Trial by Fire Blog Series: Reflections of a First-time Guider. Part I

A couple of months ago I put a post on my personal blog about becoming a Guider. The GirlGuidesCAN blog picked it up and after a short series of emails back and forth, I was asked to be a guest blogger, blogging about being a first-time Guider.  This is the first in what will be a series of posts about my first year in Guiding.


First Impressions

So far, it’s been a blast.

But not without its trials, of course.

Here’s my situation:

I was never a Girl Guide (despite a resolved round of begging to join Brownies. How I coveted that brown uniform, cheeky tam and jaunty purse.)

I’ve started up a new Brownie Unit.

I’m the Contact Guider/Brown Owl (seems these terms are interchangeable… more on the “language of Guiding” later.)

I am now, also, the Contact Guider for the local Sparks Unit.

I’m the treasurer for at least one, if not both Units.

I openly covet pins.

I’m a touch INSANE.

How is it that someone who knew virtually nothing about Guiding a few months ago – short of loving the mint cookies (don’t try and convince me the classics are better.  I’m not to be convinced) and having a daughter in Sparks – is  now running TWO Guiding units?

Answer: I’m a warm female body that’s willing to do it.

NO, NO, NO.  That can’t be it.  There’s more to becoming a Guider than that right?

Well, I think being a warm female body helps.  And to be honest, when I initially contacted my local community office in the spring with the idea of starting up an after-school Brownie Unit, that was pretty much what I figured.  But after my screening, I realized that Girl Guides is probably looking for a little bit more than that.

To back up a tiny bit, I had no idea what to expect when I contacted the Guiding office with the idea of starting up a new Unit.  Did they even do that anymore? Was it hard?  Would they even want me?

The answers were: YES. NO.  And YES (with an asterisk).

I spoke with Virginia, our ACL, who was thrilled with the idea of an after-school Unit (I’ve since figured out that we’re the only after-school Brownie Unit in Ottawa).  I let her know that I already had a person who would be the other leader (my friend Julie who is a seasoned Guide and Guider).  She set up a screening time for us (the asterisk above).

My screening took place at the local Starbucks (they had me at latte!).  Virginia took me through a series of interview-style questions… it didn’t even involve taking my pulse.  The questions were thorough, they all made sense and indeed there was depth there.  She wanted to know about my background working with girls, how I would deal with discipline problems, bullying, etc., if I had camping experience (thankfully yes, I was a canoe instructor at a camp for several summers where  we indeed did sing a number of Guide songs I realize now), and of course, the required legal questions about criminal activity, etc. (none to speak of).  She also gave me a presentation about Guiding that left me feeling…. overwhelmingly overwhelmed.  To put it mildly.

There was clearly going to be a lot to learn and it wasn’t just about the program.

And here is where language comes in.

Friends, when I’m not on leave-without-pay, I work for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.  If anyone should win a prize for unclear, totally illogical acronym creation and creating a befuddling language that feels impossible to penetrate… it’d be that government department.

And yet here I was already swimming in acronyms and terms that left me feeling…. well, like I’d stepped into a foreign country and forgotten my dictionary.

ACL? Girl engagement? LAH? Guiding Law? UA? TEAM?  WAGGGS? Safe Guide? Member Zone? IMIS? OAL? DC?

Duh, what?

Still, if I made my way through the foreign affairs experience, I could do this.  And I have for the most part but it ain’t for the faint of heart.  The best way to figure it out is to throw yourself into reading, training and ask, ask, ask.

From the end of my screening until now, things have sailed along.  I had the police check done and at the end of the summer and I started reading through everything I could get my hands on about running a Brownie Unit.

And I’ve taken every training opportunity that I could.  I’m so glad I did.

Safe Guide Session with Lynn G

Safe Guide Session with Lynn G.

The training offered through Guides is top-notch.  The trainers are excellent; there is serious depth in the training sessions.  I actually sang the Brownie songs, danced around the toadstool and said the Brownie Promise.  I played games.  In short, I became a Brownie!


I’ve also taken Safe Guide and done web training on being a treasurer.  I’ll continue to take every training I can until I run out of things to take.  It’s that good.

The thing I still struggle with (like a number of Units) is attracting girls to the Unit.  We’ve done back-pack stuffers, used word of mouth, we’re going to have a Bring a Friend night but honestly I didn’t think it would be such a tough slog.  And now I’m starting the same process for the Sparks Unit.  I didn’t expect that I’d have to play sales-woman.  I thought that Brownies sold itself.  I can’t be the only one who loves to wear a uniform and collect pins and badges, right? (You have no idea how excited I get when that Canpar box arrives.)

Box of Girl Guide Badges and Pins

Box of Girl Guide Badges and Pins

I’ve tapped into the Girl Guides Facebook page.  There was a discussion about attracting new girls that helped me generate ideas and also made me realize that even though this is a giant organization, I’m not alone. There are other Guiders who are struggling with the same issues.  And are still having as much fun as I am.

In short (or long, as it seems now), my first impressions of becoming a Guider are thus:

  • There’s a lot to learn.  Take training.  Learn by doing.
  • Ask for help. I’ve been thrilled with the number of offers of help and mentoring I’ve received.
  • It’s a big organization (huge, in fact) and that can be intimidating.
  • There’s a wealth of experience to draw on.
  • As far as programming goes, draw on my own experience.  And don’t stick to the script.
  • We need better ways to draw in more girls and more Guiders.
  • These people like to have fun.  And are all Brownies at heart.
Guest Blogger and Guider Karen

Guest Blogger and Guider Karen

By guest blogger and Guider Karen. Karen will be offering her thoughts on being a new Guider with Girl Guides over the next few months. Read more from Karen on her personal blog Virtually There.

