(Reprised From March 2012 BSA National Advancement Newsletter. This is reprinted from the current issue, page 6.)
Myth No. 1: The Scoutmaster (unit leader) conference is the last step before a board of review.
Myth No. 2: A Scout can “fail” a Scoutmaster conference and be held back from a board of review.
Topic 188.8.131.52 in the Guide to Advancement breaks both these myths. “While it makes sense to hold [a Scoutmaster or unit leader conference] after other requirements for a rank are met, it is not required that it be the last step before the board of review.” Some leaders hold more than one conference long the way, and any of them can count toward the requirement.
Requirements for each rank state, “Participate in a Scoutmaster conference.” This is not a pass or fail requirement. Topic 184.108.40.206 states, “[The conference] is not a ‘test.’ Requirements do not say he must ‘pass’ a conference.” If an Eagle Scout candidate’s conference is denied or the unit leader refuses to sign a candidate’s Eagle application, a board of review under disputed circumstances may be held (see the Guide to Advancement, topic 220.127.116.11).
A Scoutmaster conference should not become just another requirement for rank advancement. It should be a rewarding opportunity for a unit leader to form a bond with each member, whether advancing or not. It is more about using the Scouting method of positive adult association than it is about using the method of advancement.
Location is important to a good conference. While virtually any place that supports BSA Youth Protection guidelines is acceptable, some settings provide for more relaxed conversation. A unit leader may find, for example, that conferences held during outings are less subject to interruption than those held during regular meetings.
When we examine the four steps to advancement, the unit leader conference is the first part of the “Scout Is Reviewed” step. The second part is the board of review. However, neither is a retest of skills or knowledge. A unit leader should plan conferences carefully. Trust is a vital element. Listening is another. Hearing about the Scout’s life outside troop activities is just as important as his experiences in the unit. Emphasizing the Scout Oath and Scout Law, setting goals, promoting additional responsibility, sharing ideas, and providing positive reinforcement will go a long way in producing growth through personal reflection. This all leads to retention.