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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!