The life of a Wood Badge scribe: Great days, late nights

_DJW3333Late on Saturday night, the printer sounded an alarm: the cyan and yellow ink cartridges were running dangerously low.

I turned to Brian, my assistant scribe, to help me make a life-or-death critical decision.

“OK, here’s the situation. We have two options,” I said. “We can print the luncheon programs in color and risk it, or we can play it safe and print them in black and white.”

We decided to risk it. My hand trembling, I unchecked the “print in grayscale” option and held my breath.

One by one the color copies emerged — each a small victory. By the time the 100th copy sputtered its way onto the tray, there was much rejoicing in Scribe Central.

Color copies for everyone!

Yes, the life of a Wood Badge scribe requires late nights, patience and lots of printer ink. But the memories, the camaraderie and the chance to watch Scouters have their eyes opened to the power of Scouting is enough to energize even the sleepiest Scouter.

Getting the call

Last year, David Demarest, course director for Circle Ten Council Wood Badge course S2-571-16-2, called me with the pitch.

Would I be interested in several Saturdays and weeknights spent preparing for the training course known as the Ph.D. of Scouting? Would I be interested in two weekends full of typing, proofreading, printing, folding, hole-punching and laminating? Would I be interested in little sleep and less pay? (In fact, instead of getting paid I’d pay the $140 registration fee like everyone else on staff.)

I said yes without a second thought. I mean, this is Wood Badge we’re talking about.

I took the course in 2012 (and wrote about it for Scouting magazine). I served as Troop Guide in 2013 (and wrote about it for this blog).

So I know about the course’s magnetic power to change a person’s life. I know how it puts a Scout leader through a month in the life of a Scout. I know that Wood Badge participants make lifelong friends and leave with fresh ideas for improving their Scout units.

And I know that when it comes to Scout leader training, the only thing better than taking Wood Badge is staffing Wood Badge.

So when I learned Demarest and Senior Patrol Leader Ben Stradley — both staffers with me in 2013 — were leading a course, I couldn’t say no.

A scribe’s life for me

My assistant scribe, Brian Kirkwood, and I were in charge of preparing all printed materials and ensuring the technology worked during course presentations.

At least once per day, someone would run in and utter these words: “Bryan/Brian, can you print something for me?”

A Wood Badge scribe plays a support role. Our job was to help others do their jobs.

And, of course, to design the course newspaper, the Gilwell Gazette. Each evening, I opened Adobe InDesign and got to work. The Gazette included columns from Demarest, Stradley, Quartermaster John Wells and me; submissions from each patrol of Wood Badge participants; photos; and a daily course schedule. As an added bonus, my dad, Don, was the course photographer and supplied all the great photos included in each issue.

Brian and I worked as quickly as the printer would allow. (Note to self: next time, find a printer that’s faster at two-sided printing.) Paper jams and empty ink cartridges were our greatest enemies. We considered it a successful night when we got to bed before midnight.

But the funny thing is: None of this felt like work.

The 6 a.m. alarm came earlier each morning, but when we saw participants anxiously reading their Gazette copies as they sipped coffee, we knew our efforts were worth it.

Here are the covers for the six issues of the Gazette we printed (and folded and hole-punched).







Lessons learned

If I have one regret about being a Wood Badge scribe, it’s that I didn’t see more of the course. We missed a few key moments — to preserve the magic of Wood Badge, I won’t say which ones — because of last-minute printing needs.

But when the printer finally took a break, we did too. And we watched our fellow staff and participants make this Wood Badge course shine.

It’s humbling to realize that 39 participants and 25 staff members gave up all this time away from their families and their jobs because they care so much about Scouting. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

And it’s not just in Circle Ten Council, of which I’m a member. Wood Badge courses inspire Scouts from coast to coast (and around the world).

More than words

The BSA’s Wood Badge syllabus is a 438-page document that includes everything a staff member needs to know to run the course.

