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Sally Cameron

Sally Cameron
Elementary School Librarian
Marymount International School, Rome
 

Sally Cameron (photo: Pasquale Zinzi)
Sally Cameron (photo: Pasquale Zinzi)

 A masters degree in lifelong learning in education (curriculum and professional development) and a change of country has helped Sally revitalise her appetite for knowledge, so she hopes to do the same for her school community of 3 to 11-year-olds at Marymount.

The English-language international school, which follows a US-based curriculum, has local Italian students making up a quarter of the student body with the remainder coming from all over the world. Many families are short-term residents and rely on the school and the library to help them put down roots.

After teacher training at Kingston University, Sally taught briefly in a primary school in Surrey but left the UK in her late 20s, when the national curriculum was being introduced. “I felt that I wouldn’t be able to work with that system and everything I have observed and read since then tells me I made the right decision. The US model followed at Marymount is less prescriptive and more child-centered.”

Sally headed for Rome and a teaching post at Marymount International School’s early childhood and elementary school for 3 to 11-year-olds. She had visited only briefly before and spoke hardly any Italian but when her plane landed, she said, she felt at home right away. “I phoned my friends and said I wasn’t coming back. I love the chaos on the surface with the organisation beneath.” Now, with an Italian husband and two young children, she is in Rome to stay.

She taught several classes at Marymount before moving into the library, completing her masters degree with the Open University. “I like to keep my approach fresh and move on to something new,” she said. “I was easily bored as a student and I’ve scraped through every exam I have ever taken. I did much better with the OU as it is assignment-based. So I understand how hard it is for learners and yet how important it is to keep learning something new. I’ve been able to do that at Marymount.

The SLA panel who observed Sally at work described her as “a natural teacher, with a sense of fun that she imparts to everyone. She is passionate and enthusiastic about reading and learning and her goal is to educate everybody who comes into contact with her about books and lifelong learning.”

Sally introduced the library’s monthly Rise and Read session for families which have become the centre of a reading community. Parents are encouraged to arrive at school by 8am for 45 minutes’ reading with their child: but rather than sharing a book, they can each read whatever they want, the adults bringing along their newspapers and Kindles.

“I make coffee and the parents take turns to bake muffins and bring in croissants. It’s sociable but calm and focused,” says Sally. “There’s no pressure: if families are rushed in the morning and the parents can only manage the last 15 minutes, that’s fine. I want to encourage them to come back. The point is that the children see the adults making time to read.”

From Rise and Read, Sally has recruited a crew of parent helpers and encouraged library loans for the whole family.

She misses the UK’s reading culture and the range of children’s books that are readily available. “We order books from a US supplier although I also try to get UK editions of UK books. When we’re in the UK on holiday my husband comments on the advertisements for books on public transport: you would never see that in Italy. You never see anyone reading on the bus, they’re all chatting or on their phones.

“There isn’t the range of reading events for young readers that you find in the UK, we have to create them in the library for ourselves.” Rather than structured reading challenges, Sally focuses on teaching children to love reading for the sake or reading: “The best reward for finishing a book is to read another one.”

The library is open before school, at break and lunchtimes. Soft armchairs, sofas and cushions encourage curling up with a book. “Also, all ages can play board games together, which is really nice.” Sally has boosted library loans by displaying books in subject areas and topic-related plastic boxes, non-fiction and fiction together, plus a box called “Surprise”.

She also engages readers through storytelling, having always wanted to be a storytelling and dancing gypsy in a horse-drawn caravan as a child, and is encouraged that the school’s reading assessments (three times a year) are showing the results from her creative reading environment.

Sally team-teaches information literacy and research skills throughout the elementary school using the US “Big6 research model for upper elementary, and the Super3 “plan, do, review” model for lower elementary, with Louise Crossan, the ICT colleague who nominated her for the award. An important part of the process is showing a bibliography on all projects, “For six-year-olds this means giving the title and the author of any book they use for information, and we build up from there.”

Based on the outcomes of her team teaching, having the research process become consistent across all grade levels and subject areas is high on her agenda for next term.

Sally has not ruled out further change in the future but for the moment, she says, “I am fulfilled and excited in the library with a lot to look forward to.”