Last week we delved into using the Army’s after-action review for achieving our artistic self-care goals. This week we’ll look at how we can use the AAR process to achieve our academic self-care goals. #selfcarehacks #selfcaregoals #selfcare #podcast #lifelonglearning #growthmindset #learnnewskills #birding #freecollegecourses

Last week we delved into using the Army’s after-action review for achieving our artistic self-care goals. This week we’ll look at how we can use the AAR process to achieve our academic self-care goals.

What if you could adapt one of the most successful methods of achievement for groups to your personal life? This month for Self-Care Sundays we’ll explore the after-action review (AAR) and how we can apply it to the different areas of our lives where we need to focus our self-care efforts.

Last week we delved into using the Army’s after-action review for achieving our artistic self-care goals. This week we’ll look at how we can use the AAR process to achieve our academic self-care goals. #selfcarehacks #selfcaregoals #selfcare #podcast #lifelonglearning #growthmindset #learnnewskills #birding #freecollegecourses

Countdown Until Graduation

“I can’t wait for graduation,” one of my seniors enthused late one January afternoon.

“Why?” I asked. “So you can start college?”

“College? Pshaw. I can’t wait for graduation, so I never have to go to school again. Twelve years of torture will end in five short months.”

“Oh. I’m sorry my classes cause you such pain,” I said, taken aback at the vehemence in my student’s voice.

“Your classes weren’t torture, Mrs. Ojeda,” she quickly assured me. “I had fun in your classes. I just don’t want homework, deadlines, planners, assignments, and the daily grind of getting up and going to school every. single. morning.”

“Ah,” I said. “I understand. You’re going to live with your parents for the rest of your life?”

“What?! Absolutely not! I turn 18 next week and I can move out, get a job, and do my own thing!”

“It sounds like you have some goals in mind,” I told her. “Good for you. Do you know how much an apartment costs per month?”

“I saw some in the newspaper for $950.00 a month.”

“Nice. Do you have a job lined up?”

Starting at the Bottom

“I’ll start at McDonalds,” she told me, “and work my way up to something better.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I assured her. “Do you have a roommate in mind?”

“No way! I’ve lived in the dorm for four years and never want a roommate again.”

“I see. Well, I’m no math genius, but before you launch your plan, you may way to do some research. By my calculations you’ll make about $1440.00 a month working full-time for a fast-food joint at a starting wage. Only fast-food joints don’t hire people to work full time, so they don’t have to pay benefits. You’ll need to work at two fast-foot joints to make that much money.”


Her crestfallen face made me feel badly for bursting her happy bubble, but I had to use brutal honesty. “You’ll also have to pay taxes on what you make.”

“What?! I’ll have to pay taxes? Won’t I be too poor to pay taxes?”

“Good question. Don’t forget about things like transportation, insurance, and groceries.”

She shook her head. “Mrs. Ojeda, can I stay in high school another year?”

Learning Shouldn’t Stop with Graduation

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everyone needs to go to college. But if we really want to take care of ourselves, we won’t discard learning the minute we finish school—whether its high school or college.

Those first few years of young adulthood fill up with learning opportunities galore. But as we age, we must seek out opportunities to learn. Otherwise, we can stagnate and start to believe we know everything.

“Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places.”

E. Joseph Cossman

When we apply the Army’s after-action review process to our academic self-care goal setting, we’ll find it easier to accomplish our goals. After all, a wish without a plan is just a dream. Just remember, setting academic self-care goals should always depend on your season in life.

When I was in high school, I wanted to finish and go to college. Once I finished my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to return to school and get a teaching certificate. Eventually, I decided I wanted a master’s degree. Living two blocks from a university made this a simple thing to accomplish.

As a teacher, I must complete a certain number of graduate credits or continuing education units in order to keep my certification. At this season in life, I live too far away from a university to invest in another advanced degree. In addition, blogging and podcasting take up my spare time when I’m not teaching.

I could take classes for free in the summer at a university in a neighboring state, but I spend my summers hanging out with my grandson and other family members in Alaska. This means I have eight months to earn the requisite number of credits for certification renewal. I need a plan!

The Steps to An After-Action Review

According to the Army in Training Circular 25-20 the four steps in an AAR seem pretty simple

  • Step 1. Planning
  • Step 2. Preparing
  • Step 3. Conducting
  • Step 4. Following up (using AAR results)

Planning to Learn

Once we leave school, we easily forget the rhythm of learning daily in an organized manner. Because I teach, I learn new things all the time—unfortunately, they aren’t things I can get a certification of completion for.

Last week we delved into using the Army’s after-action review for achieving our artistic self-care goals. This week we’ll look at how we can use the AAR process to achieve our academic self-care goals. #selfcarehacks #selfcaregoals #selfcare #podcast #lifelonglearning #growthmindset #learnnewskills #birding #freecollegecourses

If I want to meet my academic goals, I’ll need to block out time on my calendar where I can concentrate on learning. Not as much fun as committing to five minutes of dancing a day.

The Army starts their planning with a before-action review (aka BAR—the government loves acronyms).

  1. Task (what actions to take)
  2. Purpose (why it’s important)
  3. Intent (statement of goals)
  4. End state (what the desired result is)

For academic self-care, I’ll use the example of earning continuing education credits to show how the AAR concept can work for an individual.

Task—earn 2.5 quarter-hours of credit towards renewing my teaching certificate.

Purpose—to help me keep my teaching license and learn new skills.

Intent—I will use available free or low-cost resources to earn the required hours towards recertification.

End state—By June I will have completed all of the required hours for certification renewal by working for an hour three days a week.

