Over the years I have had countless visits with readers, teachers, and librarians in classrooms all over the country. My first such visit was in 1970. There is not a state into whose schools I have not walked. Such visits are rewarding, interesting, and often fun. My goal is for everyone to enjoy the session. It is not a lecture. It’s a discussion. I like to engage with the kids, hoping to learn about them, working to make sure they know I’m interested in them, even as they are interested in me.
But in more recent times, while I still visit classrooms in person, more often than not I visit via Skype. There are many reasons for this. A visit to an actual class room requires fairly complex, entire school organization. In contrast, a Skype visit is essentially one on one—the teacher and me. Actually bringing me into a class room involves transportation, lodging, meals, etc. The socialization I engage in is very rewarding, but it can be expensive, and time-consuming. And, it must be said that transportation—usually by air—is not a very pleasant experience these days.
In contrast, setting up a Skype visit is simple. You just have to agree on a time. Time zones can be a puzzle—try Colorado and Thailand. The school also needs to check on equipment and potential problems like hidden firewalls. A technical check between me and the school is generally necessary. It takes five minutes if all works well. If it doesn’t, there is time to troubleshoot without a class of fretful kids in tow.
Classes often prep by discussing which questions to ask. I’ve learned that a class discussion about useful questions is often in itself a learning experience.
I do charge for a Skype visit—a hundred dollars—but I do so because I’ve learned it’s too easy to walk away from a planned visit if there is not some form of commitment. Alas, money works.
Having done these Skypes for a good number of years, I now visit a fair number of classrooms on an annual basis. Often it comes at the end of a class author study of my books. The kids read one book together, and another of mine that they choose.
The Skype visit format is extremely simple. It’s a full hour. For a given class, every student gets to ask me at least one question. More often than not, they get to ask more. I encourage teachers to ask questions too. Curiously, more kids participate during Skype visits than when I actually go to classes. Usually, there is a lot of laughter during these sessions. I really enjoy them.
Do I have a message to share in these visits? To the extent that I have one, it is primarily to promote reading. When sharing my writing experience, it’s about research, rewriting, that what I do is work—work I like to do—but work nonetheless, work to pay bills. I try to humanize the writing experience, seeking to reduce the distance between reader and writer.
What do I get out of it? For me it’s crucial that I make contact with real readers to learn what works and what doesn’t work. Not least of all, their enthusiasm and excitement is a spur to more writing. When considering Skyping, think sharing, by everyone, reader and writer.
For more information about my Skype visits, click here.