Featured Article: Librarians You Should Know: Rhonda Jenkins
I have been in awe of Rhonda Jenkins ever since I met her through Twitter. With close to 5,000 Twitter followers, other librarians and teachers everywhere check Rhonda’s Twitter feed to see her latest library happenings. I don’t know who looks happier in her tweets- her or her students! Rhonda is an inspiration to new and seasoned school librarians alike, and I knew we had to feature her in our first installment of Librarians You Should Know. – Shelley
Rhonda has been in her school district for 21 years. She has taught 3rd grade, 5th grade, and served as a reading specialist at the high school level. Currently, Rhonda is the Library Media Center Director at Kendall Elementary School in Naperville, Illinois. Her current position is a marriage of everything she loves: books, technology, students, creating, and teaching! She’s in her sixth year as the school’s librarian. She is a true technology nerd, a Certified Google Trainer, and a Microsoft Innovative Educator. She’s an avid reader and loves languages, gardening, remodeling, and learning.
What grades do you work with in your school?
I work in a K-5 building. It’s wonderful because I get to call all the students in the building “my students,” not just a single classroom! Not only that, I get to know them and watch them grow as readers and consumers of information! This year’s fifth graders have been with me for six years so I’ve known them since kindergarten.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me begins at 8:00 am. The first thing I do when I arrive at work is to erase the #thinkwriteboard and write another alliteration and question for the day. I usually stand in front of it and contemplate what to write – Maker Monday, Treats Tuesday, Wonder Wednesday, etc., with a question to match. I never repeat the alliteration or the question, that’s why it takes a moment or two to write it on the board.
I have an assistant who is shared between two buildings – she’s with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Monday. So, on the days she’s not with me, I get all of the checkout stations logged on and ready for students and my volunteers.
I have a semi-flex, semi-fixed schedule for classes. I teach first through fifth-grade library and Google skills on a fixed schedule. We are a 1:1 Chromebook district for the 2nd through 12th grades. I see each class once a week. Kindergarten classes set their schedule later in the year. The library is busy most of the day. Teachers send groups of five during their class ELA rotation schedule. Groups spend about 20 minutes in the library on one day and 20 minutes in our makerspace on another day.
I really push my students to be independent seekers and searchers of books. If they are having trouble, I may lead them to the location, but I let their fingers do the finding. All students check out books by themselves, even my kindergarteners. We practice once a week for a couple of weeks; by then, they are experts and can do it by themselves. It’s at this point that the kindergarteners come to the library in groups of five instead of as a whole class.
One of my favorite things to do is to read to students. I love to do impromptu visits to give teachers a moment and to thrill students with a good book. You can probably imagine that I take on the characters fully, voice and all!
I am busy all day long and I love it! I’m constantly pulled in all directions, but that’s what makes the job so much fun! It’s rarely the same every day! Because I’m hectically busy, I tend to stay late after work in order to get things done. I turn on music, blast it, and just get what needs to be done, done. In this alone time, one of my most favorite things to do is to purchase and process books.
Do you have an aide or volunteers that help you daily?
I do have an aide who is shared between two buildings. I also have a league of volunteers! A PTA mom arranges the schedule and I usually have two volunteers in the morning and two in the afternoon on most days. This truly gives me the freedom to tend to my library visitors and teach my classes.
Does your district require you to cover library standards, e.g., common core, SOLs?
The librarians in my district are expected to cover library standards. We are also very involved in helping teachers with research projects and identifying different technology tools so students can complete unit-based performance tasks. Another major focus is Digital Citizenship.
How is your library organized- Dewey or Topic-focused?
I genrefied my fiction section about four years ago. I feel it helps students locate more books more easily. For example, in the past, they used to ask, “Ms. Jenkins, where are the historical fiction books?” Because they were all mixed in alphabetically as expected, it was hard for students to locate. Now I have a whole separate historical fiction section. Instead of finding only that one book amongst all the others, now they can see them all together and perhaps find another one they might like even more. I have not yet switched Dewey, but ditching Dewey is on my radar.
Who is your most prominent advocate in your school?
