Confessions of a Skype Addict by Amy Duncan
Hi. My name is Amy. And I am a Skype addict.
It all started very innocently. Browsing my email, I happened upon a newsletter from a book publishing website I had inadvertently subscribed to. I read it quickly, entered a contest for fun, hit delete, and moved on. I never win anything. Not until now. And this little contest turned out to be life changing. Not just for me, but for hundreds and hundreds of children every year.
What did I win that could be so life changing you ask? A connection… one simple connection.
I won a free Skype visit from childrens author Megan McDonald. Now I am certainly no techie and had never been on Skype before. But I was teaching third grade and Judy Moody and Stink were popular characters in a book series that my students devoured. I jumped on the opportunity to connect their creator with my students. We had such fun preparing for our visit. We read book after book and learned as much about the author as possible. We even received a surprise advanced copy of Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk and were the first young audience the book had ever received. The anticipation was intoxicating. When the day finally came, it was the first snowfall of the season in Michigan and we traveled all the way across the country to sunny California courtesy of technology. She shared so much of what she does with my students. And she didn’t speak to them as children but instead as writers.
And that is when it happened. All of these years I had been teaching children when who I really needed to be teaching were writers.
I knew magic had just happened in my classroom and I was desperate to recreate it. I began to put pressure on all of my school friends to do it too. Peer pressure from every angle finally warranted two more participants out of my unsuspecting colleagues. We contacted authors Julie Berry and Lisa Schroeder and they spoke to our third graders… also as writers. And it was then that I knew I was hooked. Yet it wasn’t enough. I needed more.
I needed more children to get the opportunity to meet the rock stars that graced my classroom and I felt I owed them the opportunity. And that is when I decided that the perfect opportunity could be held on one day each year: World Read Aloud Day. Author Kate Messner publishes a list of authors on her blog who offer to Skype for free on this one day each year. I took the challenge to connect each grade level in my building with an author on this day in March to study and connect with. Yes, even kindergartners were able to Skype. I was thrilled to learn how willing most authors I contacted were to connect with their audience. I also realized that it doesn’t hurt to reach out and just ask. We traveled around the country and made such wonderful connections. Natasha Wing, Michael Scotto, Carmela LaVigna Coyle, Kate Messner, Tanya Lee Stone, Lauren Tarshis, and Kenneth Davis, I thank you.
World Read Aloud Day the following year was just as amazing! It wasn’t until after the event that I realized that my addiction left me feeling a bit isolated and lonely. Although I am getting better at navigating the logistics involved in scheduling Skype author visits for an entire school, as a whole, I felt I was the only one who truly benefited from the entire experience. I was the only one who heard ALL the words the authors used to affect their audience. Grade levels came and went. I remained in this constant high of expert advice, wisdom, admiration, and appreciation. Debbie Dadey, Seymour Simon, Erica S. Perl, Ame Dyckman, Donna Gephart, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Janie Lynn Panagopoulos, and Liesl Shurtliff offered students such gems of advice that it was all I could do to snap out of my stupor and write a bit of what they said down.
It is magic to create something that didn’t exist before.
Sometimes when we write books, we put pieces of who we know into our characters.
What influenced me to become a writer was what I was reading.
The hardest part [about writing] is sitting down. Be brave enough to sit down and write the story.
-Janie Lynn Panagopoulos
Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Read and write every day.
I get my inspiration from my own life. When you write you are in total control of the characters fate.
I won’t fight it. This is an addiction that I cannot beat. Nor do I want to. What I do want is to change lives….one connection at a time. And I want you to join me on my journey to connect authors to students. Maybe the best way that I can spread how valuable these connections have been to my students is to have simply shared my journey with you. To somehow give you a taste. To ask you to just try it.
…One simple connection.
Come on. I dare you.
Amy Duncan is a Learning Coach at Murphy Elementary School (@Murphyelem) in Metamora, Michigan. This fall marks her 18th year in education. She is married and the mother of three, a graduate of Michigan State University, and first time blogger. You follow her on Twitter @teacheraduncan.