units, all of them considered to be ‘well-run’, and all reckoned to be fully committed to those common standards, you will see some significant differences in style and content between them. How can that be? How can they simultaneously be committed to a common standard, and yet be so different in what they do and how they do it?
The thing about the common standard is that even if we all have the same aim or standard, we still have a choice of different paths to take in order to reach that aim. So long as the core values are the same, then the little details around the edges can vary to suit our own circumstances. The core values are laid down for us by the Promise, Law, Section Programme, Guiding Manual contents, and the guidance issued from headquarters. So those things are non-negotiable, and each individual should be encouraged to do the work to prepare herself to be ready to commit to and take on the challenge of making and keeping the Promise, each individual should have the opportunity to earn the appropriate progress badges for her section provided she attends and participates regularly in her unit’s activities, each individual should be encouraged to (wittingly or unwittingly) pick up on the educational and moral ethos which lies behind the fun activities she gets to do as a member of a uniformed club (the founder’s original idea of ‘learning through games’), and Leaders should be both providing the means, and encouraging the progress, within the rules and programme laid down. Whether they are 100% in agreement or somewhere short of 100%.
But, if we are meant to be committed to a common standard, and yet all these variations are permitted, then how can we square that? How can it be okay to ‘follow different paths’ towards the aim? It’s because the ethos of each unit depends, more than anything else, on it’s Leaders. Yes, the members have a large input, but it is the Leaders who will decide whether a unit’s ethos is fun, serious, silly, challenging, outdoorsy, arts-based, campaigning, strict, informal, or (ideally) combinations thereof. Though they should collect the input of the unit members to a relevant extent for the age group in question (10% Rainbow, 25% Brownie, 50% Guide, 75% Senior Section), and the members’ personalities and tastes will have strong input too - the Leaders have the final decision on the unit’s programme, they decide how the programme ideas which have been chosen will be implemented, they choose what extras they are able to run in the way of outings, residential events, international opportunities, fundraising etc. It is they who apply the imagination to the basic ideas, and find new ways of presenting and running the regular parts of the programme. They choose how much responsibility and independence the girls get and how much is directly led by the adults. It is the Leaders who interpret the Promise and Law, the Section Programme, the Manual contents and Headquarters guidance for their units, consciously or otherwise giving their own take on it. And it is the Leader’s personality which decides quite how she will do things – whether she is serious or whether she has a sense of humour, whether she is tense or relaxed, whether she is enthusiastic or reserved, hearty or gentle, strict or easy-going – or a combination of these depending on circumstances.
And these interpretations, and these personality styles, and these skills, talents and preferences - will vary from unit to unit, both in what they choose to do, and how they choose to do it. Depending on the Leaders’ talents, skills and tastes, as well as the talents, skills and tastes of the members. And it is the variety thus generated that creates the differences between units, and these differences are what creates variety and choice in Guiding – so that within a locality a girl then has the option of finding the unit which best suits her tastes. We’re still committed to a common standard, and in a well-run unit that common standard is visible through everything like a ‘golden thread’ – you can see at the core of what is done, despite the variations in approach, that determination to ensure the girls follow the current programme, they learn the self-reliance, they respect and follow the rules and guidance – they look and feel and act like a Guiding unit, not a bunch of individuals in fancy dress who gather weekly for a games session. The Leaders will set the standards and expectations, and that old saw about being able to judge a unit by it’s Leaders - is more true than we may care to admit!
Oh yes, it is true. As Leaders, whether it sits comfortably with us or not, each one of us is ‘an example’ the girls in the unit look up to – and sometimes the parents too. We are Girlguiding UK’s representatives in our local community. The public will (and do) judge the whole movement by what they see of us. Whether we are wearing the official uniform with pride or are clad in some other garb (be it neat or scruffy), whether we are friendly or gruff, whether we are cheerful or stressed out, whether we are helpful or obstructionist, etc. They will judge the whole movement by any single short encounters they have with any individual member of the movement – of any age - and will remember any perceived errors of courtesy far longer than the many times we did the right thing. They will also remember what we say – whether we are telling people the movement has high standards, is well managed and offers great opportunities – or whether we tell people anything will do, it’s poorly run and nothing much happens. So it’s up to us to do what we can to set an example – to keep trying our best to be good representatives of the Guiding ‘brand’. To commit ourselves to supporting the common standard, the policies, the guidance, the Manual, even if that means putting it’s rules before our personal feelings at times. It’s the challenge we accepted when we said “I Promise that I will do my best . . .”. The common standard is that end point we all aim for. And that’s how it can be squared.