While originating in the military, after action reviews (AAR) are a useful tool in a wide range of settings including camps. An after action review is a structured approach for reviewing an event to learn from it in order to make improvements in the future.
To be effective, an AAR involves a wide cross section of participants to get wide range of perspectives. Honest, open feedback is given. Both positives and negatives are highlighted. The focus is on learning rather than finger pointing and blame. Typically the AAR includes:
1. Evaluating performance against a desired standard or established performance objective.
2. Identifying strengths and weaknesses.
3. Deciding how to improve performance in the future.
In camps, an after action review could be used in a number of settings. Take for instance a weekly camper check-in. Later in the day or perhaps the next, the camp director gathers together key staff who participated in check-in. The session starts by discussing whether the goals set for check-in were achieved. Perhaps your goal was for the process to be parent/camper friendly. Maybe you were focused on shortening the time spent in line. Regardless of the goals, the discussion starts by determining if you've met them or not.
Next turn to identifying the strengths and weaknesses. What do you do well? What went right? What positive feedback did you receive. Then turn your focus to looking at the weaknesses. What didn't work well? What problems occurred? What complaints did you get?
The next step is capturing what can be learned from this experience. What could and should we do different next time? How can you build on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses? From here you create a plan for how to make changes based on what was learned.
Using after action reports on a consistent basis creates a system of continuous evaluation and improvement. It helps staff feel comfortable providing and receiving feedback. It builds a culture where fixing problems is more important than affixing blame. The camp that uses after action reports is constantly learning and applying that learning to ratchet up the quality of what they do.
Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.