You could read the entire printed syllabus and get some important lessons about being a better Scouter, a better leader and a better person — just like you could read the script for a play and be entertained.

But at Wood Badge or on a stage, it’s the people that turn the words into magic. Wood Badge without people is like a play without actors.

And the people involved in this Wood Badge course have inspired me to be a better Scouter.

Why take Wood Badge?

If you aren’t Wood Badge trained, you’re missing out on the chance to be a better leader for your Scouts or Venturers.

And it’s not just me saying this. Here are 25 of your fellow Scouters sharing why Wood Badge is the right move.

Contact your council to find out about the next Wood Badge course.


  1. PhD? Really? Putting it that way makes it sound out of reach and only attainable for those who have a deep knowledge of scouting already. This is training for every man and woman who want to be better at what they do, not just those who have put years and years of time and research and have already done a thesis of some sort. It is a great experience, provides a wonderful working knowledge of leadership and how to apply it, broadens views of scouting, and builds a great network among scouters. What is better than taking Wood Badge? Taking the knowledge home to our scouts and their leaders so that they can also benefit and make Scouting even better.

  2. Amazing how times have changed. When I attended Wood Badge, the newsletters were on stone tablets. 🙂

    But I know your joy. For several years, I spent entire weekends (16 hour days) continuously washing dishes supporting others cooking meals supporting others delivering a great program. And I loved every minute!

  3. I LOVE the printed versions of the Gilwell Gazette!!! Yours looks like a beautiful magazine vs. the ones I had as a participant. Some of the courses on our staff have ditched the gazette in favor of video reports and I am not really a fan of the concept (but then again I am not a Millenial). Perhaps if I ever become a Course Director I could recruit someone from BSA Magazines as a Scribe. The magazine look and feel is better than the average printed version and would eliminate the “need” the people have for something more contemporary like the videos 🙂

    • Thanks! And the printed Gazettes seem better suited for Wood Badge, especially in the second half of the course. Just my take.

  4. I am a uk scouter and have my wood beads.
    I am interested in how you do things and wondered if you would email me a copy of your paperwork and program. We have many training weekends and days and evenings before we get ours completed so would love to know more about how your system works.

  5. Wood badge. Did that, been on staff, sang the songs and got a bunch of t-shirts. Is there evidence from the BSA that wood badge has a measureable impact on a units effectiveness in delivering the program to youth or is it all just anecdotal?

      • A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Wood Badge Price: Your time and $140. Value: To many, priceless. To me, priceless. To the units I have served, priceless. To the youth we served and mentored as they learned to lead themselves, priceless. Anecdotally speaking of course.

    • Bueller, thank you for asking that question. I’m a Cubmaster, and I would consider Wood Badge only if the time ROI would measurably help with pressing, immediate needs, i.e. recruiting and retaining adult volunteers for Cub Scouts.

      So far, no one has provided either anecdotes or empirical evidence that WB is a useful tool toward that objective. No ROI case.

      • Hey Cubmaster Daniel….my best answer is: Do…then know. I wish I had gone to Wood Badge years ago, as a Cubmaster or even as a parent of 5 boys. Your ROI will be realized in your everyday life in your family, your career, and yes…in Scouting. It will help you with recruiting because you’ll be able to speak to people about Scouting and volunteering with a different language and spirit. You’ll conduct Pack Meetings with a different commitment. Your training will be evident to others. So I say again, Do…Then know.

        • This! That’s what I was trying to say! Thank you for putting it so eloquently and succintly.

      • I was ASM for 6 years then SM for 3 before I took Wood Badge. I resisted too as I was an Eagle Scout and thought I really didn’t need it. The 21st Century curriculum is something I can attest as having a lot of value in making me a better leader of adults as well as Scouts. I also had new ideas for implementing a better program including recruitment and retention. On a personal note, it is one of my “mountaintop experiences” in Scouting (alongside Jamborees and High Adventure bases) that I had not anticipated. The ROI was worthwhile for me but I can’t quote a study, just another anecdote.

