The Scary World of the Debrief

The Scary World of the Debrief


We all know what that means. Taking off your briefs.

Ok. Ok! So even though that is not the colloquial usage, it certainly COULD mean that. It might as well, because the end goal is the same. Change. Whether it is underwear or minds, change is what we want. Debriefing can change perspective, change plans for future events, change ideas about norms and change youth from individuals to a group working together.

So why debrief? Debriefing, or asking pointed questions, after an event will help you and your students understand what went well and what could have gone better, allowing you to plan future activities with those critiques in mind. It also allows you to take a fun game and tack on a lesson.

Debriefing helps youth verbalize what they have learned. It also ensures your kids come up with the explanation you will need to offer for why you went kayaking or spent money on Star Wars costumes. So when you are inevitably questioned, feel free to scream it from the rooftops, “Look at all they learned!!”

Here are five tips to get the most out of your debriefing sessions.

1) Keep it fresh!

You don’t want to use the “turn these inside out and wear them a second time” method of debriefing. It is certainly advantageous to ask the common questions (What can we do differently? What went well? What did you learn? Etc.) but your students will offer up so much more if you ask new questions or approach debriefing in a fresh way.

Check out this article for some interesting ideas!

2) Remember to teach!

36910335_debriefing_Somewhere along the line someone taught you to put on your drawers one leg at a time. Now it’s your time to pass on some knowledge. Some of you have no problem with this, but for others, debriefing ends up being a series of questions to find out what the youth have learned. That is good stuff. If you want to elevate it to greatness though, you have to remember to teach. You are debriefing because you want your kids to learn something. So, listen to what they learned, but make sure they listen to what you intended for them to learn too.

3) Debrief Regularly!

Just worked out? Debrief.
Got caught in the rain? Debrief.
Laughed so hard you peed yourself a little? Debrief.
Take the same approach to debriefing with your youth. Don’t confine your questions for the end of the event or activity, but ask them along the way too.

4) Embrace Silence!

Everyone likes a little quiet time while they are debriefing, yet, we often feel the need to fill silence. So we talk. Sometimes sharing the ideas and thoughts we hoped the youth would offer up. Next time you are debriefing, sit in that silence. Allow everyone to think and process on their own before sharing as a group. This is a good idea even if you have a particularly outgoing group because it might bring to the surface better feedback born from insight as opposed to knee-jerk answers.

5) Relax!

Debriefing does not have to be a big deal, but I promise you, if you neglect doing it, what you are left with will not be pleasant. So ask questions and sit back for the discussion. You could even hand out a list of questions for discussion and then you can REALLY put your feet up (while simultaneously taking notes, of course). This “work” is for the youth. They will have a far more creative, thoughtful debate if left to their own devices. If your group can’t handle that, by all means, step in, but pull back once they are on the right track. You can pass on your wisdom nuggets when you wrap things up.

If you allow the youth to take the lead, leave plenty of time for quiet thought, ask questions along the way, keep things interesting and share your knowledge while listening to theirs, you are golden. Debriefing will only yield goodness when used effectively. Please debrief responsibly.

Erica Olmstead's journey with youth advocacy and tobacco control began as a youth advocate in New York with the Reality Check program. Over the past 12 years, she has continuously focused her efforts on empowering youth to advocate against corporate tobacco, first as a youth advocate, later as a Reality Check Program Coordinator and now as a member of the Youth Advocacy team at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in Washington, DC.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *