Understanding Schools, Avoiding Miscommunications

Noisy-and-demandingLife is busy for your school visit hosts. Miscommunications happen. The result might be a madhouse schedule, payment that doesn’t arrive on the day of your visit, a lunch that isn’t delivered. But before going all “prima donna” or “pezzonovante” on them, cut schools some slack. Consider the challenges they face and address them before they become an issue.

One of my school library friends, Holly Kunkle of Camarillo, California, shared some of the challenges schools face today when booking an author visit:

• Many library personnel are clerks or technicians or volunteers with minimal work hours at the school site and are unable to work beyond that.

• Coordinators are in a constant rush and are overwhelmed with paperwork. They don’t have time, or take time, to read preparation instructions beyond a single sided page.

• Expectations have changed. Schools are pressured from so many directions that they figure, “If I am paying for this person, everything will be covered by the person.”

• Parent coordinators often don’t have experience in coordinating author visits. Also, it’s difficult for parents to ask teachers to do extra tasks such as pre-visit activities with their classes.

Here are some suggestions Holly makes to smooth communications:

• If you have a website inquiry page, be sure to request an email, phone number and position for your primary host, whether the host is school staff member or a parent.

• Opening email attachments can be a problem in school settings. If an author is delivering preparation materials by email, condense it into a bullet list within the email. Title the email, “Preparation for Author Visit with ____.”   A separate email titled “Marketing Materials for Author Visit with ____” might contain a link to a Dropbox-type system where you post pdfs.

• If the school visit host is a parent, ask for the email and name of a staff member. Write the email as “It would be great if. . .”  Phrase your message so it can be forwarded to the staff easily, because your internal contact may only have time to do that. Avoid the word “required” except when describing room set-up (table, microphone with 25 foot cord, screen, projector, etc.).

• Expecting the library to have copies of your book can be challenging because of budget constraints.  But if the first item in your bullet list is, “Read the following books . . .,” people are resourceful and will find a way to get the title and share it with your audience.

How do you smooth the communications process? Share your tip in the comments section below.

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6 Comments on “Understanding Schools, Avoiding Miscommunications”

  • Great advice! One way I make sure we’re on the same page is by using Google Forms. The first form is for me to gather general info when they are scheduling the visit. The second form is done within a couple of weeks before the visit and asks for details about things like lunch, the tech setup, etc. By asking the planner to choose specific answers, it generally ensures they will actually think about it, check on it, etc.

    Not to say there are never mix-ups, but I have found that this helps immensely!

  • I love your suggestion, Laura. I haven’t yet used Google Forms for collecting initial data. Wish we could see how you do this, including the fields. Possible? I still do data collection on paper and put it into a master calendar notebook, but I’d love to have this data in e-format.

  • Here’s a link to my more specific form, Alexis: http://goo.gl/forms/Rta54MDPGc

    Google feeds the answers into a spreadsheet.

    I still have to do some stuff manually. I keep one master spreadsheet with the overall info and all the steps I need to take (sending contract, sending books, sending thank you note, getting paid, etc.) so that I can check them off as I do them. I really would like to get some kind of overall system that incorporates all the information gathering and tracking into one beast. Someday… :>)

  • Thanks for sharing your Google booking form, Laura. Mine is a bit more basic and is something that I could easily translate to a spreadsheet, too. (It’s on my To-Do list.) Here’s a pdf of what I use:
    http://tinyurl.com/no7jhcb
    For the scheudling part, I found that it helped if the host could see what a whole day looks like. So, I send a sample schedule ahead that includes the transition times. Then, if we need to make modifications, we can go from there.

  • Thanks, Alexis. Interesting to see your form. It basically incorporates stuff I have in my two Google forms, plus what I track in my private master database. One thing you do that I haven’t in the past is make sure to get an on-site contact if the visit is arranged by an off-site organization/library/etc.

    Last year, I went to a school visit arranged by the public library in a very small town. The library director had left or something between booking and the event date. I showed up and the school had NO IDEA I was coming that day. Ugh. So, I need to update my form to include the secondary contact info. Putting that on my schedule right now–thanks!

  • If a teacher, librarian or parent is my main contact, I always ask for the email of the principal in case I need to cc them on final arrangements. Hosts get busy and this info is not always communicated to others (as you found out the hard way, Laura!)

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