      • The ROI is not “here’s A,B,C to help you recruit”, “here’s three steps to grow your numbers”. The ROI is learning *in depth* how to do things the BSA way, how to get into a BSA/Scouting mindset. Part of the ROI is having 60+ fellow Scouters with you for 72 hours at a time. Plenty of time to pick their brains, find out how others do things, see how they solved problems you may be having. “But I’ve been in Scouting xx years, I already know all that.” You may think you do, but I bet you don’t realize what you don’t know. Besides, it never hurts to get out of your comfort zone and explore. Allows you to avoid getting into a rut that way.

        Was Woodbadge my favorite training? No. I preferred OLS. (Personally, I had more fun at OLS.) Am I one of the Woodbadge fanatics who just can’t stop raving about how fantastic it is? No. But! I do HIGHLY recommend Woodbadge (and OWLS/OLS). The reference above to it being a Ph.D. is somewhat right. It’s not that it’s unattainable and takes years of hard work. It’s more that Woodbadge is just on a different level from any of the other training you’ve had. It is hands-on, drink-from-fire-hose, total immersion. I can’t imagine anybody could go and not get something out of it. It’s kinda like boot camp. And your patrol mates become some of your best Scouting buds for the years to come. It is an experience you won’t soon forget, if ever. You just have to go and see for yourself.

        P.S. Eagles Soar Forever More!

      • This is just the story of two units, yet I believe similar experience has occurred in many units across the country.

        In 2008, four relatively new Scout Leaders piled into a truck and drove from Dallas to Philmont Scout Ranch to attend Wood Badge. The staff was outstanding, the participants eager to learn, the atmosphere electric, the message clear and the Wood Badge Magic complete.

        So now let’s look at the Scouting resumes of the 4 who attended the course, eight years later:

        Scouter #1: Served for 5 years as Assistant Scoutmaster. Developed an annual campus where Scouts earned the Aviation merit badge, complete with the opportunity to take the yoke of a flying aircraft.

        Scouter #2: Returned from Wood Badge and a year later began a three year service as Troop Committee Chair. During his tenure the unit thrived with regards to adult leader participation, fund raising, and membership growth. After a little recovery time, this Scouter took the reigns of Troop Committee Chair for a second time in January of this year.

        Scouter #3: Returned from Wood Badge and assumed the role of Cub Master. Doubled the size of the Pack in both youth and adult participation. When his youngest son crossed over to Boy Scouts, he assumed his current role of Scoutmaster, and has again seen growth in both youth and adult participation. Additionally he has provided leadership for 3 high adventure treks to Northern Tier.

        Scouter #4: Returned from Wood Badge and assumed the role of Scoutmaster the following year. During his tenure the Troop saw growth in both membership and youth leadership participation, not only in Troop activities but in staffing district events as well. Additionally he served as Associate Chapter Advisor for our OA Chapter, has served on the District Committee, and routinely staffs events for the Dallas Catholic Committee on Scouting. He was instrumental in creating a Venture Crew, and has served in leadership of 6 high adventure treks to Philmont. He continues to serve as an active Scouter in multiple units.

        Not a bad ROI from a single Wood Badge course. I’m not sure how to quantify the dollars and cents. I do know that participation in Wood Badge has been heavily encouraged since this course, and Pack, Troop and Crew continue to thrive.

        • Yep. How do you think I wound up Cubmaster? The Troop my son was in had enough foresight to pay my way to get me to go to Woodbadge. Guess what ticket #5 was? (Still think it shoulda counted for all five! Lol) Last year, all six of my Webelos 2’s crossed over to that troop. The return on the course fee will be paid many times over in the coming years.

