Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 1: Living the Values

Growing up, one thing always perplexed me about our home: What’s with all the owls?

We lived in an owlery, it seemed. Owls in every room. I saw owl belt buckles, owl clocks, owl paperweights, owl postcards, plush owl toys — pretty much everything short of a real bird in a cage.

My dad’s overt owl obsession made no sense to me — until last month.

After completing a weeklong Wood Badge course at Philmont Scout Ranch, I get it now.

My dad was — well, is — a member of the Owl patrol. And now that I’m a fellow Owl, I see how Wood Badge changes you. The values and lessons embedded in you during those six days stay with you long after the closing ceremony.

So in an effort to share the magic of Wood Badge — and preserve some of my favorite memories — I’m starting Wood Badge Wednesdays. My goal with this five-part series is to explore some of the takeaways from my course and help you see how Wood Badge can help strengthen your ability to work with your pack, troop, team, ship, crew, or post.

Never heard of Wood Badge? Considering attending soon? Already wear two, three, or four Wood Badge beads? No matter where you are in the spectrum, I hope you’ll find value in this five-part, in-depth look at Wood Badge.

Today, I’ll discuss the importance of Living the Values and how my patrolmates embody the Scout Law. 

Certified Spoiler-Free

“Assume you know nothing.”

That was by far the best advice I got before buttoning up my uniform and beginning my Wood Badge journey. And it really is the best way to approach the training course. So before I continue, I want to stress that I won’t be spoiling any of the course’s surprises on my blog.

I’m sure if you spend a few minutes with Google, you can find a detailed breakdown of everything that happens at Wood Badge. But why would you?

Wood Badge is as much about the journey as the destination. And experiencing the highs and lows of the week with your patrol is vital to the process. Knowing too much going in devalues the experience.

So I’ll be talking more about the lessons learned and less about the unique mechanisms the Wood Badge staff uses to deliver those lessons. For that, you’ll have to take the course for yourself. (See below to learn how!)

Values, Vision, and Mission

Working at the Boy Scouts of America’s national office, it’s easy to feel a little disconnected from the volunteers who read Scouting magazine. That’s why we encourage and appreciate your feedback about what we do — and how we could do it better.

That’s also why it’s vitally important for us to get out into the field as often as possible.

Spending a week with some of the most caring, centered, and driven Scouters I’ve ever met reminded me why I do what I do.

Meeting these awesome Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, and Venturing leaders rekindled the fire, helped me drink the Kool-Aid, and did every other cliché you can think of.

Without exception, every staff member and participant was top-class, but like in any troop, I spent the majority of my time with my patrol. The seven of us, and our troop guide, are pictured above.

And after spending six full days — awake from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. — with these seven folks, I can confidently say they embody the vision of an ideal Scouter.

We talked a lot about our Values, Vision, and Mission at the course. These elements serve as the foundation for everything we do in Scouting. Here’s how they’re defined:

  • Values: “Core beliefs or desires that guide or motivate our attitudes and our actions.”
    • For most of us, this starts with the Scout Oath and Scout Law. But it’s more than that. These are the principles and character traits and goals that matter most to us. They’ll be different for everybody.
    • For me, the Scout Oath and Law have been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. In addition, I see serving others as a big part of my job at Scouting magazine. In its best form, journalism is service.
  • Vision: “States the goal you want to achieve.”
    • What does success look like? Where do you see yourself, your family, or your unit in X number of months or years? If you don’t know your destination, how can you start heading toward it?
    • For me, my vision is to empower other leaders to do their best by giving them the tools they need to succeed — through whatever means necessary. That’s why I started this blog three years ago, and it’s why I love my job so much.
  • Mission: “The means of reaching that goal.”
    • This defines the direction and steps you’ll take to create the change and growth you want to see in yourself, your family, and/or your Scouting unit.
    • For me, this means continuing to get out there and talk to Scouts and Scouters, attend more training, and listen to feedback.

The next time you have a free hour (ha! OK, how about the next time you have a free minute?) do yourself a favor and write down your Values, Mission, and Vision. Post it in your office, on the fridge, or somewhere conspicuous.

You’ve gotta come up with all three, because, as Joel Barker writes, “A vision without a mission is just a dream… A mission without a vision just passes the time… A vision with action can change the world.”

