I am lucky enough to have 3 school visits this spring, with another 2 in the works, a lineup of summer school classes and a teaching teachers gig this summer! Whew, it’s gonna be busy!! After my first two visits, I jotted down some notes… activities to repeat, a few changes to make, some extra items to pack and … I’m sharing them here, in case you are preparing for your own school visits and presentations. Or if you are planning an event within your school, here read on for a few tips to make the most of your event.
I will do my best to use the students’ names. In the 38 kid workshop I lead in February, I cringed when I asked a child again for their name… even though they had just told it to me a few minutes before. Blake? Brice? Bryson? It was hard in the 4 hours I was with them to commit their names to memory quickly. I pointed instead of calling them by name in our discussions and had to ask names when signing books. I felt awful. There are several easy ways around this problem. Ask the school coordinators to provide name tags or make table tents featuring their name as an icebreaker activity. I made sure to stop at the dollar store to pick up name tags before my next author visit, a workshop for 24 young author/illustrators in Chippewa Falls. The result, I felt I was able to connect with the participants on a much more personal level and they felt important that I called them by name!
I will prepare and copy one set of materials only. Last month I spent $81.67 on copies for my author visit. I have come to realize that being a writer is a job that uses a lot of paper. (I planned to atone for my sins by planting a tree for every book I publish… more on this in a later post.) Apparently paper usage is a sin that has followed me into author visits. 50 student and teacher packets, full of activities, resources and planning space cost me 23% of my presentation fee. In the future, I plan to email the school I am presenting at and ask them to copy the materials. If a presenter asked me (as a teacher) to do this, I would happily comply. I am hoping the future schools I present at will agree, knowing that their students are receiving high quality materials created just for them, copied at a fraction of the cost I would pay at a print shop.
Do the same
I will plan extra. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes another presenter will do an activity you had planned. Sometimes things are done faster that you thought they would. If you have just one more activity planned than you think you will need, you will never have to face the panic of looking at the clock and finding you still have a half an hour to fill. I didn’t need my extra activity this time, but I almost did… and I’m glad I had it in my back pocket.
I will interact with the kids on a personal level whenever possible. For one activity I had asked the kids to partner up and talk about their story setting and how they could make their reader feel like they are REALLY THERE, living in the pages next to the characters. I noticed one girl sitting on her own. It’s not like she didn’t try to partner up, there was just an odd number of students in the room at the time. I could have asked her to join another group, but instead I pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. I am so glad I did. We had a great conversation about her story. It was only five minutes, maybe less than that, but she will remember me and that I took time to listen to her ideas, and hopefully she will know that her ideas are important. This month in Chippewa when I did the same, I was blown away by the ideas the students had to share. For me, it was definitely one of the day’s highlights.
A few other tips
Bring more books that what the participants ordered. Always. You never want to miss a sale.
Bring goodies for the teachers. They are over worked and tired. The time you are spending with their students is a chance for an expert to grab their attention and teach them something new. It is also a break for them. Do you know who plans author visits? Teachers. Do you know who sets them up? Teachers. Do you know who writes the grants that funds author visits? Teachers. As a thank you to them, bring a little treat, a copy of the materials, a way to extend your content into their lessons. It is these little extras, the feeling of being appreciated, that will stick in their mind… and potential give them a reason to invite you back!
If you are an author, what tips do you have to share for author visits? If you are a teacher, what is one thing you wish school presenters knew/would do?