Episode 13: Online Platforms & School Visits

Episode 13:

Bonnie and Shanda interview elementary school media specialist, Jennifer Lewis of Indian Knoll Elementary School, about her experience and expertise with Microsoft Teams as a virtual author visit tool.

Jennifer Lewis is the media center specialist for Indian Knoll Elementary school here in Canton, GA. This is her 24th year teaching and 10th in the media center. She’s been with Indian Knoll since the school opened ten years ago. She is very involved with the Georgia Library Media Association as part of the communications committee and she serves as their Library Media Specialist of The Year chair. 

Jennifer enjoys presenting at conferences and is a “Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.” She was also the 2018 Georgia Library Media Specialist of the Year. 

We’re really excited to have her here with us on the podcast today and we can’t wait to hear more about all the interesting things she’s involved in. So welcome Jennifer to the podcast!


Hi Jennifer! You are kind of a big deal! I was very impressed with you and Indian Knoll when I did my virtual author visit back in February. Tell us a little about you and your school and what your favorite role in education is.

I love collaborating with the teachers at my school to promote reading and teach their grade level standards!  I plan lessons with teachers to support these goals.”

I work at the best school ever! We opened ten years ago and our school has always had the best community and felt like family. Many of the teachers who opened the school are still here and many of the families are also. I remember when many of our current students were born! I absolutely love my job because it is always interesting and I never have the same day twice. My job is a challenge every day in trying to serve my students and teachers the best way I can. I love collaborating with the teachers at my school to promote reading and teach their grade level standards!  I plan lessons with teachers to support these goals.  


You’ve told us that you are a presenter at conferences like the GALILEO and ISTE conferences. Tell us about those and what sort of topics you cover. 

This summer, I am presenting at the GALILEO Annual Conference and ISTE. My session at the GALILEO conference is about using the ebooks found within GALILEO to support standards and to personalize learning. My sessions at ISTE are about using Minecraft: Education Edition and using our learning management system to engage learners in the school library. I absolutely love learning new things at conferences and being a presenter often allows me to attend conferences I wouldn’t be able to go to otherwise!


I learned when I visited you that Indian Knoll is a “Microsoft Incubator School”  And you are working towards being a “Microsoft Showcase School.” Tell everyone what that means!

My school is currently a Microsoft Incubator School.  We have been working all year to raise our status to Microsoft Showcase School.  We will apply for that this summer.  Showcase Schools are basically schools that Microsoft recognizes for exceptional use of Microsoft technologies and dedication to education transformation.  Part of this has been our use of Microsoft Teams.  We have six digital teachers who use Teams for their daily instruction of students who are learning from home.  All of our teachers used Teams when school was closed due to covid.  And all of our staff has used Teams for parent conferences, IEP meetings, hosting guest readers, faculty and department meetings, author visits, technology help, etc.  With everyone using Teams so much, it helps that teachers know Teams so well and are able to navigate it easily when we have big events like author visits.  It has also been a great platform for including our digital learners who are at home.  They can connect and be a part of what is going on at school.)


You obviously use Microsoft Teams for a lot of different purposes. Do you see yourself using it as an option in the future even when we can go back to in-person gatherings? Maybe a hybrid approach to author visits?

I have grown to LOVE Teams! It helps us connect to people we would not otherwise have been able to connect to in ways we wouldn’t have been able to. So I definitely think (and hope) that we will continue to use Teams for author visits even after the pandemic.  Previously we used Skype to meet with authors we couldn’t see in person.  But Teams allows more participants so we can include students learning from school and from home and it has a chat feature so that students and teachers can post their questions. And the teacher can vet questions before they are asked. 😆 One thing I have learned this year is that I need to make sure I teach kids what behavior is expected and appropriate during Teams author visits just like I would for an in-person visit. I hope that in-person author visits don’t completely disappear! Having an author visit the school is pretty powerful to kids. But Teams offers a good alternative to in-person visits.


How do you choose authors to come visit your school? (And specifically how did you hear about Bonnie?)

The best way to learn about authors who visit schools is from colleagues. I am part of a lot of librarian groups online, and I often see posts where librarians share great authors they have hosted. I heard about Bonnie from a colleague who hosted her earlier in the year. She raved about Bonnie’s program and shared all of the positive feedback she received from her students and staff. Also, our district is in the process of developing a social emotional learning curriculum so the theme of Bonnie’s books fit that perfectly. Having a colleague who has hosted an author before is helpful because they can give me helpful information for when I host the author. For example, my colleague who hosted Bonnie first sent me an email that she sent to her staff telling them what to expect and some different Teams tips.  I was able to customize that email for my staff instead of drafting an email from scratch.


How do you raise funds for author visits? Book Fairs? Other?

Our book fairs are our main fundraiser! So that is usually where author visit fees come from. However, a colleague told me about how she received a Literary Events of Georgia Grant to cover Shanda’s fees. So I applied for that grant when I reached out to Bonnie about visiting my school. It was a very easy grant to apply for and completely covered the fees. I have applied for other grants to pay for authors’ fees, but this is the first one I have gotten.