The Values in Action

You’d be hard-pressed to find a group that more fully embodies the Scouting values than my six patrolmates and our troop guide (the staff member in charge of our specific group). Here’s how each member of the Owls (and our honorary Owl, Jacquelyn) lived the Law:

  • A Scout is Trustworthy: You can always count on Jim to do what he says he’ll do. Whether it’s finishing an important part of the patrol’s presentation or simply showing up at the right place and time, he was Mr. Reliable. I look forward to working with him more in our Scouting careers.
  • A Scout is Loyal: Lee, the master illustrator who created our patrol’s totem (seen here), exuded a quiet confidence throughout the week. He wasn’t the loudest one in our patrol, but he was the calming presence we often needed to get things done. And he was often the first one at our patrol table when it was time to work.
  • A Scout is Helpful: A member of our patrol had never packed a large backpack before. So before the troop’s big hike, Jeff stopped packing his own stuff to patiently help a patrol member in need. Others noticed, and it warmed our hearts. The rest of the week, Jeff’s spirituality helped us through trying times.
  • A Scout is Friendly: Did Bruce ever stop smiling? If he did, I didn’t notice. He has one of the most genuine smiles I’ve seen, and it was contagious — an especially important characteristic when it’s raining and we’re all tired and hungry. Bruce’s dry wit kept me laughing all week.
  • A Scout is Kind: You can tell Nancy‘s a mom in the care with which she addressed each member of the patrol. I was moved when she took the time to personally thank me for attending Wood Badge with her. Really, we should be thanking her for the energy and kindness she brought to our group.
  • A Scout is Cheerful: During the workweek back home, long days and short nights often mean disgruntled workers. At Philmont, on the other hand, it’s tough to be in a bad mood anytime. But thanks to Dave, the Owl patrol’s enthusiasm never dipped, even when the sun had long dipped below the mountains. He was our Motivator in Chief, and his boundless energy lifted my spirits on numerous occasions. In fact, I saw members of other patrols grin widely as he led us in the Owl’s theme song. (Naturally, it was “Who Are You?” by The Who.)
  • A Scout is Brave: That’s gotta be Jacquelyn, our troop guide from West Virginia. Just agreeing to be on Wood Badge staff and lead a bunch of Texans is pretty brave, but she put herself on the line for us countless times and strengthened us in the process. Her brave leadership set an example we were proud to follow.

After meeting these Spectacular Seven (as I’m now calling them), I’m convinced that not only does Wood Badge make you a better Scouter, it also attracts some of the best Scouters out there. The course itself has a lot to offer, but so, too, do the people who willingly give up six days of their time to attend.

Great people and great lessons: It’s really the best of both worlds.

Wood Badge Wednesdays

This is Part 1 of a five-part series called Wood Badge Wednesdays. Here’s the schedule for the entire series; each week I’ll explore one of the five central themes of Wood Badge for the 21st Century:

  1. Living the Values (this post)
  2. Bringing the Vision to Life (Sept. 19)
  3. Models for Success (Sept. 26)
  4. Tools of the Trade (Oct. 17)
  5. Leading to Make a Difference (Oct. 24)

It’s Your Move

Ready to take Wood Badge for yourself? Start by contacting your local council to learn how.

You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two nonconsecutive weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!

Anyone from any council also has the opportunity to sign up for Circle Ten Council’s Wood Badge course at Philmont. The next course is held in August 2013 at Scouting’s paradise in New Mexico. The course Web site isn’t up yet, but here’s the placeholder link to keep on your radar.


  1. How cool to be able to take Wood Badge at Philmont. I found myself wondering if anyone could take the course out there and, of course, you answered that question, too. There are benefits of taking the course in a local council as well. For example, I still see the members of my Fox Patrol pretty regularly and the son of a fellow Fox is participating in our council Jamboree contingent.

    • Yes, great point. I’m registered in Circle Ten, but we had Scouters from all over — California, Florida, West Virginia. I can certainly see the “home-field advantage” you’re referring to.

  2. This is great and I’ll be looking out for the future posts on Wood Badge. I start my Wood Badge experience this Friday with Northern New Jersey and Patriot’s Path Councils. I can not wait!

  3. I, too live with an Owl issue. Hubby is an Owl, I’m a Bobwhite. At least we are birds of feathers together. Looking forward to reading your blog each Wednesday and have fun with your ticket items!

  4. Bryan, my husband and I leave for our first Wood Badge weekend this Friday. (9/14), we are both excited and nervous to attend…since we have no idea what we are getting into. It helps that our district is heavily involved in leading this WB and we know several of the staff members.

