Friday, February 28, 2020

The Power of Great School Visits

By Steve Swinburne

A school visit has the power to engage, enlighten, entertain and inspire young students. But how do you craft an author program that inspires readers, makes wonderful curriculum connections and leaves lasting memories? In presenting to school kids for over twenty years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. But I’d love to share with you some of the things that have worked and helped garner some rave reviews for my school visits from librarians. Below you will find a few cardinal rules that may guide you in designing a great school visit.

But, first things, first. If you’re super nervous about standing in front of 150 third-graders, just know that every visiting author has been there. Here’s how I handled the school visit jitters. I started small. I visited my daughter’s elementary school classroom. After a couple of visits, when I realized second graders were not going to eat me alive, I moved on to church socials and Rotary Club gatherings. Practice, practice, practice until you get comfortable in a room full of kids and adults.


Be proactive. 
Long before the BIG DAY arrives, make sure you and the school visit coordinator (librarian, teacher or PTO) are on the same page. Do you have a signed contract with school telephone number and the cell phone of the coordinator, in case of an emergency? Know how the day will roll out: number of presentations, length, location, book signing times. Will you or the librarian handle book sales? If you are providing books, do you have a book order form with prices? The best way teachers can prepare for an author visit is for the students to read the author’s books. Thoughtful questions and good conversations can result.

Be prepared.
There are some things you can’t control on school visit day – weather, traffic, etc. But you can control how prepared you are. Double-check your equipment. Do you have appropriate dongles to connect your MacBookPro to the library Smartboard? Do you have fresh batteries in your remote? Did you bring extra ones? Have you checked and double-checked your Keynote or PowerPoint program? You want your full attention on the kids, not worrying about the technology.

Be early.
Once, years ago, I had a school visit in New Jersey. I remember that my first session began at 9 a.m. But at 9 a.m., I’m in my car, stopped dead in traffic, in the center of the George Washington Bridge. Lesson learned: plan ahead. I like to arrive 30 – 45 minutes before the first presentation begins. If you’ve ever arrived as parents are dropping off their kids in the front of school, you know that’s a hectic scene. Arrive early, get comfortable, check sound, check lights, check that your program is loading. Make friends with the custodian. Locate the bathroom.


Be flexible.
Roll with the flow of the day. Every author loves to present in the heart of the school – the library. But if the library is too small for all the 4th and 5th graders, you may have to present in the cafeteria or gym. You are there for the kids. Bring your big boy/big girl pants and make it work. Remember, they’re paying you a lot of money on a tight school budget. No complaining allowed.

Be you.
Students don’t meet authors every day. You’re special. They want to know who you are and what makes you tick? Introduce your self. I always begin my presentations with a slide pinpointing where I live compared to where the school is located. It sets up the geography. I show one or two photos of my family, my house and most of all, my dogs. (kids are dying to know if you have a pet). I then show them photos of the river I live beside and talk about how the river inspires me. And that point we are off and running and moving into the meat of my program.


Be sure to adapt.
Librarians love when an author adapts their presentations to various age levels. With the youngest kids, Pre-K to 1st graders, you can be more playful and animated. With older students, engage and inspire them with substance, intrigue and story.

Be entertaining.
Kids love to laugh. Sneak in a joke. Tell a funny story. If you win over your audience with humor, they will be with you when you engage them with writing tips and curriculum connections. You don’t have to play ukulele or illustrate (but if you do, go for it!) Do you yodel? Can you hoot like an owl? Share a bit of yourself, your hobby, your interests – that way you become real to your audience. You will inspire them.


Be informative.
In every school visit, I emphasize things like, “Strong Verbs, Cool Details and Hooking the Reader” can make your writing sparkle and come alive; “Get your first draft down, then fix it up”; “Good readers make Good writers.” Teachers REALLY appreciate that their students hear this kind of powerful writing and reading advice from a “REAL, LIVE AUTHOR.”

Be a storyteller.
Tell the story of how you became an author, illustrator or photographer. Did you read as a kid? What books? I was a reluctant reader growing up, and I tell kids that.  Make connections. Kids love hearing how authors get their ideas. Share research anecdotes. In researching my upcoming book on giraffes, I visited a giraffe center in Africa where if you stuck a small biscuit between your lips, a giraffe would come along and slurp it out with their long 19-inch tongue. I then show a photo of that scene. Kids love behind the scenes research stories.

Be someone who follows up.  
For a hundred bucks or so, I get a bunch of Thank You Postcards from my local printer. After every school visit, I mail the librarian a postcard. It’s a nice follow up. And, as often happens, a week or two after your school visit, a package of “Letters to the Author” might show up in mail. You don’t have time to send a thank you note to every kid, but a note or postcard to the teacher does wonders.

