How Postmortems Encourage Continual Learning at CMU

This piece is part of our interactive, Authorizer Showcases, which highlight how authorizers around the country are tackling obstacles related to access and accountability.


By Amy Van Atten-Densmore, Director of School Operations, Center for Charter Schools, Central Michigan University

When closure is done well, students aren’t the only ones who are better off. Good authorizers learn from closure too and make improvements to their own practice.

When a closure is over, it’s time to take a breath and do what really amounts to an autopsy: the “after action” meeting.

You can build your closure process, and hopefully have some standardization in that process, but each closure will be different.

We’ve taken the time to dissect these processes and understand what went well, what could have been better, and why things happened like they did. We have learned significant lessons that resulted in substantial changes to our standard documents, such as our contract terms and conditions, and educational service provider policies.

As you build your business processes, build in that continuous improvement loop. Typically in July we gather the team. We brainstorm: what worked, what did we implement better this year, and why? Was it the people, the process, luck? What didn’t work?

For example, we may discover that new or revised language would allow for a better (or more efficient) outcome. From that discussion, the real work begins to brainstorm and then develop the proposed changes (either to the business process, the standards documents, etc.)

From there, it’s essential to create a methodical to-do list. In one case, we had to go back to the University’s Board of Trustees and request that they amend one of their foundational policies.

I think it’s important to view the reflection process as an effort towards continuous improvement. By focusing on what we can learn from each unique closure, we can help lessen the impact of closure on students and families in the future.

This practice—an “after action” meeting—is nothing fancy. But it does need to be incorporated into each business process of the organization, making sure the meetings get on the calendar and get done.