      • It helps more than you think with immediate needs of your Unit. It is a Leadership Training Course, it teaches you in more ways than one how to be a leader. What you take away from it is more than just classroom knowledge, its actual in the moment learning.. Its an experience that you can’t really describe, but I can wholeheartedly say that for most people its one that will change them.

  6. I took WB back in October and I absolutely loved it. Currently, I’m working my ticket but once I am done I am considering staffing a WB in the future. I’m a graphic designer, being the Scribe would come naturally for me. It was good to read what it’s like to be the Scribe. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I was SM or ASM with a large troop most recently for 10 years. Our program was never more effective than when we had 2 or 3 adults going through Wood Badge. You learn how the Scouting program should be done and get the tools the make that happen. It really helps the unit.

  8. Scribe (SR-846). I was fortunate to bring a good enough double-sided color printer for my course. Felt good to turn off the light to the Scribe hut by 12:45 am after our print runs were done. Came close to deadline on final slideshow with just 10 minutes to spare on Day 6. I had written about 60% of my articles before the course on subjects I thought would be of interest. Later did the same job for Powder Horn a year later.

  9. Any mimeograph WBGazettes in the museum archives? I’d like to see them!
    Owl be seeing you, back to Gilwell,

    Did YOUR course have a Bugler? How can you say it was the “MountainTop Experience” without a bugler to play you to sleep with “Tatoo” and “Taps”, echoing across the fields and woods? ,

    • No bugler at the course I staffed, but we did have a Piper playing after graduation when the participants walked down the road past the staff. Saw some tears in some of their eyes.

  10. I was Scribe for C1-250-14-1, and paid the out-of-pocket expense to have a first page in color because I just couldn’t leave it in black & white. I was up until about 2 am printing the Gazette each night for every participant and staff member. I’m a little disappointed that now there is only black & white, and only two copies per table in the morning, and there is even talk of going strictly digital. I’m hoping more discussion on this will happen, because who wouldn’t want their own copy of Brian’s amazing looking Gilwell Gazette above to take home with them?!?

    Being on staff for Wood Badge has been one of the best things I’ve ever done (on my fourth go-around right now!). Seeing that bond that forms between the staff, and especially the participants makes me strive even more in my Troop to foster that between the Scouts.

  11. I couldn’t imagine printing those in color! How did you guys do that much full color on a front page print? Did it break the bank in ink? I hauled my Brother laser printers to camp and did black and white hard copies for everyone each day and then posted the colorized version online. I had little contests and games hidden throughout the Gazettes I wrote though, so they got poured through every morning.

  12. The story about “100 color printed menus” reminds me how far Woodbadge has come. Has it gone in the wrong direction? Possibly. But I’m not going to start that argument. What I do propose, however, is a better skills-based, patrol based course than the current “IOLS”. There needs to be a course that teaches “Scouting” somewhere between the Scoutmaster fundamentals and Woodbadge.

  13. Why color? Why the added expense? Why the complexity? Use the lowest common denomator, like Word, print 2 copies for each patrol, and provide the pdf via link post-course for all the gazettes to all the participants. This saves ink/toner/paper. Shows great stewardship for our resources. In a 2x3day format you can have day 1 and day 4 ready to go before the participants arrive.
    Scribes should be focused on delivering/providing course content, not staying up until 2am. No one has ever said the gazette was the difference maker in the course, it’s the personal experience with the other participants and staff they have that makes the difference.

    Scribe 2011 – Was in bed shortly after staff meeting each night.

  14. My greatest achievement was receiving my beads; second greatest achievement, being a troop guide for the Eagle Patrol. If asked, how can ou say no, knowing the outcome is a better leader…..NO BRAINER. The fact it is fun (and little sleep as a Staffer) is a perk!!

    Owl Patrol, SR-755, Occoneechee Council, Fall 2006
    Eagle Troop Guide, SR-9-92-15-4 (92-82), Atlanta Area Council, Fall 2015

  15. I love WB. Went through and bearly made it. 🙂 Been on three staffs since and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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