You never quite can tell what’s going to happen on an in-person school visit. The projector goes out. The microphone screeches. A fire drill is called in the middle of a presentation. (We all lined up in the school yard…) But despite it all, you can usually tell when you’ve connected with them. They’re right there in front of you, and they’re responding in real time.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with my first ever virtual visits, which I arranged for World Read Aloud Day: would the kids hear me ok? Could I see them well enough to know if they were engaging with the story? Can I reach them this way?
On World Read Aloud Day, I visited three classrooms to read This is the Boat that Ben Built. The first session with Todd Elementary School in Briarcliff Manor, NY, was the one I was the most confident about, since I had tested the platform ahead of time with their tech crew. When I joined the call, I noticed that the kids were wearing crowns with their names written on them. They instantly became more than just little dots on a screen. “I’m Jen Lynn Bailey,” I said, and the first sparks of connection were born.
I noticed a pretty significant delay between my questions and their responses, which made interaction a bit challenging as I shared the story. I slowed down and watched the tiny little box in the bottom corner of my screen to notice their small movements and reactions. Still with me, I thought. And when it came time for them to ask questions, I knew we’d managed just fine. “What inspired you to write this story?” “How long did it take to write?” “Why did you become a writer?”
At Miller Elementary School in Canton, MI, the kids were seated on a carpet in a lovely library, surrounded by books. Although they were tiny on my screen, I could see them engage, bringing their hands up to their eyes to mimic the binoculars and magnifying glass that Ben used to explore the animals in the northern river ecosystem. They’re with me, I knew.
At Hume Elementary School in Nelson, BC, the technical issues all came out to play. Sound. Screen sharing. Timing out. But it didn’t deter us – the teacher had my book on hand, and we both held up our copies so the kids could see the illustrations while I read. I think they joined in enthusiastically. I heard the audio cut in and out, and noticed them looking at the pictures as their teacher passed by their desks.
“Do you like to read?” one student asked me during the question time.
“I love to read,” I said. I wasn’t sure what she would say next.
“I love to read, too,” she said. She smiled to herself, considering something, and stepped away from the camera.
And so, on World Read Aloud Day, I discovered that virtual visits are an exercise in paying attention to the small, nearly imperceivable signs of connection. Thank you, grade 1s and 2s, for sharing a story and forming a small connection with me.