How to survive school visits

If you write for kids, you’ll be asked to visit schools from time to time.

Some authors relish this and seek it out.

Others find it exhausting.

If you’re an introvert, like me, you might find this side of things gruelling. Remember, being an introvert has nothing to do with self-esteem and shyness. It just means you regenerate, or get your energy, from being alone.

We need space. Lots of it. Crowds and public speaking and just the thought of being ‘on’ for extended periods depletes us VERY quickly. And makes us miserable.

I’m getting tired just writing this…

So, here are some tips for when you’re trotting around the school circuit:

• Have a big breakfast.

It might be HOURS before you get the opportunity to eat again — especially if you’re doing book signings after your workshops. The teachers and librarians are always  kind, but half a cup of tea might be all you manage before 1pm. If your first session is at 9.30 and you’ve been on the road for an hour prior, well, it’s a long time between refuelling.

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Take some muesli bars and  fruit. Anything you can shove in your gob while on the move.

Be even more vigilant if you’ve got  wonky blood sugar levels. I start to gabble when I’m hungry. Sometimes I get teary and disoriented. Either way it’s not a good look.

• Take your own water. Again, water will usually be at hand but sometimes, well, it’s not…

• Take your own supply of whiteboard markers.

I can’t tell you how often there’s been a last minute scrabble for whiteboard markers. This wastes everyone’s time. It’s much easier to have your own.

• Think carefully about how much ‘stuff’ you need to cart with you.

Do you really need to lug multiple copies of  your books? Check ahead, ensure the school has your books handy. By the same token, if you have an advance copy of your new book TAKE IT WITH YOU (ahem).

Ditto display banners and standees. They’re great, but if you’re on your own with no one to help you, do you need to drag that stuff around?

I have a desktop banner. It’s A3 and collapsible, and has all my latest book covers displayed. It’s light-weight and fits happily in my school visits bag. I simply whip the banner out and pop it on the signing table when I first arrive. Kids love the banner, too. It often sparks off conversations while they’re waiting in the signing queue.

• Check the school map beforehand.

Hoorah for Google Earth!

You might find that the junior school is up the road and around the corner and across the ditch and nowhere near the official address you have in your diary. This is nearly always the case with large independent schools.

Either way, prepare to walk! And if you haven’t familiarised yourself beforehand, prepare to get bamboozled. In all cases allow time.

• Have your workshops written out in note form so you can refresh between gigs.

Have some back-up activities noodled out, too.

• Memorise a list of funny anecdotes.

For example, kids love to hear what other kids have said or done while you’ve been on the road. When I recently asked a class what the word ‘doodad’ meant, one girl said, ‘It’s a dad who doos a lot’. Kids love little stories like this.

• Have an official School Visits bag you top up after each school visit and  never use for anything else.

Having this special purpose bag will streamline the entire palaver and help ease the stress. I have a permanent supply of fresh tissues, Panadol, Rescue Remedy (ahem), pens, whiteboard markers, bookmarks, lip gloss, business cards, an umbrella. All the essentials are in my school visit bag. I’m like Mary Poppins.

Actually, I have a suitcase on wheels. I have copies of all my latest books in there too. I even have big, gaudy stickers on my own copies so they don’t get mixed up with the school’s copies at the last minute.

•Wear your reading glasses on a chain around your neck.

Seriously! It’s so easy to lose stuff while you’re on school visits and the last thing you want to lose is your bloody glasses.

• Smile! And remember, this too shall pass…

Jen xo


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