When I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York, I never remembered authors and illustrators visiting our public school auditoriums or classrooms. I thought authors who wrote books were a mystery; artists lived somewhere far away from our Queens neighborhood. I’m very grateful we have moved on from that unenlightened era. We know now that when an author visits a school, readers are inspired. An author visit can foster active and curious minds. Minds hungry for exploration and growth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Swinburne has worked as a national park ranger and is the author of more than 30 children’s books. His extensive travels to faraway lands such as Africa, Borneo, Bangladesh and Dubai along with treks through Yellowstone and researching giraffes, have all influenced his book projects, including Sea Turtle Scientist, Run, Sea Turtle, Run and his upcoming title, Giraffe Math. Steve visits over 50 schools a year across the United States as well as many international schools. He lives in Vermont with his wife, Heather, two dogs named Scout and Jem, and a cat named Skittles. Learn more at www.SteveSwinburne.com.

ABOUT THE PRIZE
Steve will provide a 30-minute Skype visit with the winner or with a classroom of their choice.
 

109 comments:

  1. Steve, Great advice! As a librarian, I echo everything that you have said. As a writer just starting out with school visits, I also am learning the ropes from the other side of the aisle. I'm so looking forward to reading your new book!

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  2. I’m thinking of all the school kids you must have inspired with your books and author visits. Bravo!

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  3. Steve, thank you so much for sharing your tried-and-true school visit tips. I'll try each and every one of them as I venture out to classrooms as a debut author. I'm planning to start small and am glad to know it's okay to wade in and become comfortable. I love your books and am inspired by how many children across the world you reach.

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  4. Really great advice. Thanks!

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  5. Always love learning from you, Steve! I can't wait to read your new book. Yay! It's out next week! I recently wrote a very short poem about sea turtles. My go-to books for information and inspiration included Turtle Tide and Sea Turtle Scientist.

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  6. Hello from a fellow Vermonter! The thought of a school visit is the stuff of nightmares for me! Thanks for this great article with your clear and commonsense information.

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  7. In my limited classroom experience, I too have found that kids want to know about pets! Other than that, I'm very grateful for all your advice and hope to put it to use someday. Thanks, Steve! I'm also excited for your new books.

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  8. These tips are incredible! The school visit has always been something that has terrified me.

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  9. This was so informative! Thank you for sharing your best practices.

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  10. I grew up in a very small town and we never had an author visit either. I love that today's children have this wonderful experience! I'm still far from an author's visit, but this is all great information to save for when I need it down the road.

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  11. Steve, your tips for school visits were right on point! They can be a lot of fun but you also can never tell what might happen so best be prepared! Thanks.

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  12. I am a reading teacher and I just mentioned to another at our elementary school yesterday that we haven't had an author visit for YEARS. I've been there for 5 years. When my kids were there, we had at least 3 that I can think of. So disappointed to know these kids haven't had the opportunity. When I share my stories in reading groups, I never tell the kids I wrote them. I read it and then see what they say. Once they find out I wrote it, they are blown away and then will pick up the pencil and edit their work a little more. I usually bring in all the draft from that ONE STORY and that helps my editing talk...
    Thanks for the post!

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  13. Great info. We didn't have author visits when I was a kid either, but my first librarian job was for a rural district in WY that planned author visits for every third & fourth grader in the district. They were amazing and took 2-3 days! It's not only the kids that get inspired when an author visits. 😊

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  14. Thank you so much, Steve, for all that valuable information on school visits. I loved all your tips and especially knowing that every author feels nervous at first!

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  15. Great tips for an author visit. Thank you for sharing your journey and success as a reluctant reader turned author.

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  16. Some excellent advice here! I see how I can improve my school visit talks. Thank you!

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  17. Love the idea of the thank you follow-up! Ty for the itty-gritty on school visits, Steve.

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  18. Oh, you know kids and what they like, Steve--great tips!

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  19. Steve is right on the button with being ready when your audience arrives. And my experience even years ago was that if the librarian was not engaged, the kids wouldn't be either. In one instance, they had no idea who I was or why I was there because someone else arranged the visit and no preparation had been made for me to be there.
    But, back in the dear-dead-distant past when I was going to schools, my biggest response from teachers came when I pulled out revisions. I had a story I had worked on for years. This started back when printouts were on those accordion-folded stacks of paper. I pulled up the top sheet, the others followed, red marks everywhere. After explaining I had rewrote and printed again, I pulled up the next sheet and its companions, filled with more markings. By the sixth version, kids were groaning and teachers beaming. By the way, that story is still not published!
    Another

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  20. Thank you for such wonderful tips! My debut PB comes out in about a year, and it's science related and I'm having fun thinking of the creative ideas to incorporate for school visits. I'm definitely bookmarking this post!

