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Tips for bigger units?

elixa

Regular (50+ posts)
#1
Hello,

I've got 32 guides in my unit and 11 on the waiting list who are already 10. I'm trying to figure out how many more I can feasibly squeeze in by September, as my anticipated older ones declared they wanted to stick for a bit longer until they'd arranged their BP award presentation.

The HQ guideline is 36, which I'm more than happy with. We have 4 patrols of 8 and if we take 36 I will up to 5 patrols of 7 and one of 8.

Trouble is, there is just me as an adult leader. :( I've recently recruited a unit helper who is one of the new girl's mums, which is fab, and in autumn and spring I have some sporadic university student help. I do have leaders in other sections I can call on for the occasional crisis week, thankfully.

I'm thinking of strategies to grease the wheels and wondered if anyone had a similar experience or any advice.

Here are my initial plans:
  • Set up a 'duty patrol' for each evening, who must run a game for everyone first thing at 7:15pm (give me a chance to deal with any parent queries etc. and do any set up), help leaders to set up while that game is running if necessary, checks loo and kitchen are tidy and chooses 'new' (calypso) or 'old' (traditional) taps at the close
  • We already have patrol registers, and the girls sign themselves in, but formally make PL/PS responsible for checking it at horseshoe
  • Use GFI planning sheets (have found that doing 60min, 45min, 30, 30 sessions spaced out helps them plan more structured activities)
  • Have a backup activity for when GFIs go wrong (we're doing bits of World Cultures this term as it ties into Divali etc. so will go for clauses for that probably)
  • Plan as many weeks as I can ahead
  • Aim to finish activities at 8:30 to allow for cleaning up, a game, or sharing news (how my unit elected to support 'care for the individual' a few years back... when there were only 22 of them!) and duty patrol checks before notices and taps to finish at 9pm.

Any other advice or helpful hints I may have overlooked? :)

Thanks! :D
 

fenris

fenris
GuiderPlus
#2
If you already have 32 - do you actually have space for any new starts? It may be that you are vastly experienced, and it is good if there are others you can call on, but it may be good to step back for a minute and consider whether a few more might be a few too many. So, how experienced are your Patrol Leaders, and to what extent do they organise and take charge of their Patrols? How is it going currently with giving each girl her share of 1:1 attention at each meeting? To what extent do the Patrol Leaders choose and run their GFIs unaided - is this running smoothly or do they need some help? How often per term, realistically, would you have the staffing to be able to take the Guides out to do things like wide games, games in the dark, etc, and would increasing the numbers further affect this?

I know there is a temptation for 'just a few more'. I know it's hard to turn to those on the waiting list and say 'no spaces here this term, maybe the next nearest unit might squeeze you in'. But that has to be balanced against offering 'good Guiding' to the existing unit members, and the more the numbers creep up, the harder that becomes.
 

elixa

Regular (50+ posts)
#3
Thanks Fenris.

Yes, my conundrum. I am looking back on things optimistically, but you're right, I shouldn't feel pressured or tempted if it is at the detriment of the girls. I did have another adult leader each week but she has had to stop due to her health. This has meant our situation has kept changing a lot since January.

I'm here shuffling names about looking at a start for a fifth patrol, which is feasible in terms of PLs/PS but the newbies are unknown quantities. (Normally we elect, but I have 2 oldies who are perfect and just missed out.) 4 of 8 with 32 was working spookily well, but we have mostly 10/11 year olds.

Equally, by Christmas, or even half term, my 14 (and a 15) will be given an extra push to move up to SS (already doing international things etc.) which will alleviate a bit.

... Sorry, thinking out loud mostly because I don't have anyone to easily discuss this with who isn't impacted, like brownie leaders ever hopeful I'll take more Guides so they can also deal with their WLs!

We have a sister unit who meet earlier in the week, and they have space, but also their own difficulties. Referring girls over to them hasn't always been met with a timely response to the parents. (There is as ever talk of opening another, but we took in girls about three years ago from another unit that closed.)