First, I appreciate that in my district, all 35 librarians have the full support of our Superintendent, Karen Sullivan. My current principal and my previous principal pretty much allow me to be me, and I appreciate that very much.
How often do teachers or the reading specialist ask for your assistance with teaching?
I try to meet with teachers during their grade-level planning meetings at least once a month. I look for lessons they are planning for, and we work together to plan activities that will support their plans.
What are some of your favorite activities within the library?
I love hosting book fairs! I truly get into the spirit of the theme. I wear a costume every day and completely transform the library into the theme.
I have a different focus every month. September is usually a book fair. October is the Global Read Aloud. November is another one of my favorites. It’s National Picture Book Month. This month students are challenged with reading as many picture books as possible. The winning class’s teacher gets $250 in Scholastic Dollars, and the winning grade level gets a Grandparent Read In Day! It’s also the month of our Illinois Family Reading Night. For that event, families come in pajamas and find a comfortable spot to read with each other. I raffle off great books, and we vote on pumpkin book characters. December is Code.org month. January is our One Book One School event. February is another fun book fair. March is Book Madness month. April is our Spark a Fire and Read month. It’s a whole school event. Students and staff join squads of no more than eight members, and they pick a Top Dog, and they choose a great team name. Together as a school, our goal is for every student to read 20 minutes a night. One year that total was 253,650 minutes! We more than doubled that goal. Students look forward to this month of activity. It’s filled with fun activities, every squad wins, and I have an amazing room set up of gifts to choose from.
Every Tuesday during morning announcements I announce the squads who reported their time first, the squad that read the most minutes, the squad that improved their time over the previous week. I look for the smallest team, the longest team name, the squad that is the most diverse (a student from each grade level), etc. I find any reason to celebrate each squad and reading. The squads get to go to the prize room and pick their prize. I have team handshake contests and t-shirt design contests. It’s an amazing month of activities, and we all grow together as a community of readers! Here is a link to the photo album of Spark A Fire and Read.
In this new school year, what books are always checked out?
Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man continues to be one of our most popular books. Students also love the Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott. What I love is that when I read a book to a class, just about every student wants to check it out. Minecraft books are really popular, as well.
As a librarian, where do you seek inspiration or assistance?
I have a huge PLN through Twitter! I know that if I ask a question, I will get many answers. I also gather many ideas through Twitter. The librarian Facebook groups are also very helpful.
What advice would you give to new school librarians?
I would encourage new librarians to stay connected with other librarians. It can be a lonely job if you let yourself get lonely. Also, to always remember, we are in this because of the love of reading and the love of seeing students read. Don’t make it hard for children to enjoy coming to the library. The library should be the heart of the school!
If you were a superhero in a graphic novel, what would your superpower be?
If I were a superhero in a graphic novel, I’d cherish the ability to read minds. If I could read minds, I’d know just what kind of book each student needed to make them a confident reader. I’d always find books that would touch their hearts and leave an “I can read this” mark!
Other helpful tips from Superhero Librarian Rhonda:
A camera is one of my greatest tools! I take pictures of students in action in the library just about every day. I share these on social media (when I have parent permission, of course). One additional thing I love to do is to send these great photos directly to parents. They get to see a glimpse of their child at school outside of the classroom. They love it! This way, you develop relationships with parents, too!
Finding funds to enhance a library is not easy. I always look for companies that are going out of business. Often they have so many items that can be incorporated into a library! One thing you have to remember to do is to let them know it’s for a school and ask for a discount. Most times, they will definitely give you a discount. I have many items that I’ve added at quite a savings! Don’t forget to ask your students what they want. After all, it’s their library too! You also have to remember to just have fun!
If your schedule allows it, show up at evening events. Librarians are an integral part of a student’s day!
Share your story on social media. It’s important to let people know what you are doing! If you don’t tell your story, who will?
For all the latest on Rhonda, you can follow her on Twitter: @luv2teachtech, and on Facebook- especially in Future Ready Librarian’s Group, Learning Librarians group, The School Librarian’s Workshop group, and Hacking School Libraries (and other classrooms!).