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  21. Great advice, Steve! Your tip about starting small resonates with me. I did my first library visit last month. (It was a blast!) Our town library promoted it as an after-school activity for grades 4-6, and about 20 kids plus a few parents came. Then a teacher learned about it through Facebook and asked if I would volunteer to speak to a few classes at her school. I hope these small, local presentations will prepare me for whatever bigger events may come in the future. I will refer back to this post again to keep learning from your experience!

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  22. I love the idea of being someone who follows up! Thank you very much for that advice!!!

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  23. Wonderful advice. School visits are one of the best parts of our job, and I love your idea to send Thank You postcards.

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  24. Thanks for the wonderful tips! I think sharing personal details is a great way to jumpstart a connection.

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  25. Great tips, Steve! Esp. with being early - and knowing where the bathrooms are! I remember presenting a session at a conference and anything that could go wrong did go wrong. I had printed out hand-outs and had loaded my photos on a flashdrive so I could do a slide show. Lesson learned: assume nothing will work the way you plan.

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  26. Thanks Steve! You make it sound fun! And it can be. As a retired school librarian I know the magic of getting kids hooked on a book/subject/idea. Your practical suggestions will be helpful in relaxing and enjoying school visits.

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  27. Thanks for the tips! It's really useful to see what details need to be discussed with the teacher/school beforehand.

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  28. Thanks for all the great tips. I use some of them already with my school visits. I like the idea of sending postcards to the librarian or teacher as a follow up to your visit.

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  29. Thank you Steve for your tips! I like your advice of, humor, be yourself, and, arrive early!
    My first author visit was a Skype visit and the voice continued without the video connection! Kids were wonderful, the teacher made into a true go -with- the -flow - moment, triumph!
    Yes, laughter, and.....check your tech!!
    Looking forward to your newest book!

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  30. As a teacher, I want to second this point: "Be you. Students don’t meet authors every day. You’re special." This is so true! Teachers, and in turn kids, really revere authors and they love to meet them and ask the most random questions. Whenever we are lucky enough to have them, author visits are the highlight of the year! Skype visits are a great alternative and kids get a kick out of these, too! -Sara Ackerman

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  31. Really valuable advice. I have started a second Evernote file on subtopics that probably won't make it into the book but would (I hope) make for interesting material in school visits.

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  32. Thanks for your excellent tips on creating meaningful school visits for children. As a former educator, I can vouch for how much children look forward to author visits and for how much teachers appreciate the backup of the writing process, especially revision!

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  33. Great tips, Steve! It’s easy to forget how much children look up to us!

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  34. Steve, your presentations are always funny, especially your ukelele poop song!

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  35. What great ideas for author visits! I like the geography comparison between you and school, as well as the other tidbits in that section. overall a fantastic post Steve. Thank you.

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  36. Steve, thank you so much for these helpful school visit tips. I especially agree with your tip about sharing pictures of your dogs with the kids. Every time I show kids a picture of my writing assistant, Bear (my golden retriever), I get a collective "AWWWW..." from the audience.

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  37. Wow! Wow! Wow! What a wowser kind of post. You are flexible, Steve. Look how you've taught and entertained a zillion adult "kids". Thank you!!!

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  38. Wonderful school visit tips! I will be brushing up my presentation. Thanks for sharing today.

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  39. Thank you for this great advice. The whole list is wonderful and I'll be sure to use all of it. "Be flexible" is the one that jumps out at me the most.
    Thank you, Steve.

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  40. I was inspired by this post to go visit your website. Wow. It's inspiring, and what's best is how unaffected you are and how clearly excited you are about life. That's what makes your books great too. The world's better for your contributions.

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  41. Wow! A ton of information and four pages of notes. Thanks!

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  42. I'm not there yet, Steve, but I'm filing your post away for the future. Thanks so much for all this great advice.

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  43. Thank you for all the advice and tips about school visits! Very exciting! 🙂

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  44. Thank you for your detailed post, Steve! I appreciate your suggestions on how to overcome nervousness with small groups first before taking on large ones.

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  45. "After every school visit, I mail the librarian a postcard. It’s a nice follow up. And, as often happens, a week or two after your school visit, a package of “Letters to the Author” might show up in mail." Great tip. I wish I had thought of that because I enjoy sending postcards.