I did meet each applicant with the information that we needed to recruit more leaders to offer places. Feasibly, as I've now lost a leader that gives me an understandable reason to a parent why I can't take more girls on.

Either way, being short handed I could do with any other thoughts to make things work a little more slickly.
 

Trinny

Veteran (100+ posts)
#4
I used to have a unit of 36, so I understand that you want to include just one more! I'm going to echo what Fenris is saying - you don't HAVE to take more. Also, think about the newbies. Will they be overwhelmed joining more than a class of 10-15 year olds? So lots of things to consider, including alternatives such as every other weekly meetings. Perhaps consider holiday days or non-term time meetings for the girls in your waiting list? I'm sure you've considered all of this before, but it's worth thinking about options.

So with that being said, this is how our meetings used to run:
7pm - girls arrive and immediately get into patrols and set up for half an hours' patrol time. Yes, we would do G4Is all year round! I know that's a bit unusual, but a constant 30 minute slot where patrols can do go for its, or interest badges as a group, whatever. But they run it and organise themselves, giving leaders time to talk to parents etc. It was hard work to set this up, but took about 6 months to become reliable. Until then, create a list of badge clauses that don't require any equipment (so drama activities, posters/blah) to do in case girls forget to bring equipment to do G4Is.
7.30pm-8.30pm - main activity
8.30pm-9pm - tidying up, songs or games, then taps.
 

elixa

Regular (50+ posts)
#5
Thanks Trinny. I belonged to a big unit as a guide but we had 4/5 leaders or at least one per patrol, and we had duty patrols (sweeping up, prayers and making drinks). We have a bigger unit in our (edit: division) (with more leaders).

I think you're both agreeing with my conscience to stick with 32 and roll with any unexpected departures. Thank you for the prompt replies!

We do GFIs Autumn and Spring (or a national initiative if it's required similar) and leave summer for getting out of the place as much as we can. Often they want to do something that takes longer than 30 mins, use the kitchen, and often choose the most involved thing for the first week, at least when we've given them a target of 'fill at least an hour'. It often drifts off a little, but do let them get creative to adapt the ideas on a theme.

I can see that would take some setting up - though our last stab at GFI in Spring, the girls really, really surprised me by being incredibly independent. I was puzzling over what we'd done differently or enabled as it's never happened in 8 years! I definitely think that sort of time is worth working up to though - definitely encouraging me that more patrol responsibility is worth investing in.

Thumbs up to the 8:30 transition.
 

JJJJ1980

Brownie Leader x 3
#6
I don't have much to add as I don't run guides but we occasionally do "10 seconds news" as i have a large group of Brownies. They pass the teddy around and once they have it I (and only I) start counting to ten on my fingers, if they run over I can wave at them but most of them are really quick. (I do count slightly slower for those that need a few extra seconds to communicate their thoughts).
We don't do this every time but it does help limit the amount of time we spend hearing about every single thing they did over the holidays.
 

partygirl

Veteran (100+ posts)
#8
We usually run at 36 but I've dropped the numbers this term as I've temporarily lost a couple of leaders. On paper I usually have 5 leaders but, apart from me, they are all "part time" and for a period this term it's been just me and my Trefoil aged leader.

It is difficult to say no to having more but for your own sanity and the sanity of the Guides you already have, I'd stick with 32 until you have more help. I've found that spreading myself too thin is not beneficial to the Guides, I don't get to know the new starters and end up missing things (problems they may have, relationship issues etc). I ended up getting impatient with them as there just isn't time for me to explain stuff lots of times etc. It's great that the older girls are able to take charge but what happens (as happened with us) when all the older girls are off doing something at school on the same night and forget to let you know?

From an organisational point of view I don't really have much to add. Quite often I feel like we are the most disorganised unit in the country and I fly by the seat of my pants frequently but it seems to work. I'm watching the rest of this thread with baited breath to get us a bit more organised!
 

fenris

fenris
GuiderPlus
#9
If you do succumb . . .