What is your opinion as a librarian on what makes a GOOD/ successful author visit? Any particularly memorable author visit moments? Any catastrophes?

A good author visit begins at the school with me! My job is to prepare students and teachers for a visiting author. Having an author means so much more to the kids when they are familiar with the author and his/her books. So I always spend time with my students doing read alouds, sharing the author’s biography, and sometimes even purchasing books for the teachers’ classroom libraries before the visit. 

Author visits run more smoothly when they author and I have communicated well beforehand. I like to know from an author what their technology requirements are, their maximum number of students they like to have in one session, what drinks/snack they love.

And of course, an engaging program is important as well! I love the programs where authors have a program that keeps the kids’ attention through a story, a picture, a game, or something like that.  I know it’s been a good author visit if the kids bring me stories and pictures inspired by the author and if the author’s books stay checked out for the rest of the year! Bonnie’s program for Taste Your Words is an example of a memorable author visit! Bonnie does a Bean Boozled challenge based on the flavors of the words in Taste Your Words. The kids LOVED that! And now all of Bonnie’s books have been checked out of our library or placed on hold since then.

One memorable moment in an author visit was when we hosted David Biedzrycki. He is the author/illustrator of Breaking News Bear Alert, Sumo Kitty, and many other books! Before the kids arrived, he asked me to pose for a photo. Then he used his software to put my photo in the presentation. It was the part of the presentation where he was reading his book to the kids. When he got to the slide with my picture, the kids went nuts! I had read the book to them before his visit and they knew I was not supposed to be in the book! 😆 David is such an amazing presenter that he is able to get the kids back very quickly so they weren’t loud for too long!

Fortunately, I have not had any catastrophes!


Do you offer the visiting author’s books for sale at your visits? How does that typically work? And how do you feel about Author Visit Central now that you’ve used it?

We always offer for students to purchase our visiting authors’ books. My principal is very supportive of this. I have done this in several different ways, ranging from using a local independent bookstore to having the author ship books directly to the school and sign when he arrives.  When we hosted Bonnie in January, that was the first experience I have had with Author Visit Central. I absolutely loved it!  Everything about Author Visit Central is designed to make book sales easy. I was first impressed by the beautiful, clean flyer you sent. And all sales were done online, so I didn’t have to handle any money at all. That is definitely a plus because it always scares me when parents send in money with little guys. Because we are local, Bonnie dropped the books off at my school.  And I already had a list of students who were supposed to receive books ahead of that so I knew what to expect and delivering them was a breeze.  So I would definitely use this service again.  Media specialists always have a million things to do at any given time, so we appreciate everything that can save us a little time!


When you used Author Visit Central when Bonnie virtually visited, I noticed that your school families purchased a very nice number of books compared to others we’ve done in this area. How did you promote it? Whatever you did worked!

Wow! That is great! I don’t know if I did anything special! My school’s families have always been supportive of literacy promotions like author visits and the book fair. But I did several things to promote book sales. First, like I mentioned before, I promoted the books in my lessons and told kids “You can get your own copy of this book signed by the author!” If the kids have heard the books before and know how awesome they are, they are more likely to ask their parents to buy them. The beautiful flyer you created was a huge help in promoting book sales. I made copies of the form and sent it home. I also created a couple of displays where I made posters out of the flyer and the book covers and hung those in places where they would be seen by a lot of people. And last, I posted several announcements in our learning management system and on social media. The more ways we can get the message out, the better!


Using your crystal ball and looking through the lens of technology, how do you see authors and schools working together in the future to create mutually beneficial relationships and memorable visits for students?

There are so many things I have done differently in the past year because of covid protocols that I have thought, “Wow, why didn’t I always do it this way?” and I think Teams author visits are definitely one of those things. I also think that having a virtual relationship with an author might lead to a deeper relationship because it’s so easy to communicate online. Like the kids can send messages to an author via the teacher to have their questions answered. Or the kids can be early readers of an author’s book and show the author how their books are being used in classrooms.  


Is there anything else you would like to add to our discussion today?

I want to let you know how much I have enjoyed this podcast! Even though I’m probably not your intended audience, I have learned so much listening to you both! It has been helpful for me to hear about author visits from your perspective because it helps me prepare better!


Wrap up

Quote: Alvina Ling, senior editor at Little Brown Books For Young Readers, recently said on her podcast, Book Friends Forever episode 89, that “doing school visits is the single one best thing an author can do to help themselves”. 

This podcast is sponsored by and produced by Ben McCloskey of And if you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and share it with others who might enjoy it too! Thanks for listening to our 10th episode of the Author Visit Podcast! 

Kid book review by Matthias from Sonoraville Elementary!

Resources and books mentioned in this episode (with affiliate links that help support this podcast):