Volunteer Experience, Volunteers

Group Management: It Doesn’t Have to Be Like Herding Cats!

Managing youth behavior in a group setting is a daunting task, even for experienced educators, youth workers, and Girl Scout volunteers. There are so many different needs, wants, and attention spans all in one place—it’s like herding cats!

How do you keep it all from devolving into chaos? To help you out, we’ve collected some of our best tips for managing your group of awesome (but frequently rambunctious) youth.

Make a team agreement (and have everyone sign it)!

This is also called a group agreement, and unlike a list of rules, this is a set of expectations for the group created by ALL the members for when they meet together. They can be very general, such as “be kind,” “be respectful of others’ space, things, and feelings,” and whatever else the girls come up with that helps them feel ownership of the group and the behavior of its members.

Don’t worry, girls generally make fairly decent agreements. Keep the total number of agreements to 5 or less, as more makes them tougher to manage. And don’t forget to guide them to positive general agreements (“be respectful” is better than 5 different rules that are really specific like “don’t hit people, don’t break others’ things”), and discuss consequences for when members of the group don’t live up to the agreement.

Use attention getters!

The best answer to re-focusing a noisy group is one where you don’t end up shouting as you jump up and down waving your arms to get everyone to stop talking. That’s exhausting! To help you out, teach the girls some common Girl Scout attention getting options and save your voice the strain.

  • Say “If you can hear my voice clap once, (wait for clap), if you can hear my voice clap twice (wait for claps), if you can hear my voice clap three times (wait for claps). Okay, we’re ready to go.” Speak softly and keep upping the number of claps to as many as you need for the entire group to be focused and participating.
  • Teach girls a call and response. This is where you call out a phrase and the girls give a set response that you have taught them. Teachers have been using these gems for years. A common Girl Scout one is when you call out, “Hey, hey Girl Scouts”, the girls respond with “Hey, hey Ms. Your Name Here”. Choose one or two favorites. By keeping it consistent you let girls know when they hear the chant it’s time to refocus their attention you.
  • Lower your voice. Whispering forces girls to focus in order to hear the speaker. It works best when you include a direction, such as whispering “if you can hear me, touch your nose”, or an incentive, like “if you want snack, hop on one foot”.

Establish a general routine (for meetings and outings).

Youth need established structures and routines. They want to know what’s expected of them, what the general outline for an activity or outing they are on will be, when will snack come, and so on. So find a general routine that works (an opener, kaper chart, main activity, snack, clean up, closing) and use it. This doesn’t mean you never stray from the schedule or never break routine. It just means that for most meetings and activities, girls know what to expect (and what is expected of them).

Encourage good behavior (like a coach, not a cheerleader)!

It can be tempting to focus on the negative behaviors of your troop that crop up frequently, but you get better results when you praise the positives. And do it like a coach would, not a cheerleader.

Cheerleaders give general praise and encouragements to teams like “you did awesome,” while coaches give specific praise based on skills and effort they observed, such as “I can see that you’ve really been practicing your dribbling and it really made a difference today in how you played. Excellent work.”

You can also provide tangibles to recognize positive behavior, such as a behavior chart with stickers, a prize chest, or a reward system for the group. Keep it simple, keep it positive, and keep it effort focused! Praise is a powerful thing for positively influencing behavior when you link it to the effort and not the product. 

Be Consistent!

Why is consistency important? Because when youth know what to expect, they can make better informed decisions. We want them to make good choices about their own behaviors and consistency gives them the necessary information to do so.

If sometimes they get away with being disruptive during your opening flag ceremony but sometimes they don’t, they’re more likely to repeat the problematic behavior because this might be one of those times when there are no consequences. But if the group is consistently held to the same behavior expectations, with consistent consequences, you’re more likely to see your girls making good choices. Just remember that no one is consistent 100% of the time, so if you slip up don’t be too frustrated with yourself. Nobody’s perfect!

Don’t take chaotic meetings personally!

There will be times when your meetings will be chaotic, your attention-getters aren’t working, and you feel like you’re just herding cats. Then there will be wonderful meetings where you feel like you are building the leaders of our future, one girl at a time.

Everyone has bad days, don’t beat yourself up too much about it. When you have a stressful meeting, take a deep breath, do your favorite de-stressing activity (don’t have one? Here are 20), and remember why you do this: the girls.

We hope they help you (and your girls) have fun as you build skills, grow confidence, and shape the leaders of tomorrow!

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