2. Careful Preparation Makes it Real

I don’t know about you, but different seats in my house trigger different actions. When I set in my recliner, it means I can relax. If I sit on my yoga ball, it means I’m getting ready to write. I sit in my rocker for my morning devotions, and in a chair for meals. The act of sitting and listening puts me to sleep 90% of the time.

Adding a new activity, such as doing online courses for certification renewal, might require a new place to sit. Why? I don’t particularly enjoy online classes (especially ones with videos—I know, I’m odd).  Perhaps I’ll choose to walk on the treadmill while attending online lectures. This will keep my body and my mind active at the same time, making it less likely that I snooze.

Make sure to attach your new habit to a trigger. My trigger will be finishing my afternoon decaf latte. I usually sip it while I write or do other creative things, so by the time I finish I’ll be ready for a break. Combining learning with exercise will help me retain when I learn.

3. Conducting the After-Action Review

Decide ahead of time when you will conduct the AAR. The army uses both informal and formal AARs, but the magic lies in when they take place—immediately after the training exercise.

For an individual wanting to adopt the after-action review concept, you’ll need to decide how often you want to conduct a review. Daily? Weekly? Quarterly? Monthly?

When I set goals, I review my progress weekly, quarterly, and annually. I’ll check my progress once a week. Right now, I’ve started a self-paced writing class from Coursera. I should finish in five weeks if I stick to my goals. At the end of each week, I’ll check my progress and make adjustments to my schedule for the following week.

4. Following Up

At the end of five weeks, if I discover I can’t stay self-disciplined enough to complete courses on my own, I may have to resort to enrolling in a class over the summer. But I’d rather avoid that because I’d prefer spending time with my family.

Because my employment status depends on me finishing a certain number of hours of learning, I have high motivation. In all my years of teaching, this will be the first time I rely solely on continuing education credits. Living in the sticks makes it difficult to enroll in appropriate (and interesting) classes at a local university.

I do know I work well under pressure, and I generally always get good grades. My follow up plan includes taking a summer class if I have to. I should know by mid-February what my next course of action should entail.

Need Academic Self-Care Ideas?

Even if you don’t need continuing education credits, you may still have the desire to learn something new. During the first months of the pandemic, I joined Great Courses Plus and went through two photography and two birding courses. I listened to them while driving and exercising.

You might want to consider some of these ideas for your academic self-care:

  • Listen to biographies of interesting or famous people.
  • Listen to (or read) classics—you know, those books you feel you should read but never got around to.
  • Take classes on Coursera.
  • Enroll in Business Made Simple University—I’m tempted to join because of the course on the Enneagram.
  • Pick a subject, any subject, and create your own course of study. Find books at the library, discover free (or low-cost) online courses, and map out when you’ll do your learning.
  • Check out your local community college or public school district—many times they offer free or low-cost classes from building a website to cake decorating.
  • Check out DIYMFA if you’re interested in creative writing.
  • Or, if you want a real Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, many universities offer low-residency programs where you only have to attend two, 10-day sessions each year.
  • Pick up a new hobby or sport (birdwatching is both) and learn as you go along.

Ready, Set, Learn!

Learning prevents our brains from stagnating and our behavior from becoming rigid. In order to continue to grow past our glory days of high school, we must continue to seek knowledge. What have you always wanted to learn but never taken the time for? Do you find yourself in a season of life that will allow you to put the Army’s after-action review process to work to achieve an academic self-care goal?

Learning doesn't stop at the classroom doors. It's never to late to learn something new! #academicselfcare #goals #lifelonglearner Click To Tweet

I’ll keep you posted on my goals as I work on my self-paced classes to maintain my teaching credential.

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  1. Anita, these are such wonderful academic self care goals. I have always been passionate about learning and have acquired quite a few degrees in my earlier life before kids. Oddly, however, despite my success in completing different academic curricula, I never really learned how to set goals and plans when it came to education and what to do with it once I was done. I really wish I had more teachers and professors with your mindset and willingness to guide your students. I felt very lost through the entire process from high school to college to graduate school. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom! I really enjoy your posts so very much!


  2. As a former teacher, of course, I am a big fan of life-long learning. Before the pandemic, Hubby and I were supposed to go to Portugal. I was learning Portuguese using a free online app. I let that go by the wayside when our trip was canceled. Maybe it’s time to pull that app up again. Maybe our trip can be rescheduled for late this year or early next year.
    Laurie recently posted…Throwing Pebbles, Making WavesMy Profile

    1. Another teacher alum here, Laurie. Someone told me I must be a lifelong learner. I almost responded, “Duh! You must be to teach.” Seriously, it’s beyond me if someone doesn’t enjoy learning of some kind. Isn’t learning like breathing? No matter how or what our rhythm is, it’s essential to growing and living.

  3. No sitting on a cushion (well, except for that recliner you mentioned). It is so important to learn new things. While I would like to just take a week off and read! read! read! I know that is not good for my brain as I age. I believe the more active I am, the more engaged I am, the better it is for me and my family in the long run. Goal setting, planning – thank you so much for the breakdown on the steps. I’m a planner and a time-manager. Time with your grandson is so very important – and I’m so glad you take hold of your schedule to make that happen! Looking forward to next weeks post! ~ Maryleigh
    Maryleigh recently posted…Letting God Be GodMy Profile

  4. Anita, I love all the different ways you encourage us to learn something new. I’ve been listening to a lot of nonfiction through the Libby app. I’m hoping to continue learning some good things via this for now.

    My kids are teaching me a ton, as well. Especially as my oldest is in a similar mindset as your student. Hubs and I are learning how to “open his eyes” through conversation as he discovers how to “adult” and what looks like. 🙂

  5. I absolutely love learning Anita! I too have to do continuing professional credits each year to re register… which I continue to do in the hope a health miracle happens & I can leave this Sabbatical behind. 😉
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Who has the Power?My Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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