Empower Your Team through Crisis

Intense experiences must become our teachers. In an organization, every critical incident, crisis, or ‘situation’ is worthy of review and learning. The After Action Review (AAR) is the tool.

What does your team need to process right now?

For example, right now, schools or districts need to prioritize an After Action Review of the Omicron wave of the pandemic or the most recent board meeting on Critical Race Theory.

An After Action Review is an extraordinary organizational growth opportunity developed by the U.S. military in the 70s. It brings every relevant member of a significant incident together to surface and apply learning from the experience.

“…the partcipatory process of an AAR guarantees that learning will be quickly implemented. People want to contribute and learn; we support what we create. The AAR process uses these internal motivators when we need them most–at a time of crisis, when something’s gone wrong. In this time of never-ending crises, this is a healthy and reliable process.”

Margaret Wheatley, Who Do We Choose To Be – Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (2017)

In the Context of a School

Throughout my school leadership journey, I conducted many After Action Reviews. Some memorable AARs include:

  • following a security lockdown.
  • debriefing a really difficult year for a particular class and teacher.
  • about 1-month into pandemic lockdown and remote learning.
  • following a whole-school, large-scale event.
  • after a highly volatile parent meeting.
  • following a major new project execution (i.e. publishing our first annual school report).

As a leader, I also individually complete an AAR to reflect on each quarter of my leadership. This process allows me time and space to review my goals, execution, and practice. Indeed, it is a welcome and essential ritual.

How-Tos of an AAR

Require everyone involved in the situation to be present and to contribute, regardless of position or role.

At the beginning of the AAR meeting, orient participants to the process, the importance of diversity of perspectives, and your expectations for participation.

Assign someone to document the discussion. And, follow a templated process of questions.

  1. What just happened?
  2. Why do you think it happened?
  3. What can we learn from this?
  4. How will we apply these learnings?

Listen carefully.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Benefits of an AAR

There are many gifts in completing an After Action Review. Immediately, your team turns a difficult, negative, or possibly even traumatic event into an empowering growth experience. In fact, team members aren’t just left licking their wounds on their own, with everyone hoping for enough ‘self-care’ to gloss over the challenges. In contrast, team members are engaged, heard, and connected into moving forward constructively together.

Not to mention, as a school leader, an AAR offers a structure designed for teamwork, communication, and collaboration. Check out the recent EdResearch for Recovery for teacher wellness (2021) suggesting school leaders establish bi-directional communication.

“A study of nearly 8,000 teachers across nine states showed that leaders play a key role in supporting

teachers’ sense of success, particularly when the leaders focused on strong communication and

collaboration with teachers.”

Want to beef up your communication and collaboration with teachers? Implement an After Action Review procedure the next time you go through something difficult. Your team will thank you.

For the sake of the children,

Karine 🌱

P.S. For more powerful growth opportunities, including a Goal Achievement Masterclass Series, check out www.learnforward.ca!