There are many aspects of Guides that set us apart from other youth organisations, our structure being one of them. We call it The Patrol System.
People naturally form social groups. As humans, we crave the sense of belonging that comes from friendship. So in Guiding we’ve developed a system that both uses and builds on that human instinct.
Patrols are small groups that work together during our weekly meetings. They elect a Patrol Leader, make decisions as a group and they support each other through challenges. It’s a bit like a small community, where the members share interests and are good friends.
Patrols are self-governed, so Guides choose the Patrols themselves, rather than have the leaders assign them. Over time, as the members get to know each other better and they develop their skills, they take on greater responsibility in the unit. Patrols make decisions about the activities they do at Guide meetings, then plan and run those activities with only a small amount of input from the Guide Leaders. The Guide Leaders are there to assist at all stages, but by the time a Guide joins a unit for girls aged 14+ (often called Rangers) her Patrol should be able to plan almost the entire program with only minimal input from the Leaders.
Sometimes all Guides in the unit will work together as one big group, rather than in their Patrols. These all-unit activities are decided on by the Guide Leaders together with the Patrol Leaders, who speak on behalf of their Patrol. This ensures that the unit activities are of interest to the Guides, not just the adult Leaders.
The Patrol System isn’t just at the unit level though. District’s, regions, states and national levels all use the Patrol System too! Information is communicated from the national team down through the state teams, Region Managers and District Managers to the Unit Leaders who pass the relevant information on to Guides and their parents.
There are many aspects to the Patrol System and sometimes one or two aspects may get forgotten over time – sometimes the Leaders find that the Guides are struggling with the responsibility, maybe they want to surprise the Guides with exciting activities, sometimes Leaders don’t realise that the way they are running the Guide meetings is not the best way to engage the Guides, or any number of other reasons.
Not long ago I read a few posts, including this one, about the Patrol System which made me evaluate the way we use it at St Lucia Girl Guides (ages 10-14). It became obvious that we could make a few changes to the way we use the system.
While we always get ideas from the Girl Guides and they have been working in small groups, these groups are not what I would class as ‘effective’ Patrols. When we return in 2016 we will ask the girls to reorganise themselves into new Patrols. We’ll discuss what strengths a leader has, so that Patrol Leaders can be elected based on their leadership skills. The Guides will then be shown how to run a Patrol Council meeting, where they will learn how to make decisions as a group. We’ll help them every step of the way, guiding them when they need it and watching them learn as they plan-do-evaluate.
I really think our Guides are at a stage where they will enjoy the greater responsibility and will appreciate the sense of Patrol Spirit and belonging, so I’m looking forward to going down this road with them and seeing them flourish!