Spotlight on... Alison Kitson
27 April 2022
This week, Dr Alison Kitson talks to us about her role as Programme Director at the new Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, her longstanding work in Initial Teacher Education, and her recent appointment as Deputy President of the Historical Association.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I currently have two main roles, one as programme director for UCL’s new Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE) and the other in initial teacher education. My new role in the CCCSE is very exciting. We know that many teachers, students and their parents are very concerned about climate change and that schools are incredibly important places to explore issues related to climate change, sustainability and the environment. However, we also know that many teachers lack the confidence and expertise to explore these issues in the classroom. The premise of the new centre is that all teachers, regardless of the subject or age range they teach, ought to have a place to go for professional development that is reliable, high quality and free. If any university can achieve this, it is UCL, with such a wide range of relevant expertise across faculties and within IOE itself.
My other main role is in initial teacher education. I enjoy the mixture of theory and practice involved and the chance to see my students grow over the year. And spending plenty of time in London schools helps to keep things real.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
After thinking that I would never work anywhere for more than about five years, I’m now in my 14th year at the IOE! Before that I was a Programme Director at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), working on policies to support teacher development nationally. I’ve been lucky in my career to experience education from the different perspectives of schools, teacher education, research and policy. Part of the joy of my new role in the CCCSE is that it draws on all of these experiences in order to enhance teachers’ expertise and confidence in an area of such critical importance to us all. What could be a better job than that?
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I calculated recently that I have personally supervised over 250 new secondary history teachers during my time at UCL and before that, the University of Warwick. Given that most of those new teachers have gone on to teach many thousands of young people between them, I like to think they have done me proud by passing on a love of history and a sense of why it matters. I was also proud to be made deputy president of the Historical Association last year. I’m a huge fan of subject associations because of the great job they do in providing teachers with the specialist support that is missing from much professional development now. Working with them to create online support for teachers was one of the most enjoyable achievements in my previous job.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list
Establishing the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education is definitely at the top! I am also involved in a project called Teach Climate History which is exploring what school history through an environmental lens could look like. There are so many opportunities to break down the barriers between human history and the history of the natural world in the classroom. We’re looking at history at different scales, from the big history of human existence to smaller local histories and through different themes such as colonisation and industrialisation. I have always been passionate about teaching history in ways that help children see their world in a bigger perspective. When I was young, my Dad told me that history matters because it shows us that it’s possible to live without a television. I think that had quite an impact on me.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album: Blue by Joni Mitchell. It’s seen me through many ups and downs.
Novel: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – and anything else by her.
Film: Maybe Cinema Paradiso because it has everything – drama, history, love, landscapes, music, nostalgia. I’m a hopeless romantic.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
This is my eight-year-old son’s current favourite:
What does a house wear?
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Bill Bailey, Millicent Fawcett, Wangari Matthai, George Clooney, Katherine Hepburn, James Rebanks.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stop worrying and go with the flow a bit more – things will work out ok.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I have a small tattoo on my right wrist which is often a talking point amongst my students.
What is your favourite place?
I was brought up on the edge of the Pennines and I crave wide open spaces so it’s ironic that I now live in crowded south London. The South Downs are a great antidote – I love any combination of hills or mountains and sea.