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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I Love Hosting Guest Authors

This week author Steve Cotler visited the four Kaneland elementary schools to talk to students in third, fourth and fifth grades about fiction writing. Steve is not only a wonderful newer author (of the Cheesie Mack series), but also an all around interesting person, which had me reflecting on why I love hosting authors in elementary schools.

The obvious first answer as an elementary school librarian, is that it supports teachers' writing instruction and student reading. Well, yes, that's important, but I think it's backwards. Don't bring in an author to support instruction, bring in an author to show students how what you're teaching them is preparing them for real life. The end result is the focus. Authors are real people. They don't necessarily do things the way we currently teach, but if you've brought in a good one, they're able to support themselves with that craft, so they have valuable insights to offer both students and teachers.
Secondly, authors are inspiring, and they're all different. Creative people in particular often have big personalities, and can be amazing communicators. Let them communicate with your students. A great author visit will leave you with kids who have made a personal connection with this person, and are inspired in some way to be better than they were before. Maybe it's just a glimpse of the outside world, something that's not the four walls of the classroom or their neighborhood.

Thirdly, author visits are great fun. I know that sounds trivial, but in this age of testing and an environment where every minute of a kid's day is controlled, an author visit is a breath of fresh air. A worthwhile breath.

So what are the three things I took away from Steve's visits this week?

1. Be interesting. To be interesting, you have to be a thinker and a doer. Try things. Reading Steve's bio is like reading four people's bio. Be thoughtful, but do something with your thinking. You can have an idea your whole life. Act on it. Even if it is fifty years later, great things can come of it.

2. Be honest. I loved how Steve was honest with kids. He drove them to think, and wasn't afraid to tell them they were wrong and why (which I think is a fault in education currently). He did it kindly, but directly, and pushed them to do their best thinking by asking clarifying questions. He also complimented them honestly and appropriately; not too much, not too little. He also wasn't afraid to point out his mistakes or things he didn't do so well (like his first Cheesie Mack draft).

3. Be engaging. I don't just mean charming and pleasant; if you're interesting, captivate those you communicate with to give and receive what makes you all interesting. To do that, you need to be honest, but you also need to engage. See that picture of Steve with the little girl? He didn't just talk to a large group of students, he talked to a room of individuals. Watch and listen to your audience, even if it's an audience of one, and respond to them.

 We had a great couple days with Steve Cotler. I learned a lot from him, and I can't wait to see what he does next.