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  46. Great post, Steve! Hello from another Vermonter! You’re about 34 minutes away from here taking Rte 11 through Chester.

    Thank you for sharing your journey from reluctant reader to an author doing school visits. I’m bookmarking your tips for school visits, which scare the living daylights out of me… but better a visit with kids than adults. I love the idea of sending postcards to the librarian / teacher as a follow up to your visit.

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  47. Great information! I especially love the tip about getting thank you postcards, as I'm a big fan of sending handwritten notes.

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  48. Wow, what a primer! Thank you so much for this rubric! I would've loved the experience of having authors coming to my classes as a child, too.

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  49. How much a difference the common courtesies of introducing yourself and sending thank you postcards can make. Thank you for sharing the nitty-gritty details, especially the ways to connect and how to make each talk into a low key writing lesson. So helpful!

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  50. Thank you for a very detailed and informative post. And thank you for the way you enrich the young lives who get to participate in your author visits. If I'm ever blessed enough to be in a position to be a visiting author, I will be reviewing my notes on this for sure!

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  51. School visits rock. Simply said. School visits rock. Thank you for the reminders and hints!

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  52. And you are special, too, Steve! Thank you for sharing many helpful tips for school visits. I’m impressed by the number 50! That’s quite a few presentations throughout the year—Lucky kids.

    Suzy Leopold

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  53. This is all such great practical advice! Thanks for sharing your front line experience, and for the reminder that we're there for the kids, so anything we can do to make the visit better for them is the right choice.

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  54. Your visits to our school always inspired my students. Your patience and encouragement of those young writers empowered them. Keep up the great work, Steve!

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  55. I would LOVE to do classroom visits. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  56. Great post, Steve! Lots of good advice!

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  57. Excellent advice, Steve, and how I wish I had been able to meet a real, live author as a kid, too! PS: Would love to see photos of your two dogs:-)

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  58. Excellent advice for author visits! Thank you for your advice and for sharing your school experiences - Priscilla

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  59. Thank you, Steve, for this wonderful post on school visits. I appreciate the advice you shared, and especially enjoyed the vision of the giraffe snatching the biscuit from your mouth. I can see why the children would enjoy that.

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  60. Thanks for all of these helpful tips! It looks like you play the ukulele. Music is always a big hit with kids, and mixing it with reading is a terrific combo. Helps get rid of the wiggles, too.

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  61. Dongles? MacBook? Smartboard? Oh, I am so not ready for today's classrooms. But I love your idea about telling the kids what kind of reader you were as a child. So many good tips. Thanks, Steve!

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  62. Thanks, Steve. These are all fantastic tips. I'm saving this post for when I start doing school visits.

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  63. Hi! Great post - I'm not there yet but when I am, I'll refer back to your post. I really like how you show a slide where you live in comparison to where the school is. So great and concrete. Thank you and look forward to reading your books.

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  64. Steve, love your postcard idea. Congrats on all your books.

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  65. Thanks, Steve! Be You! Yes, always! There’s so much good stuff for prepublished peeps like me wanting to get into schools some day. This will help create an awesome checklist!

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  66. This is a great preparation checklist. Can't wait to use it.

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  67. Love your advice. This is practical and positive.

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  68. Good advice. Being a former teacher, I am not afraid of a room full of kids. It is the changes in technology that scare me!

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  69. Thanks so much for this practical information and advice. It is useful to know what has worked for you, and what other writers can learn from your lived experiences. Your school presentations sound wonderful!

    Celia Viramontes

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  70. Steve, THANK YOU! There is so much helpful information in here. I have a feeling I will be looking back at this for many years. I loved your advice to "Make friends with the custodian. Locate the bathroom." And to send postcards to the teachers and/or librarians. What a genius idea. Thanks again.

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  71. Thank you Steve! Getting real with the kids makes such a difference for them. Sharing stories about yourself, and about writing is sure to inspire. Thanks for so many great tips, esp. about starting with small groups. As a Librarian, I still get nervous before story times, and when visiting schools to promote Summer Reading. So, your advice helped me for this as well. But, I hope to one day be a visiting author! If I get the chance, I'll look back at your advice. I'll put on my big girl pants, prepare, share stories, and be grateful to all the staff and kids. But, first, I'll find the bathroom. Best to you!

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  72. I never had an author speak at my schools growing up. I never knew authors did that. Even when I taught a few years, that never happened and I wasn't aware of it. As an adult, I still thought only ceratin people were capable of being authors. I hope I'm able to visit schools as an author to shate with them that they can do it.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  73. Thank you for the great tips. As a retired teacher I love sharing with kids. I’m looking forward to one day being a visiting author.

