The question of “WHO is my Unit Commissioner?” is harder to answer because it depends on how your district is organized. And in LDS Scouting it depends on each particular Stake/Sub District. Each LDS Stake seems to do things just a little bit differently. Remember, I am involved with Cub Scout Roundtable so my answer to this does not necessarily apply to Boy Scouts, Varsity or Venturing. I usually answer with “It is most likely a member of your Stake Primary Presidency but not always. Sometimes it’s a person called and asked to specifically be a Unit Commissioner (often as a Stake Primary Board member) sometimes its the High Councilor over Primary and occasionally but rarely it is a member of the Stake YM Presidency.” Usually, I end with a statement like “If you don’t know who your Unit Commissioner is, I would start by asking your Stake Primary President.”
Now the question of “WHAT is a Unit Commissioner?” is usually much easier to answer and the answer applies (or at least it should) equally to Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity and Venturing leaders alike.
First let’s start with What a Unit Commissioner is NOT. They are not a spy, or a judge or a snitch for the district. They may not even be an experienced or expert scouter, especially in the LDS Scouting culture like here in the Utah National Parks Council. Your unit commissioner may be there by virtue of their church calling. They may not have even had any Scouting or Cub Scouting experience before. But by virtue of that very same church calling they have regular contact with the people (in your Stake) who know the people (in the district) who are experts in Scouting. I have heard Unit Commissioners compared to Home or Visiting Teachers in LDS terms. They also visit, teach, observe, and report. If that helps you understand their function better then by all means use that analogy.
“The role of a Unit Commissioner is to help every unit be successful.” A Unit Commissioner should be seen as a counselor, a mentor, a coach, an advisor, a teacher and a friend. They are not there to judge, criticize or tell you how to run your program or to run it for you. They should be someone who has regular contact with your unit. They may attend your committee meeting or pack meeting. You should see them at roundtable. They should send you emails about events or trainings you may be interested in. They should get to know and observe your unit in action. As they observe your unit they may see things (from an outside view point) and suggest things you can do to improve your program but as with all advice from others, it’s up to you what you do with it. There really are many different aspects to being a Unit Commissioner but the way I see it they are there to help you with 2 basic things – Resources and Information.
They can help you find resources that you need to succeed. They are a representative of the district who have connections with the people (thru the district committee and others on the commissioner staff) who have the skills you need. Do you need to know who can teach your boys more about a particular activity? Ask your unit commissioner to find someone for you to contact. They can also leverage the district committee’s knowledge of the many businesses and Scouters in your area to find someone willing to help.
They can bring you information. Need to know when and where Roundtable is? What about the next Leader specific training near you? When is Webelos Woods? Where can we talk our boys for Day Camp? What is Journey to Excellence? Charter Renewal? These are the kind of questions that your Unit Commissioner can find out for you. Need to understand better the new Cub Scout program or the changes coming in 2016 to Boy Scouts… Yep—Ask your unit commissioner. They are sort of like an ambassador from the district and council who can bring you the information you need to know. This goes the other way too.
They can take information back to the district & council. Unit Commissioners report on their visits and conversations with the units to which they are assigned. This helps the district get a better picture of how the scouting program is functioning in their district. For example, if lots of the Unit Commissioners report that their packs are not using the new cub scout program yet, well, the district knows that more training is needed and it can be planned for. I remember a few year ago when it was reported that only a certain small percentage of advancement was being reported on the Internet Advancement program. My district held a special training at roundtable to teach leaders how to log on, and how to report the advancements. If unit commissioners don’t report what they see and what the units need, then the district won’t know and odds are not much will change.
They can be a friend to the unit. They are there to help you succeed. They are there to help make sure that your boys are getting the best program you can provide, that leaders are trained, that you know about upcoming events from the district and council. They are there to link you up with resources to help you find training and information and to give you support. They should be a valuable member of your team. Don’t have them sit on the bench the whole time or worse yet, in the audience—use them!
I’m sure you have all hear the saying “Every boy deserves a well trained leader.” Well here in the Utah National Parks Council we have added a second part to that saying that you may not have heard…
“Every leader deserves a well trained commissioner.”
Just like every other Scouting position, there is lots of training available for unit commissioners. Fast Start training is online. Basic Training can be done through your district commissioner or district training team as well as other locations. There are courses at the Philmont Training Center and a unit commissioner would benefit from many of the classes at University of Scouting too. But by far the best training for Commissioners of any type can be found at Commissioner College. In our council we hold a Commissioner College 4 or 5 times a year in various parts of the council and we have even developed some online courses. The other great thing that happens when you attend Commissioner College (in person) is that you get to meet so many other leaders who have the same role as you. At Commissioner College you can connect with other commissioners, get trained, share stories, and ideas and more. Commissioner college is very informative and motivational too. If you are (or know someone who is) a commissioner of any kind—District Commissioner, Assistant District Commissioner (ADC), Unit Commissioner or Roundtable Commissioner—there are classes there specifically for each of them. There just might be one coming up soon near you. Check it out here.
So here are a few questions for you to think about…
Who is YOUR Unit Commissioner? Is this person a member of your team or just sitting on the bench or in the audience? Do you have a friendship with this person? How can they better serve you?
Author: Annaleis Smith | Assistant Council Commissioner for Cub Scouting, Utah National Parks Council, BSA