Train your Patrol Leaders. Lay aside a couple of nights a term for doing Patrol Leader training, and holding your Patrol Leader Council. You can use Team Leader badge as a basis, but can also teach specific skills (such as how to choose a game, how to lead a game, how to handle differing opinions, what to think about when welcoming new recruits to the Patrol, etc). A little bit of training makes a big difference to what they can confidently do, and is a great investment. That gives you a genuine Leader working with each Patrol - and also means that being PL is a privilege rather than a dreaded fate.

Plan your programme around the weeks when you have extra help. So on nights when it's 'just you' schedule Patrol-led sessions like GFIs, so that for the greater part of the evening the Guides are occupied, and you are only organising the 'fillers' at the end for the Patrols to start working on as they are finishing up what they are doing. Or an indoor campfire where each Patrol is preparing a skit to perform at it for the first part of the night. Or a night with one main topic and limited equipment and mess, like Agility badge, or trying a sport, or all tackling a craft together.

Save activities like cooking, or ones which involve rotating round activities, or ones where the girls will need help with parts of it, for the nights when you have extra help.

Think about things which take time the higher the number of participants (like Promise ceremonies or badge presentations, or even just handing a note round the horseshoe) and think about how you can keep them special for each individual, but not have them drag on for ages. Also think about 'unit privileges (like doing the reading at the end of the meeting) - how will you arrange fair turns, or keep track?

Consider your premises and the plusses and minuses. Have you small rooms you can use as breakout space if one Patrol wants to practice their dance routine, and another is trying to tackle logic puzzles - or is there corners, a hallway, a stage, a walk-in cupboard, outside space? Is there a kitchen, and could you have 8 Guides working in it? Will queues form at the bathroom? Often, rethinking the way you use the space you have helps.

Plan the admin, and delegate what you can. What admin/record keeping could the Guides do, the PSs, the PLs, other team members? Does each Guide keep her own progress records, do the Patrols have progress charts in their Patrol Boxes? What can you set up in advance in the way of ticklists and notes systems so you aren't relying on memory or scraps of paper, but have a proper notebook, or spreadsheet, or meeting planner for each night where things to be remembered are systematically recorded? (bearing in mind data protection rules).
 

elixa

Regular (50+ posts)
#10
Thanks partygirl, you and I are in similar places from the sound of it.

I have decided to stick with 32, and am in the process of drafting an email to the families on my list, in conjunction with our sister unit, to firmly encourage them over to them as they have spaces. Thank you all for the additional sanity check.

Fenris, definitely time to invest in my patrol leaders, yep. My planning of the outline of the programme at this stage is to wrangle extra adults where I can, so I can let them know what we're up to. Our meeting place is fairly flexible for space, but does feel more full when we run around now.

The girls sign themselves in with a register and when we are working on badges I keep tabs on who was there as to clauses completed in a spreadsheet. I've a notebook I write any stuff to remember, give out, BP challenge night requests or plans, etc. as my brain, short of also setting myself a phone reminder for the time I think I'll be home, or an hour or two before the meeting to remember to sling something in a bag.

I keep a copy of the key letters of the year (we have certain annual events we take part in, like a sponsored division walk, our walk to the chip shop, outdoor events like archery, end of summer term campfires etc.) to save me time remembering details (even better now it's all editable PDFs!) The letters go out to everyone via email (some parents even return them by email - hurrah!) and then on paper that same week. I make a point of writing names on and then grouping into patrols, and the PLs then give out and return anyone who isn't there so I know who didn't get theirs - and who left theirs behind.

We don't operate patrol boxes at all - supplies are central, but I'm thinking of doing either a wallet or doc holder or similar for each patrol to sling things in so the PLs can grab them at notice time and tuck any leftovers back in, and keep their GFI and GFI plan in.
 

yorkie

Veteran (100+ posts)
#11
I am in a similar situation.I have girls coming from 3 different Units that will take us well into the 40's. I didn't actually know some of them were coming until last week- the Brown owl in my main feeder Unit had said 2 were coming up but when I pressed for who I got a list of 6 and a oops more than I thought as a sort of apology. To make matters worse some of the girls from another Unit are nearly twelve, the Brown owl insists on keeping them until that age and quite honestly they don't mix in well as they are not used to having to plan for them selves, but she won't be told. To add to all this I have temporarily lost two of my leaders this year so we are down to two of us with some back up from girls who are at Uni and were part of the Unit previously.

