By Andy Gibbons
Apr 14, 2016

Do You Need to Learn to Assess Progress?

This is part 6 of a 12-part blog series that explores mentoring skills and principles for adults serving teacher and priest-age boys (14-18):

The remaining posts will appear weekly.

Principle #6: Learn To Assess Progress

“Are we there yet?”

cub scouts disneyland

Cub Scouts at Disneyland—used with permission Dave DeCaro

It’s easy to tell if you are getting closer to Disneyland, because your faithful GPS can tell you down to the meter where you are. We like to stay oriented. We like to measure progress toward goals.

“Can we get there in time to get a Fast Pass?”
“How far is it to Space Mountain from here?”
“How long until the Aladdin show starts?”

“Are we there yet?” That’s more than just a casual question from the back seat. We ask it all the time. As youth mentors we have to make sure that we are measuring progress and that we are using the right indicators of progress.

First of all, we have to make measuring progress a regular, deliberate thing.

Regular reflection is good for Scouts, and it is also good for their adult mentors. Reflection is really just a process of taking a moment to ponder about how you are doing what you are doing. A scientist would call it “metacognition”–thinking about thinking. It is a good idea to do reflection on a regular basis.

A reflection is not a moral lesson, as some have mistakenly thought. It is a process of taking stock and looking at yourself and your progress from a quiet vantage point, apart from the dust and noise of the daily grind. Reflection is often coupled with prayer. In a reflection you ask yourself questions like, “How am I doing?”, “Am I doing the right things?”, “Am I doing them in the right way?”, and “What am I missing that I should be doing?”. Reflections can be done in a group setting, where the questions are about how the group is doing. But the most important reflections are the ones you conduct with just yourself.

The key here is regular reflection, where you take stock of how you are doing against goals you have set. Naturally, it helps this process to have set some goals in the first place (another thing that happens during a reflection). Having some written record of your goals, no matter how simple or informal, also helps.

Second, we have to measure the right things.

We know that goals have to be measurable (countable), but we can easily count the wrong things without realizing it. Here are some ideas for avoiding that trap.

Pick measures that to match the goal. Sometimes we pick things to count just because they are easier to count. If our goal is individual progress in character, fitness, and citizenship, are we really measuring against those goals? Are we checking real fitness indicators? Character indicators? Citizenship indicators?

Pick measures that count against your goals, not just someone else’s. Everyone in Scouting has goals to reach, and everyone in Scouting counts things relevant to their particular goals. Council finance officers are interested in Friends of Scouting donations; they measure progress in dollars and cents. District training Chairs are interested in trained leaders; they count the number of trained leaders. Scout moms are interested in Eagle awards, so they tend to count merit badges and camping nights.

It is easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are measuring progress toward your goals by using someone else’s ruler. The council, the district, and moms both have measures relative to their goals. What are yours? Think along two lines as you pick goals: (1) goals for the individual youth you work with, and (2) goals for improving your mentoring skills.

Varsity Scouts taking to the trail

Varsity Scouts on the trail to “hard things”

Growth in a youth is measured not only by merit badges or awards but in terms of the behavior and development of the youth. An Eagle Scout who can’t treat other team members with respect is missing the mark. A merit badge candidate who shaves the requirements and does the bare minimum is not getting the point. Ask yourself this question: “What is it that I should be observing in the individual Scout that represents progress toward the goals of Fitness, Character, and Citizenship?”. What does the individual youth need, to move to the next level of personal development? Make these your measures of progress for the youth.

On the other hand, for gauging your own progress as a youth mentor, you need a different set of measures that address different questions. About yourself you might ask: “How am I progressing in my goal to become more patient?”, or “How well am I meeting my goal to do more listening than talking?”. For these goals, what kinds of things would you count? Certainly, it wouldn’t be just the number of times you showed up to meetings on time. That’s counting the wrong things.

Finally, we have to pass the habit of measuring progress along to the youth.

Measure progress against goals you set with the individual youth. As a mentor, you have the chance to help an individual youth progress. You don’t tell the youth what you think they need to improve, if you want to get anywhere. Rather, you are in the position of helping the youth, through an ongoing conversation, negotiate what he thinks he needs to improve. You can suggest and describe and even persuade, but in the end it is what the youth chooses what will actually improve.

Monitor and recognize progress. Once a young man does choose, you can help him (without pushing) to remember what he has decided. You can be present with him as he works toward improvement. You can be a friend by not rebuking him when he comes up short. You can encourage, remind, and congratulate. You can stick with him, even when he is ready to give up. And you can celebrate his successes by sharing them with other adult leaders with whom you work, and by making sure he receives his award in a way that makes him look good in the eyes of the other team members. (Take some ideas from:

Using progress assessment as a tool in mentoring will not only aid the youth you work with, but it will improve your own ability to mentor as well.

Postscript: One of the most important ideas that came to mind as I was writing this post was its incredibly important application to Scouting as a whole. Scouting consists of many programs. These programs are designed to serve the most youthful, through to young manhood and beyond (look at you, for instance). Each program has its own set of goals, and there are growth measures for youth at each stage that are appropriate for that stage of development.

But across all programs, the goals are the same: fitness, character, and citizenship. When we become fixated on one of the many measures of success—say, awards and recognitions—as indicators of overall success, we can get the false impression that the work of Scouting is done once a young man has measured up in that one dimension.

Progressing through the different programs of Scouting—and encouraging the youth to stay engaged—requires that we measure the right things and measure them consistently throughout the full Scouting career of the youth. Passing from one program into another may represent advancement from one set of age-group developmental goals to the next, but it also means continued pursuit of the same basic ideals of Scouting, just in a new setting.

As we choose the measures to observe as youth progress through these programs, we should be careful to emphasize those that will lead the youth to continue progressing through the whole family of programs, not stopping because success has been achieved in just one program.


AuAndythor: Andy Gibbons | Vice-Chair, Western Region Varsity Scout Program Committee and author of the “The Varsity Scout Leaders Day Book

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