School Author Visits: What can they do for teachers and students?

Schools are suffering. Budgets have been slashed. There is little time and energy for teachers to focus on creative activities because of state and district pressure to “teach to the test.” What can parents and teachers do to help students balance the push for academic success with the creative problem-solving and meaning-making activities they’ll need to be productive and happy?

I’ve been around education most of my life, held many positions, including music and classroom teacher, library media specialist, school founding director, writing teacher, and continuing education instructor. I’m passionate about education, writing, and creativity, and I know one way to help create the balance we need in education.

As a school librarian and classroom teacher, I often hired authors to speak to my students, and I witnessed the growth that took place during and after school author visits. I have several observations on what school author visits can do for students, and I’d love to hear your observations, too.

School Author Visits Can…

Promote Reading

Imagine hearing the inside stories about how a book is created. In a school author visits, students learn about the author’s experiences that inspire the ideas for their books and the scenes in them. Students identify with the struggles and joys of the writing and publication process because they hear about it directly from the author. This helps other authors become real to students, too, and opens up relationships with the books they read. Because they have a new understanding of what goes on while an author writes, students can start recognizing the choices made by authors of the books they read, which helps them develop the ability to make predictions, inferences, and associations, and other traits of good readers.

Motivate Writing

When authors visit classrooms with their favorite tips and tricks for teaching writing, students are eager to give writing a try. It’s not an assignment. No one grades these pieces. Hearing from published writers about their real-life process, from ideas to publication, often gets kids cranking out manuscripts long after the author visit is over.  The cost of an author visit per child is low, especially when you consider how motivation of one student who really needs can make a big difference in their future success. If I had had the opportunity to meet an author as a child, I would have been on this path decades earlier.

Demystify Authors

Authors are ordinary people. We’re often put on pedestals, as if a magic genie or God came around and bestowed the title Author on us. We often spend time alone writing, go to the grocery store, wait in line at the post office, and do our household chores like everyone else. Authors become authors by being persistent. Talent just means that something comes easy for someone, but writing is rarely easy. It never comes out the way you plan. You hit walls and want to quit. Every new story makes you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s all part of the creative process, and an author can tell kids how it is.

Encourage Risk Taking

When students write specific assignments in school, their audience is the teacher. They want to write well enough to get a good grade and put in just the right information in the correct format in order to please the teacher. There are obvious exceptions to this, which I can attest to as a past teacher and a teacher of teachers. Through school author visits, students and teachers may both learn to branch out from formulaic models of writing when they get support from authors who can communicate their processes and who offer support for classroom writing through their ideas, philosophies, and materials.

Ignite Sparks

A school author visit has the potential for jumpstarting not only writing projects, but for following any dream. I’ve heard from students and teachers who pursued passions they had resisted because of something I said during my school author visits. After a presentation on my inner critic that had a room full of teachers and students laughing at the ways we stop ourselves from creating, a teacher came to me in tears saying she figured out why she hadn’t let herself paint and couldn’t wait to get home and pull out her watercolors. That was a school author visit long before I became a creativity coach. There is power in hearing about someone else’s path and what they’ve learned along the way.

Validate Teaching

Teachers often tell me how they’ve said something over and over to their students, usually about the writing process, but it doesn’t sink in until they hear it from me during a school author visit. Teachers become like family to kids. They hear what’s said, but don’t always listen, or it goes through a filter they’ve developed somewhere along the line in the relationship. But, when heard with new ears from an author they admire, that bit of information becomes real. It can finally become the truth. As a past teacher, I’m thrilled to validate my peers who continue serving the kids in their care.

Form Friendships

I’ve made wonderful friends during school author visits. Teachers and students email me. They find me on Facebook, Twitter, and other online sources. Some have become creativity coaching clients, and others have asked me for suggestions or asked questions about writing workshops. I’m always happy to respond. If they’re aspiring writers, we might meet at conferences, or they take continuing education classes from me. They sign up for my email newsletter and reply to it when they hear from me each month (or two or three!). I recognize their names when they write online reviews of my books, and they let me know when they’re planning on showing up for a book signing. The gratitude I have for them is boundless. I couldn’t keep going without their support and friendship, without your support and friendship. Thank you!

 

If you’d like to learn more about school author visits from a crowd of experts, here’s your invitation to a free school author visit event!

See you very son!


13 Comments

  1. Stephanie Shaw

    Deb, Congratulations on your new release! It was great fun to spend time with you at the Oregon Spring SCBWI Conference.

    Here’s to your continued (Dino) success!

    Stephanie Shaw

  2. Summer vacation has started here in greater Minnesota. I only wish that my colleagues and students could have the opportunity to meet a Minnesota born author, colleague, friend and former babysitter. I can attest to all the creative things she exposed my siblings and I to the summer she babysat at our house. The lucky school that wins the author visit will be getting an unbelievable gift for their students.

  3. I guess those Minnesota kids are so smart they don’t need all those school days! I was just telling my kids about my summer with you this morning. And now I get to watch my kids babysit. Happy summer!

  4. That was my favorite SCBWI-OR conference ever! We did have fun, didn’t we!

  5. Mrs. Mueller

    I am an LRC Specialist in Illinois and have shared Deb’s dino-books with my first and second grade students for the last two years…. thanks to Tumble Books! My students have been patiently waiting for Dinosoaring to be released. I was even shared an e-mail with all of my classes that I received from Deb several months ago. My students were thrilled to hear the e-mail and have asked several times in the last few weeks about the release of the newest book in the Dino-series! Congratulations, Deb!

  6. Jennifer cox

    Love this. Sending it to my child’s principal ASAP. Love your writing. It’s a family favorite!

  7. Carrie

    Deb,
    Ever since we briefly met at the Orff national conference two years ago I look forward to your email newsletters. In fact, you are like a little bug in my ear.
    I’ve been wanting to write for many years but have been a busy Mom and teacher and have never taken the time to make it happen. Now that my kids are 8 and I have had your ever-present inspiration, my daughter and I will enjoy creating a book together this summer. Her sense of humor is unmatched and we really enjoy your books. It certainly helps that she’s had a fascination with monsters for more than 2 years now so it was not a surprise when she quickly adopted Monsters on Machines as one of her all time favorite books.
    Helena and I plan to make this an enjoyable journey. Whatever comes of it, we will share a somewhat silly time creating a work of art that we will consider a masterpiece!
    Thanks again for you inspiration, Deb.

  8. You are soooo welcome! Please get in touch when you need a little nudge! I almost jumped back in to teaching Orff this year. So tempting, but not right now. Let me know how the writing goes!

  9. I’m so glad you felt it was helpful! I’ve seen kids completely turn around because of a guest speaker, and when I get back in front of a room of kids, I know I only have that one chance instead of seeing them everyday like I did all my years of teaching. However, I also know I have the teachers there, too, and I’m always aware of how to best support them with all I say and do with the kids during school visits. Thanks for caring about kids and education!

  10. Thank you! I’m so touched by your kids’ response. Maybe we need to meet over Skype? It’s been such a long wait for this book. I signed the contract 7 years ago—probably about the time they were born! Please tell them hi from me!

  11. Deb, I am bookmarking this post for future reference and to share with my kids’ school. Author and artist visits have become MORE important given the emphasis on academic testing in the schools.

    Thanks for writing and sharing this post!

  12. Thank you, Julie. I’m so glad we share so many passions!

  13. Thank you, Deb. What a great post! Will read it again soon,
    All the best, Clare.