I love great school visits!
Caution: The advice contained herein is intended for a perfect world. This is not a perfect world. I know that schools have schedule issues, space issues, budget issues, curriculum issues, etc. etc. etc. We all just do the best we can in our imperfect world, right?
Dear School That is Planning an Author Visit:
So, you've decided to invite an author to your school. Good for you!
Now, I know you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, right? I mean, money is tight. The PTO had a great fundraiser and you want to use it to best advantage.
I've done a lot of school visits.
Some were great. Some were not so great.
What makes an author visit great?
Based on my experience, here are some of the things that will help make your author visit great:
1. If using a local author, try to assemble a team of volunteers ready and willing to research and, if possible, preview visiting authors in your area.
2. That team of volunteers should communicate with school faculty to learn what is most important about the author visit: appeal to the children; curriculum tie-ins; writing workshops; a body of work; an author who can present to the whole school or to just one or two grades, etc.
In addition, are you looking for an author to simply entertain and be interesting (and there's nothing wrong with that!) - or do you also want an author who can give the students something they can take back to their classrooms (i.e., writing tips; curriculum tie-ins, etc.)?
3. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Bring enough volunteers on board (if possible) so that one person can handle book sales, one person can liaison with teachers and handle scheduling, one person can take care of technical equipment, one person can be in charge of greeting and escorting the author, one person can bring in a small sack lunch and a bottle of water, etc.
4. Plan ahead! Some authors book a year or more in advance. It also takes time to carry out all the other stages of the author visit, like book-ordering (discussed below).
5. Prepare the students.
Let me repeat that:
5. Prepare the students. This is the single most important ingredient for a successful author visit. Hands down.
What is involved in preparing the students, you ask?
Make sure they are familiar with the author's work.
Let me repeat that.
Make sure they are familiar with the author's work.
They should have the author's books in the classrooms.
They should have read the books - or...
They should have had the books read to them.
They should see the books displayed in the library or classroom.
Nothing generates excitement and enthusiasm for an author's visit more than this.
And when the students are excited and enthusiastic, they get 400% more out of the author visit.
Have you checked with the author about the timing of her presentation? Don't plan on an hour-long program if the author has a 45-minute program. It doesn't sound like much, but it makes a difference when there are 3 or 4 presentations in a day with breaks in between.
Speaking of which, have you allowed for small breaks between sessions?
Have you taken into consideration the amount of time it will take the students to arrive and get settled? (For instance, large groups coming into an auditorium require more time than smaller groups sitting on the floor in the library.)
7. Give the students the opportunity to buy the author's books in advance of the visit. Assign a volunteer to be in charge of this. Most authors have information about ordering on their web site or can give it to you in advance. You should allow six weeks for this! Many publishers can get you books right away, but some need lead time.
Better yet, use your local independent bookseller to help with book sales.
8. Sometimes students aren't motivated to buy a book until after he has seen the author. If possible, order extra books to meet demands of late orders. Most publishers allow unsold books to be returned, so you won't be out the money if you order too many.
9. Choose the location of the presentation carefully. (I totally understand that sometimes your choices are limited.) Libraries are ideal - they have that "book atmosphere" and usually have nice acoustics and lighting. Cafeterias can be deadly - lousy sound, uncomfortable floors for students to sit on, pots and pans clanging, terrible lighting for projector presentations, disruptions and scheduling issues.
10. Be very clear what the equipment needs of the author are. Make sure all the necessary equipment is ready - that means set up and ready to go when the author arrives.
11. Have someone on hand to help the author with technical equipment set-up. It's unfair to expect the author to know how to use unfamiliar projectors or to hustle around looking for extensions cords, outlets, etc.
12. Arrange for someone to greet the author. (Even better, choose a small group of students to greet the author.) This is just common courtesy and will be appreciated. Show the author where the restrooms are, where the teachers' lounge is, etc.
13. Make sure the folks working in the front office know the author is coming and who is expected to escort her to her presentation spot.
14. Have the students prepare signs, banners, or other displays for the author. This adds an air of excitement to the school and makes the author feel welcome. This also helps involve the students in the author visit.
Be sure to show the author the students' handiwork. She will love it!
15. Assign someone to introduce the author to the students. While the author is certainly capable of doing this, having an "official introducer" sends a signal to the students that this is a special presentation and someone worth listening to.
16. Ask that the teachers stay with the students throughout the entire presentation. The author should not have to deal with discipline issues.
17. Don't change the pre-arranged schedule without letting the author know prior to the day of the visit. The author has planned accordingly and shouldn't have to make adjustments after arrival.
18. Let the author know ahead of time if lunch will be provided.
Most authors come prepared with something for lunch. But if something is being prepared by the school, let her know in advance so she doesn't pack her own. Authors will appreciate choosing something from a take-out menu or a simple lunch prepared by a volunteer. Or let the author know what is available to her in the school cafeteria or from a nearby deli (if time allows).
20. Show the author some appropriate places for her to eat. Some authors will appreciate some quiet time during lunch. You might ask if she would prefer to eat alone in a quiet corner of the library or some other quiet spot.
21. Some schools arrange for the author to have lunch with a group of students. This is a fun opportunity for both author and students. However, if the students are coming armed with questions, consider allowing time for the author to eat on her own beforehand. It's sometimes difficult to eat and chat at the same time.
22. For booksigning times, have the students write their names on a post-it note so that the author won't have to ask about spelling. An additional bonus is to place the post-it note on the title page. Sounds like a little thing, but it does make things go more smoothly and quickly.
23. Don't allow students to rush up in hoards, thrusting small scraps of paper at the author for her to sign. It's hard for authors to say no to these requests, but signing one usually turns into signing 50. There's just no time for this. (And the author will feel terrible having to say "no.")
24. Have the author's check ready on the day of the visit.
25. Have one of the volunteers write down each process involved in arranging the visit. Then next year, when those volunteers are gone, you won't be reinventing the wheel. You'll have an "owner's manual" for your future school visits.
26. Have the students write thank-you notes or make drawings to send to the author after the visit. That is just one more extension of the program; gives the students a chance to reflect on the visit and what they got out of it, what they liked best, what they learned, etc. This reinforces common manners and will be enjoyed and appreciated by the author.
27. Pat yourself on the back. You've enriched the curriculum, nudged the students a step farther toward better reading and writing, and made an author feel great about her day. Win win!!