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Silence Can Be Powerful (TESTHEAD)

On August 8, 2014, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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This past Tuesday evening, the Boy Scout troop that I am Scoutmaster for (Troop 250 in San Bruno), held its big annual Homecoming Court of Honor. This is typically a big affair, in that it encompasses our Scout Camp week and all the awards earned while there (which is to say, a lot of them).

One of the things I have been trying to do with the boys in my troop is encourage them to take on challenges and take chances. Ultimately, a well run Troop is run by the boys, not by the adult leaders. Still, it’s very common for them to ask me a lot of questions about what they should do or shouldn’t do, and normally, I’m ready and willing to provide them answers.

This time, though, I decided to do something unprecedented, at least as far as a Court of Honor was concerned. The scouts are familiar with what we call a “silent” campout. At a silent campout, the adult leaders camp in a site adjacent to the one the scouts are camping in, and we follow all rules of safety and emergency preparedness, but other than that, we stay in our camp site, and they stay in theirs. They set up, cook, clean, make and break down fires, and anything else they need, all without any input from the adult leaders. The goal is to have them learn from their own mistakes, and to have them work with each other to solve their problems rather than have the adult leaders do it for them.

I decided to take this one step further and declared that our Court of Honor would be a “silent” Court of Honor. In other words, the scouts would run it, they would do all of the specific details (give out awards, recognize rank advancements, etc.) and I and the other adult leaders would sit back and watch. We would not speak, we would not direct, we would not answer questions.

So how did it work out? Splendidly!

Granted, there were several times where I had to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut when I so wanted to say “no, not that way, do it like this!” that, however, was not the point. It wasn’t my Court of Honor, it was their Court of Honor. If they neglected to bring something out, put something on display, or do something that they had seen me do dozens of times, that didn’t matter. What I wanted to see from them was what they felt was important. I wanted to se what aspects of a Court of Honor they wanted to do. They jumped at the chance to do a skit. they liked doing silly one liners. They enjoyed the awards part, and they left me a little time at the end to speak my peace. Which I did, but only at the end.

Many times, I think we do a disservice to those who are learning and trying to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. Coyote Teaching focuses on leveraging the environment and addressing real needs, as well as focusing on the art of questioning, or asking more questions rather than giving direct answers. I’d like to add to that the very real teaching tool of “be quiet”. Sometimes it’s best to not answer, or to remove ourselves entirely. Sure, there may be stumbling, there may be things said that are not perfect, or there may be some key stuff that gets forgotten, but that’s OK.

What’s important is to give the people you are working with a chance to discover what is important to them, and let them reach that conclusion themselves. It would have been very efficient to correct them and tell them what to do, but it would be far less effective than giving them the chance to run with the program all on their own. They’ve participated in several Courts of Honor over the years that I have run, and regardless of how flawlessly I may have done them in the past, none of them will be as memorable, or mean as much, as this one will. The reason? BY giving them silence, they got to experience and do for themselves what they wanted to do, and honor the troop in the way that actually mattered to them.

I’m super proud of all of them… and yes, I took notes ;).

 

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