    • How cool to get to share this experience with your husband! I admit I was nervous, too, not knowing what to expect. But the course really is deliberately designed to take you and your emotions on a journey you’ll never forget. Have fun, and enjoy the ride!

    • Rebecca – go with not expectation other than to learn and have fun. Remember, everything is for a purpose. You just may not know it when you are doing it!!!!

  5. I probably served you cobbler on Monday night of Wood Badge at PTC. It was my last night working before I went back home. Too bad I did not know… hope you had a fun time! Do you have any pictures from the Cobbler Night?

  6. Looping Antelopes! I spent several years working in a program in the Post Office to help and to train leadership and team building. Hands down Wood Badge is the best training program for real skills building. That is why the Boy Scouts is so very important. We train youth to be the best Prepared adults, but we also train Adults to be the best Prepared leaders in Scouting and in their own lives and livelihoods. Go Scouting – never change from the Original Goals! Thank you for all you do!

  7. You went to bed at 11am?! That is early! Glad you had a great time doing Wood Badge. I am a DE in west Texas, but did Wood Badge in Longhorn Council. “I used to be a Beaver” and can honestly say that in the almost 20 years I have been a scout, scouter, and now professional, it is bar none the best training the BSA has to offer anyone. Look forward to hearing more of your take.

  8. Proud Fox here, and a staffer three times. In the Miami Valley Council, we try to keep track of “critters” and assign spouses and children to different patrols. That’s why this fox has an owl for a daughter and a bobwhite for a son

  9. Well, I first took Wood Badge in 1976 (ec92) at the ripe age of 19 and the council just deducted my fees straight from my camp paycheck. Beads by my 21st birthday and not out of college, but moved from ASM to UC. Many opportunities to take the new course, all missed for one thing or another, and it was complete chance that I am able to do this one this summer (C7-751-12). Second weekend starts Saturday morning. Goals are written and approved, its just work, now.

  10. Congragulations, your Wood Badge ticket time is just starting, For I, used to be an Owl, C-08-08, Heart of America Council, Eagle Scout Class of 1978 and it will change your whole out look on every day things as well.

  11. Great article and just like the first person commented when I started reading it I knew right off the bat that this was a ticket item. I completed my tickets in March of this year (S1-213-11 Eagle Patrol) and while they were a challenge to complete as sitiuations changed a few times on me this was by far the best leadership training I have been a part of even in my 12 years as a project manager for a major oil and gas company. I have seen so much value added to not only myself but everyone else around me that I have had a chance to mentor.

  12. I went through my Wood Badge training back in 1994, SRCS4. I know there’s been a whole lotta changes and though I’m almost retired, am really tempted to do the course at Philmont, to open my mind and heart and heart—learn and experience. “Once I was an Owl!”

    • Larry: I was a participant at SR-CS-7 and loved my Cub Trainer Wood Badge experience. You definitely need to take the Wood Badge for the 21st Century – new material and a great experience.

  13. Hey Bryan, Looking forward to your retelling of WB 102. I very much enjoyed the week at Philmont and I can confirm that the quality of the staff and participants were truly top notch. Your troop guide was a fox so I’m sure that helped.

    There’s definetely an advantage to doing it in council but I’m a Coloradoan and it works.

    From the next patrol over – Sean

  14. Ah, Gilwell, happy land.
    Bobwhite here…the other white meat. Bobwhite’s are the humblest patrol. At least we’re 2nd.
    What a cool way to do a ticket, via blog. Looking forward.

  15. Bryan, Thanks for the post. I begin my Wood Badge Journey this weekend with the Central Florida Council. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now and am getting more excited by the day.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences and passion! Sounds like it did indeed change your life, and you will have a positive impact on many Scouts, Scouters and communities.

    The one thing that was sad was to see your use of the “drink the Kool Aid” phrase. This refers to an anwful event in history, one that has no positive references whenever and wherever it is used. Perhaps a better description or term could be use din the future.

  17. Bryan Welcome to the Owl Patrol I am also an Owl and I certainly did start collecting Owls of all kinds it was a result of my 2003 WoodBadge training. The course is the best training I have ever received. My service to BSA was excellerated to a new level and I am able to provide better skills in organizing all of my journey through life. Sincerely, Trenton Spears

  18. As a fellow owl, I knew where this blog was headed from the first sentence, as I have suddenly become a collector of all things owl. After my Wood Badge course last year, I found among my husband’s keepsakes a patch with the ax in the log, which had to belong to my husband’s deceased father. Does anybody know how I could find out more about this? I know that he was a Scoutmaster in the 1970’s, and that’s about all I know. If there was a way to learn this information, especially what critter he was, I would feel somehow closer to someone I never had a chance to meet, but who, to this day, is a great influence on my husband and even our boys.

