Tips for Author Visits to Schools
Posted On April 6, 2018
As an author of books for young readers, I’m often asked to visit schools for presentations, residencies and workshops. I enjoy doing this sort of thing, and not just because they get me out of my home and into the world where I can interact with real people instead of the imaginary ones I spend my time with while writing. School visits can be exhilarating, invigorating and inspirational, but they can also be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the particular environment that schools present. How do you organise a school visit? How do you manage yourself while you’re there? Here are some tips that come from my years of experience visiting schools.
- Keep this in mind: schools are large organisations. Even a small primary school is likely to be a hundred people or more, staff and students. Just making sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time can be a challenge. Just imagine the logistics of a large secondary school with perhaps two thousand people, all going in different directions at different times. It’s remarkable how well schools work on this level, when you think about it.
- I suggest contacting the school at least a week before you roll up. Sometimes, author visits are organised months ahead, even a year ahead. This could mean that the person who did the initial arrangements might no longer be at the school, or could be on long service all maternity leave. Checking in before you arrive can avoid an embarrassing ‘Who the heck are y
- When you contact the school beforehand, it’s worth checking on parking, if you’re driving. Some schools have ample parking, but for many, parking is in short supply. Don’t simply expect you can roll up the main driveway to a specially reserved parking spot. Forewarned is forearmed, especially if you know you had to find a park in a nearby street – inevitably schools are surrounded by parking restrictions.
- Technology. Having a sensational PowerPoint presentation or a series of must-see websites to show students is an excellent way of pepping up your presentation – but every moment where technology is involved is a potential disaster zone. When contacting the school ahead of your visit, sound out their technology requirements. Do you need to bring your own laptop, or is that expressly forbidden? Is the school PC or Mac or are they happily agnostic? If you need sound for your presentations, is that available? And after you’ve sorted all this out, make sure that you have your presentation ready in multiple forms, on USB, in the cloud, and on your hard drive. And after you have all of this ready, make sure you have the ultimate backup of an alternative version of your presentation that requires no technology at all. That’s your failsafe.
- Do check the address of the school, and be careful of multi-campus schools. You might be confident that you know where the school is, and when you roll up you could find that you’re actually booked to appear at the junior/senior campus some kilometres away.
- Make sure you have a specific contact person that you can ask for when you reach the Reception/General Office. And when you get there, all schools have their own particular sign-in procedure. Be prepared to enter your details and, often, to pick up a lanyard which identifies you as an official visitor.
- Working with Children. Most schools these days will insist on an officialWorking with Children card. If you don’t have one, organise this sort of thing well in advance – bureaucratic checks can take some time.
- Remember that when you visit a school you are a disruptor to the normal routine. Special arrangements will have been put in place for your visit. Regular schedules might have been altered, tweaked or suspended entirely. This could mean that the school will be teetering on the edge of chaos, or it might all run like clockwork. Be prepared for either eventuality.
- Be reasonably flexible. This doesn’t mean that you cave in and end up doing bus duty at the school because someone asked nicely, but some reasonable accommodation on your part is an acknowledgement that schools are places that often have last minute changes that can’t be foreseen.
- Be careful what mug you use for your staffroom cup of coffee. Someone might just say, ‘help yourself’ but if you end up using the prize mug of the oldest staff member, your stay could be an awkward one. Look for mugs on the shelf marked ‘Visitors’ or, failing that, reach right to the back of the cupboard for the least used mugs, the one with ‘World’s Greatest Gran’ or similar on it.
And how do you give a good presentation in a school context? That’s the subject of another blog post, coming soon!