Work with this number is difficult particularly as Fenris says in respect of getting time with them as individuals. However it is what it is and I have to make it work.

I have started by organising two start dates.The girls who were part of the Unit will start this week and the new comers next week. I have sent a long email to those newly starting with the starting forms and explaining the situation. I have asked them to come 20 minutes early so I can explain how we function and do any paperwork and answer queries. My older Guides already know they are coming and are geared up to start games as soon as it gets to 7pm. This week the Guides who are already part of the Unit will sort Patrols, patrol boxes and various other jobs that we do first night back including review the Guidelines.

I intend to discuss with my older Guides the possabilty of restarting the Senior Unit when they have all finished their BP ( I have already discussed this with those at camp and they like the idea, especially as the programme is changing and there is quite a big group of them) I will also get them to tell me when they want to run sessions for their BP so that those are set before the others join.

We are fortunate in that we have a large room and two kitchens ( one doesn't have a cooker but is useable for some activities). In addition we use the Church, the Brownie room after 8pm, a patio area and the corridor outside our room on a regular basis which means we can accommodate several activities at one time ( although that will not be as easy with fewer leaders).

We have a note book to record anything I need to be aware of or bring for the next week and individual sheets on each girls progress but I think we are going to have to up date the latter. Up to now Leaders have filled in the Register but we are thinking of having a Patrol Rota for organising games, register, drinks etc. We are also going to have to rethink all of our badge ceremonies and may be Promise ceremonies- however the latter tend to take place on trips and everyone choses which one they would prefer so that they don't all come together.

Cleaning up is a problem so we will just have to be strict about the time, that will be a challenge. Trips will be impossible with all the girls unless parents help but I plan to say they will be on a first come first served basis initially and may be that will get things in quicker. We do offer a lot of trips/activities and not everyone wants to do them so that may not be as big a headache as it coud be, we will just have to see.
 

fenris

fenris
GuiderPlus
#12
I am in a similar situation.I have girls coming from 3 different Units that will take us well into the 40's. I didn't actually know some of them were coming until last week- the Brown owl in my main feeder Unit had said 2 were coming up but when I pressed for who I got a list of 6 and a oops more than I thought as a sort of apology. To make matters worse some of the girls from another Unit are nearly twelve, the Brown owl insists on keeping them until that age and quite honestly they don't mix in well as they are not used to having to plan for them selves, but she won't be told. To add to all this I have temporarily lost two of my leaders this year so we are down to two of us with some back up from girls who are at Uni and were part of the Unit previously.

Work with this number is difficult particularly as Fenris says in respect of getting time with them as individuals. However it is what it is and I have to make it work.

I have started by organising two start dates.The girls who were part of the Unit will start this week and the new comers next week. I have sent a long email to those newly starting with the starting forms and explaining the situation. I have asked them to come 20 minutes early so I can explain how we function and do any paperwork and answer queries. My older Guides already know they are coming and are geared up to start games as soon as it gets to 7pm. This week the Guides who are already part of the Unit will sort Patrols, patrol boxes and various other jobs that we do first night back including review the Guidelines.

I intend to discuss with my older Guides the possabilty of restarting the Senior Unit when they have all finished their BP ( I have already discussed this with those at camp and they like the idea, especially as the programme is changing and there is quite a big group of them) I will also get them to tell me when they want to run sessions for their BP so that those are set before the others join.

We are fortunate in that we have a large room and two kitchens ( one doesn't have a cooker but is useable for some activities). In addition we use the Church, the Brownie room after 8pm, a patio area and the corridor outside our room on a regular basis which means we can accommodate several activities at one time ( although that will not be as easy with fewer leaders).