Update: Check out Part II in this series, First Impressions, to read what Karen has to say about her first Unit meeting!

What piece of advice would you offer Karen and other new Guiders?

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13 Responses to Trial by Fire Blog Series: Reflections of a First-time Guider. Part I

  1. Karen! Such a great, truthful, funny post! I look forward to joining you (as a reader) over your first year!

  2. Liz Lovis says:

    Totally impressed and looking forward to sharing your adventures (good; bad and indifferent). I absolutely love the phrase “learn by doing” … but really, we’re as bad as DFAIT??????? Yikes!

  3. Karen says:

    Sarah – Thanks! I really enjoyed writing this. Liz – okay, truly, not nearly as bad as DFAIT… I’ve just been on leave-without-pay for so long that I’m out of the acronym game. Maybe I should see the GGC acronyms as a friendly way to ease myself back into the insane acronym game that is DFAIT!

  4. Norine Jones says:

    Hang in there Karen. Your love for all things Guiding, including the pins, can only grow. I was a new Guider not all that long ago and was plunked in head first. I am a fighter though and I figured I would get it right or die trying. When I first took over my Guide unit, I had 6 girls. I was so afraid the unit would close. I kept trying though. We started this year off with 20 girls and expect more as the weeks trickle by. Bring-a-friend events are great, but there are 2 other things I think that make more of an impact. 1. Run a program that the girls can’t help but tell their friends about because it is so much fun and 2. Go out and do your own PR work. Meet the teacher nights at the schools are great for this. I know it’s a lot of work but it is worth every moment of time you spend to some little girl that didn’t know how to join!

  5. AnitaM says:

    Karen, I also started up a new unit in our Area, and found visibility made a huge difference. Did a couple of “Find out what Guiding is” presentations to the public (got my leaders) and sat behind tables with promotional material at many events where very few people would approached the table. BUT apparently we stuck in their minds enough to have them register their girl(s). We have 10 new girls this year who have never been in Guiding and neither were their mom’s. This is Awesome! We caught their curiosity, now I’m working on keeping them.
    Keep the faith, as I know how hard it can be. – A.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just transitioned from youth member to adult member and ended up as Unit Guider for a re-opened Pathfinder unit. Not at all what I expected. I guess you just have to keep thinking about the girls. As long as the girls you have are enjoying themselves and gaining something from it, you’re doing something right! At this age they’re still young but they don’t always realize that. Letting them have some imput on small things (hey girls do you want to do craft A or B?) might make them feel more grown up. As well some bridging activities might help, especially with younger girls, that way they’ll be more likely to come up to your unit next year. Overall, if the girls are having fun and enjoying themselves, they’ll be more likely to return, maybe even with a friend or two! Best of Luck

  7. Wow. Yes, you are a Brownie. I was a girl member, and I still think this is the best organization in the world for girls. You inspire me.

    Charlene, pathfinder guider on a break while my daughter is a pathfinder.

  8. Stephanie says:

    It’s great to hear about new Guiders taking trainings, using experienced Guiders as a resource and taking the time to “learn” Girl Guides.
    I’m a Guider with over 20 years experience as a Guider and over 30 years as a girl member.
    In the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed more and more Guiders NOT taking the time to learn the ropes. Actually they even refuse to ask for help, or when it’s offered, they immediately decline. It’s very frustrating. I think you should take the time to lead a training or two! We could all learn a lesson here – new Guiders and experienced Guiders.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hi Karen,

    this is my first year as a guider also! I am in sparks (with my daughter). I’m having an easier go of it as I am with 3 seasoned guiders. i really enjoyed your blog and look forward to reading more.


    ps I’m jealous. my interview was over the phone and not over a latte!

  10. Carole Lillie says:

    Hi Karen!
    So glad to have “stumbled “upon your blog! I am currently a Guider with a Brownie unit in Barrhaven, and last year I was a PRC parent with another unit. Upon looking for a Guide unit for my daughter to join in the fall of 2012, I realized that there were not many “open” spots for her to go. So what did I do??..I opened my own Guide unit!! I have been studying the guide book,reading Guiding with Jewels and surfing the web non stop! There are still some days where I think “CA I really do this??”..and now after reading your has given me increased confidence…I CAN DO IT!! Thanks for sharing! I will be following..I also started a Facebook page called Girl Guide Leaders..a forum for us to share ideas on crafts,challenges,songs etc..hope you check it out!!
    Yours in Guiding
    Guider Carole
    AKA Sunny Owl!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Carole! I will look for that on Facebook… it sounds great!

      • Irani says:

        that they used their phone as a camera and also some paetnrs wanted to be able to get in touch with their child if needed. This worked well expect for one girl, who kept disappearing to text her boyfriend. By the end of the camp my daughter was really fed up: she didn’t have as much fun at camp as she’d hoped because the girl was a friend that she doesn’t get to see every day and she had been looking forward to having fun together. But instead she was asked to give her friend privacy or was simply ignored. But I don’t think it would be fair to penilize the other girls who used their cell phones appropriately by banning phones at the next camp. So for our next camp I am going to repeat my expectations, ask them to think about how using their gadget and ignoring others might make someone feel (a lesson many adults haven’t learned yet either!), give everyone a second chance. Use this as a learning opportunity polite cell-phone use manners is just another skill to learn. Banning all the gadgets completely will just be a strike against girls wanting to come to Girl Guide events (or enourage sneakiness.)

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