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  74. So many great suggestions, but I especially liked Be you and Be entertaining. Thank you, Steve!

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  75. Authors confirming teachers is such a powerful experience. As a writing teacher, I look for all kinds of opportunities to bring authors into my classroom and my students always enjoy them!

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  76. As both a teacher & a writer, I appreciate both sides of the presentation. The teachers too are nervous--nervous the kids won't behave, will be too loud, will have a b/room accident (esp if they're little). Knowing your presentation audience is just as crucial as arriving on time & having all the "write" equipment. Thx for sharing all your great tips!

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  77. I met Steve at a 2013 nonfiction Highlights Founders workshop and found him to be engaging, fun, and knowledgeable. This is good advice, coming from someone "who's been there, done that."

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  78. What a fantastic post! Thank you for all of this great info; school visits make me sweat! 😬

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  79. Thanks so much for this vital information. The audio visual part scares me the most. I feel ready to proceed, though, when the time for my first school visit comes.

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  80. Steve, it sounds like you're great with the kiddos! Thanks for sharing your tips. As a teacher, I know we all love to have authors visit and talk with our students and THEY adore meeting real-authors (lol... Even when they know their teacher is also an author--who happens to teach math too. ;) )

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  81. What a wonderful post, with great tips on preparing for an author visit. Thank you for giving us concrete examples of how to make things work— like the example of being stuck in traffic and why it's important to show up early. So appreciated. One minor observation on the author bio, though, with exception of Africa, all the other places visited are mentioned by name Borneo, Bangladesh, Dubai, rather than the more generic regions Asia and the Middle East. It's so important not to perpetuate the idea of Africa as a monolith, it's a large continent that varies greatly in diversity, geography, languages and cultures, why not mention the countries visited by name? For example, I'm fairly sure that the Giraffe Center mentioned is probably in Kenya. Why not name it? I normally wouldn't comment on this, but since we are speaking about non-fiction and the importance of presenting more diverse world views and striving for nuanced thinking, I felt the need to point it out.

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  82. Thanks for these detailed suggestions. I love the point about sending thank you postcards after school visits and also the suggestion to share slides about our favorite books from childhood and the geography of where we live. I look forward to Giraffe Math!

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  83. This is wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

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  84. What great information on school visits here, thank you so much. I am going to print out this post and put it in my school visit folder!

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  85. Thanks for the great tips! As a teacher, be entertaining and be you will really help an author connect.

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  86. Great ideas and advice. Thank you!

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  87. What a fabulous check-list of what to do. Thanks so much!

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  88. So much great info here, thank you!

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  89. Steve, what a perfect post for wrapup. I and many others consider you one of the best of school visit gurus. Especially those of us who have taught professionally. You've listed all the things a person needs to teach well. Thanks!

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  90. Your insight and cardinal rules are gold! Steve, thank you for this post of goodies to make a solid school visit.

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  91. Super suggestions Steve! Thank you for the post.

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  92. Why, yes, I CAN hoot like an owl! Thanks for this encouraging and comprehensive post.

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  93. "I always begin my presentations with a slide pinpointing where I live compared to where the school is located. It sets up the geography." This is a great tip! And I need to be better at thank you cards to the teacher or librarian who invited me. I always have good intentions and sometimes follow through. Thanks!

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  94. I can't wait for the day that I have a published book and share it with a class of excited readers.

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  95. Thanks everyone for your lovely comments. Sending good thoughts on your writing and MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU when you do your school visits! Cheers!

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  96. Sound advice! Being prepared is half the battle. :D

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  97. As a librarian these tips are bang on!

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  98. Excellent strategies, Steve. Thanks for sharing!

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  99. Wonderful insight on a successful school visit! Thank you;) Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  100. Excellent post. School visits definitely entail a lot of planning and preparation. The "be prepared" paragraph is what concerns me the most. I don't own the equipment I would need for such an event and am "technically challenged". That's one thing I need to learn before I (hopefully) have a book out in the world. Thanks for the reminder.

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  101. Jyoti Rajan GopalMarch 1, 2020 at 2:00 PM

    Be a storyteller! Love that!

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  102. These tips are superb, and I hope to put them to use someday if I ever get a book published! I'll be sure to follow your advice to practice lots in advance and triple check I have all the necessary equipment. As an annoying early bird, I don't think arriving late will be an issue, but I'll try my best to be adaptable and patient and keep my sense of humor in good working order. Thank you, Steve!

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  103. Good advice! Thanks for the post, Steve.

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