We have a note book to record anything I need to be aware of or bring for the next week and individual sheets on each girls progress but I think we are going to have to up date the latter. Up to now Leaders have filled in the Register but we are thinking of having a Patrol Rota for organising games, register, drinks etc. We are also going to have to rethink all of our badge ceremonies and may be Promise ceremonies- however the latter tend to take place on trips and everyone choses which one they would prefer so that they don't all come together.

Cleaning up is a problem so we will just have to be strict about the time, that will be a challenge. Trips will be impossible with all the girls unless parents help but I plan to say they will be on a first come first served basis initially and may be that will get things in quicker. We do offer a lot of trips/activities and not everyone wants to do them so that may not be as big a headache as it coud be, we will just have to see.
You could put your foot down and say you will only accept girls over the age of 10 in special circumstances. Girls joining at 12 routinely - never settle, never stay long, and soon realise what they have been missing out on. She may think she's being kind, but actually, the Brown Owl is being 100% selfish keeping girls that long in Brownies as a norm.
 

elixa

Regular (50+ posts)
#13
Keeping them until 12?!! Our Brownie units are normally the most subscribed and they are itching to come up to guides at 10 because they outgrow the programme. I would not expect our District or Division to allow a Brownie unit to act like that unless there was dire reason or it was an individual girl's case.

I'm a bit confused how you receive your Brownies up to Guides there - are you not using your waiting list on GO? You should always be in control of your own unit's arrivals. I've had to be super strict but it's the only way to be fair and keep your sanity.

Such high numbers in your unit and the low numbers of adults does not sound safe, so I hope you do have regular help. Would it not be sensible to consider splitting the unit in two, or is that what you're hoping to do in a small way when you have your 14+ girls as a sort of SS unit attached?

---

Since I began this thread I've collaborated with the neighbouring, smaller, Guide unit and the Brownie leaders locally to get some girls over to the other Guide unit. Two of my existing girls have let me know they're not continuing and I've already got two straight in off our waiting list to maintain 32 (4 x 8) - so progress!
 

yorkie

Veteran (100+ posts)
#14
don't get me started on the 12 bit and yes Fenris is right they never stay, especially when they might have a 10 year old patrol leader and their peers are almost at the start of their Baden Powell. The District and the Division have tried to stop her but no success and yes it is selfish and often the girls want to move on but are to afraid to do so. She believes they are too young to go to Guides!! The only ones who come up at the right time are those that have had sisters in my Unit.

Our adult numbers are okay in doors but going to be a problem outside. There are currently 4 of us in Guides for the first hour and six the second plus the past Guide leader in the Church ( doing other duties but available if needed) and when the others are back we will be back to 6 in the first hour.

We do have a senior Unit but the girls have not been enamoured with the programme and becaus esome don't arrive until the age of 12 have tended to stay on for another year. however we have agreed with the current group doing their BP that once they have finished we will restart the Senior Unit but that is another night for me and my assistant guider and I already do 3.
 

yorkie

Veteran (100+ posts)
#15
The other Guide Unit is full and there is no one who wants to take over from us never mind start a new Unit. Hope the new recruitment drive works because all previous attempts to recruit have failed.
 

yorkie

Veteran (100+ posts)
#16
Thought I would up date after a term. 41 girls on the books with another 5 due after Easter when the Ranger Unit starts. Unbelievably it has worked well and we have had a great term and all enjoyed ourselves. ( which is what matters) There are 3 of us plus two students. The students only started in September but are brilliant, I have to pick one up and take her back but I don't mind because her being there is such a help. Unfortunately they couldn't attend our end of term trip to Winter wonderland but 4 of my past Guides who are at Uni ( and down as occassional helpers)came and acted as adults for the evening. ( one of them is really disapoointed that she hasn't been contacted buy a Unit where she is at college despite someone initially contacting her- what a waste)

We have managed to attend 4 outside events. Just about everyone has completed a Go for It. The BP girls have led several varied evenings for us and the Brownies, we have had a Halloween party, two Christmas craft nights ( we are not really a crafty Unit) plus various other things.

We are all looking forward to next term.