  19. Greetings from a Brilliant BobWhite!! Good Ticket Item, Spread the Word, Keep up the good work…

    Sr Patrol Leader, C3-312-12-1

  20. Love the Hats!! Looks like New Mexico but feels like Texas!!! Is that a Philmont issued patrol flag? interesting that the owl is on a yellow background, yellow is eagle patrol color, here are the patrol colors in Gilwell order:


  21. I’m just about to start my wood badge in two weeks at Camp Lawton (Catalina Council). Everything I read on the Wood Badge is so inspirational any your blog is spot on. I look forward to your next posts. Thanks.

  22. I will be leaving in the morning for my 2nd weekdn of Woodbadge Training at Hidden Valley Boy Scout Camp in Pennsylvania. I took ao much from the 1st week and know I will learn so much more this week. It is an awesome course and as a proud member of our Beaver Patrol here is PA I salute you for blogging about your experiences and thoughts.

  23. Ah, Flashbacks! I completed my ticket in February and haven’t arranged for my bead presentation yet…waiting for our SM for a “double header.” Took my course out-of-council–an Orthodox Priest [with two sons in the troop] tends to be busy on Sundays–and met the greatest bunch of scouters ever in the wood of NW PA. Once an Antelope, always a Cantelope! Run, Forrest, Run! Antelope NE4-532-11-1

  24. Reading the comments it occurs to me what a bunch of loons we must appear to those who have not been.

    Best advice I have seen yet, “Go assuming you know nothing,” drink the koolaid in large gulps, and go expecting to learn and have fun.

  25. This is so cool! I completed my ticket items and submitted my Wood Badge ticket for N1-227-11-1 in Massachusetts. My beading ceremony is on Sept 24. What was unique about my patrol other than we were “da Bears” was that we were a patrol of 5. We were all A-type personalities but were the first patrol to gel. We all had for no known reason respect for each others’ strengths and weaknesses. That showed up even more during the second 3 day weekend when we camped as a patrol. Everyone just did their thing for the benefit of the patrol. We had the best time together. My tickets items focused on the purpose of Scouting, that is “Be Prepared”. Most of my ticket items focused on my Webelos who are now in Troops in the area. There was one thing that I learned about myself during the Wood Badge course and more so after the course when I was working my ticket, that being I do have leader qualities and can lead be it in scouting, as a soccer coach, or in my professional life. This was an important finding fore me. I have now asked to be a staffer for future WB courses in my area.

  26. A Mighty Eagle from C29-94 here. One of my patrolmates didn’t figure out your first point until we were almost done . . . he kept saying “I already know this, they’re wasting my time” until suddenly, it all sunk in.

  27. Love the article, Bryan! Looking forward to the rest of the series. I know your dad and I’m certain that he’s happy to have another owl in the family. My son is an NYLT Owl. He and I already have that friendly critter rivalry, as I used to be a beaver. Perhaps after he turns 18 next year he will have an opportunity to attend WB and our cordial critter clash will continue on.

  28. This is great. Hubby and I were both participants in N6-544-11-1 and finished our tickets this July. We are getting beaded on the 29th at our WB reunion. I am a Beaver and he is a Pronker (antelope)…lol. Our son is the first Beavalope that we know of…lol. Good luck with your tickets and good luck to all those who are starting their journey…The mountaintop is within your reach!

  29. I struggle with attending Wood Badge. Can someone tell me why it’s worth it? I’ve completed Powder Horn, I’m both a NOLS alumni and Instructor and I’m just about done completing my AMGA cert. What more about leadership can Wood Badge teach me?

  30. We will have our “second” First Staff Development this weekend. Our first scheduled Wood Badge was cancelled. I was so excited to know that we have exceeded our participant quota and will be all systems “Back to Gilwell”! Great Ticket, Bryan!

6 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 2: Bringing the Vision to Life « Bryan on Scouting
  2. Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 3: Models for Success « Bryan on Scouting
  3. Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 4: Tools of the Trade « Bryan on Scouting
  4. Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 5: Leading to Make a Difference « Bryan on Scouting
  5. Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 5: Leading to Make a Difference « Bryan on Scouting
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