Friday, 8 September 2017

Sectional Silos

Once upon a time, I was attending a District meeting.  And there were two key items on the agenda, the same hardy perennials we discussed every year.  One was girl retention, especially when changing section.  The other was organising the District summer outings for each section - the Rainbows’, the Brownies’, and the Guides’ outings (we don’t currently have a Senior Section unit covering our area although we’re hoping to have one soon).  You’ve probably got much the same agenda each spring yourselves.
We are losing girls between sections, even though all the units meet in the same premises (on different days/times from each other).  We suspect that one of the barriers to transition is ‘the unknown’.  Moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from being big fish in small pond to small fish in big pond.  A lot of girls opt not to even give the next section a try – and this seems to apply across all units and all sections, and over many years despite variations in unit leadership and programmes.  Although we try to use the official transition packs and the units are encouraged to do preparation work in-unit, it doesn’t alter the fact that leakage has proved hard to reduce.
And of course, each section also has ideas about what sort of outings they want for their section – for both Rainbow units, for all three Brownie units, and for both Guide units.  And though we haven’t many Senior Section age members currently, we wanted to try and cater for those who are or are about to be Senior Section in some way, so they aren’t “just Young Leaders”, but get to spend at least part of their time as participants.  So there were thoughts about visits to the seaside, or to places of interest, or to public parks with facilities, etc.
And - we suddenly realised just how silly we were being!  Would you believe it, we had these two topics down as separate items on the agenda!
Yes, on the one hand we were talking of problems with transition and linking up the sections, then immediately after we were due to plan entirely separate outings for each Section!  Keeping each age group strictly in their own little silo!  When the logical solution to both questions - would be to have a ‘juniors outing’ for all the 5-8 year olds, a ‘middles outing’ for all the 9-11 year olds, and a ‘seniors outing’ for all the 12+ age group – cutting right across the section boundaries.  If we had these outings on separate dates then none of the Leaders need be involved in more than 2 out of 3 outings, and it would mean the older girls in each section getting to meet and mix with some of those closest in age from the next section, but not the ‘big scary ones’.  That way, come transition time, there would be some familiar faces amongst both the girls and the Leaders from the next section - and the Leaders from the different sections would get to know each other a bit better too.  Also, if the units had all their Leaders present, but some only had half their girls attending, that would leave some Leaders spare to help with doing some of the central work such as organising the activities or catering, serving as central first aider, or providing extra help with the younger girls – while still getting to see their own unit some of the time.  We could choose activities that were targeted to the particular age group, we could get the girls all mixing regardless of their section boundaries, and we could look at some of the activities from Pot of Gold/Brownies Go For It/Move on Up if we wished, as part of the programmes for the days.  It would give the younger girls experience of slightly more challenging activities than they normally get at their units, of the sort the next section would tackle - and would mean there were some girls in the next section who were friends, not just ‘big and scary’.
All this educational value available to us so easily, before we even start to think about where the outings might go to or what the actual activities might be, all for a slight change of thinking, and a willingness to try something a little different.  I wonder what other silos we have unwittingly been slipping into, just out of habit, or from not spotting the links staring us in the face, when there would be real benefits to us stepping back occasionally to see the bigger picture and check it still shows what we think it does?  What other things have we been doing for no better reason than “we always have”, without us stopping to wonder why, consider whether they are still serving a purpose (whether the original purpose or another worthwhile one) - or whether we would be far better to alter or drop them?
So I thought I’d throw a challenge out to others.  Why not start by creating a list of the ‘Town Events’ or ‘County/Division/District Events’ or local customs you have each year.  Then step back and try to look at each one as if viewing it with a fresh eye.  If you were starting from a blank sheet of paper, is this an event which you would choose to invent, or choose to start participating in (whether in the same way you currently do or in another way) - or not?  What, realistically, are it’s pros and it’s cons?  Do you regularly do the same/similar things (whether several times a year, or every year, or in a rotation, it’s still repetition), and has that been reviewed recently?  What educational value does it have now, and are there any things you could do to enhance it’s value by either small tweaks or more radical changes?  To what extent do the girls enjoy it – are they keen to participate, or is enthusiasm low?  If it is billed as a joint event – is it truly joint, with girls from different units actually mingling and mixing with each other, and perhaps those form other organisations too - throughout the event – or are they spending a day doing activities with just their unit, at a venue which is coincidentally hosting other units who happen to be doing similar activities - the only contact between members of the groups occurring by chance in the toilet or lunch queues, not as part of any planned activities at all?  What involvement do the girls have in choosing, planning and preparing – is there girl-led Guiding, or do the adults arrange it all and the girls just ‘turn up and do’?  If you have a regular District or Division competition, is it flexible enough to be fun and interesting and varied each time it’s held, or is it the same thing every year, which girls and Leaders alike find increasingly dull or inconvenient?  (Often it can be easier to have a regular ‘inter-unit’ competition, but with the unit Leaders agreeing each year what topic to compete on, rather than being stuck with having to organise a swimming gala, or make scrapbooks or whatever, every year whether convenient or not, whether popular or not).  Is it a fun and light-hearted contest run in a good spirit - or does it create rivalries, arguments, or is always won by the ‘usual suspects’ regardless of how hard others try?  And finally – how do the adults feel about it?  Is it a pleasure or a burden?  Something they look forward to, or a major inconvenience and barrier to progressing on the activities they want to tackle with their units?  Has it gone from the intended one day a year effort, and become something that units spend ages practicing and preparing for?
The thing about silos is – a silo is not a fully-sealed-up container.  Every silo has small hatch doors in order for it to be both filled, and emptied.  Do you leave your silo hatches wide open – or kept bolted firmly shut?

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