The simple answer, of course, is that it is advanced leadership training for Scouters worldwide, but that is far too simple an explanation. Since the first First Scoutmasters’ Course at Gilwell Park, September, 1919 (pictured above) more that 100,000 Scouters throughout the world have taken what eventually became known as Wood Badge.

Replica of Necklace BP found in Dinizulu’s hut
Australian Scouter shows Wood Badge Beads
Australian Scouter showing off his Wood Badge beads

Why is it called Wood Badge? Well, during one of his African campaigns as a British officer, Baden Powell took a necklace from an African chieftain, Dinizulu. In searching for a suitable recognition for those who completed the first course in 1919, B-P remembered the beads and decided to present a bead to each participant. From that time the course was dubbed Wood Badge. Today’s beads replicate the beads found by Baden-Powell during that 1888 African campaign.

Back then the course offered grown men the chance to play the game of Scouting, as B-P explained it, in patrols. They learned campcraft, pioneering, cooking, hiking, all mixed in with games. Lots and lots of games and contests between patrols.

Baden-Powell took the first steps to train Scouters by organizing a series of lectures as early as 1911. But with Wood Badge, he made great strides by devising and instituting training which featured a live-in camp setting where the magic of the Patrol Method bonds Scouters in their Wood Badge patrol. That’s what we call the “magic sauce” of Wood Badge.

As early as 1968 my own Scoutmaster, Farnes Berntson, made it to Wood Badge. It was probably a bit late for him to go since he already had the Scouting spirit from serving as our leader for nearly seven years. But off he went and came back a better man for it, though I hardly know how that was possible. That course was nearly the same as had it had been in 1919.

It was his example to learn more that prompted me to sign up in 1975. By then Wood Badge in the BSA had undergone a huge transformation. There were still patrols for sure and all the other methods of Scouting too, but eleven skills of leadership, taken directly from the Harvard Business labs, were now the feature.

I wrote 22 goals into what was called a ticket and worked that ticket for 18 months as a Scoutmaster and the last six as a new professional Scouter. There is no question it worked some kind of magic on me, just like it did Farnes. I was one of my proudest adult recognitions when I was finally presented the fawn neckerchief, woggle and beads.Wood-Badge-Beads-Woggle-Neckerchief

Today’s Wood Badge content has been modernized. Its focus is more on leadership rather than outdoor skills, but still with Patrols singing and competing together, forging lasting bonds among their members.

These days participants get a world view of Scouting, as a family of interrelated, values-based programs that provide age-appropriate activities for youth. They apply the skills they learn as they go in a successful working patrol. The process revitalizes their commitment to youth in Scouting and offers them the leadership skills needed to accomplish BSA’s mission.

These include:

Living the Values

  • Values, Mission, and Vision

Tools of the Trade

  • Project Planning
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • Managing Conflict
  • Self-Assessment

Bringing the Vision to Life

  • Listening to Learn
  • Communication
  • Inclusiveness
  • Valuing People and Leveraging Diversity
  • Coaching and Mentoring

Models for Success

  • Stages of Team Development
  • The Leading Edge/The Teaching Edge

Leading to Make a Difference

  • Leaving a Legacy

After a 20 year hiatus, I was back at Wood Badge in September. I marveled that the “magic sauce” is still in the mix. For me it was like going back to 1975 all over again. I was amazed.

Years ago Paul E. Baudouin, of the Three Fires Council, explained it this way

“If we were to take the next two hours and use a million words it would be impossible to relate the entire program and spirit of Wood Badge to you. When considering this adventure, first look around and observe the Scouters who already wear the tan neckerchief and two wooden beads. Are they people you look up to? Do they exemplify the true Scouting spirit? Ask them about the program. However, be prepared to listen for the next several minutes of the many good times and great Scouting adventures they experienced…
“What creates this feeling? Well… my friend, you can say you have already experienced the patrol method, but you really haven’t felt a true close feeling until you have lived among Wood Badge buddies. You will see firsthand how Baden-Powell’s patrol method really works.”

This weekend I took a few hours to get ready for our LDS sponsored Pleasant Grove North Field Stake Course at Maple Dell Scout Camp in April and May 2016. Even though snow is just beginning to fall, preparations for this first spring course and our Council’s 14 other courses are well underway. Call your local Council Service Center to see when your next course will be held. It will change your life. I promise!

Darryl Alder
Darryl is a retired career Scouter with more than 30 years of service. However, his pride in Scouting, is his volunteer service as an Associate Advisor, Varsity Scout Coach, Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Chartered Organization Representative and Commissioner.

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