Atkinson Named National Elementary Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association

| Alumni

2024-BLOG-HEADSHOT-Atkinson-WEB-v01When Tina Atkinson was in high school, her mom and two teachers staged an intervention, encouraging her to pursue a career in art. She was reluctant to do so, skeptical of what her future would look like. After one semester at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she fell in love with teaching and her calling to art education became clear.

That decision was a good one and decades later, following her recent graduation from Trevecca’s Ed.D. program, the National Art Education Association named her National Elementary Art Educator and the 2024 Southeastern Regional Elementary Art Educator of the Year.

These prestigious awards come after 26 years of teaching art at Percy Priest Elementary School, where Atkinson has worked to expand the understanding of the value of art for students. 

“Art is the key to education. It unlocks complex subjects. I always say it's like the center of a wheel and it connects all of these other subjects in a practical way,” Atkinson said. “It's not just prepping for a test, it's prepping for life. Inevitably, at some point you’ll have a problem with limited resources and limited time and you’ll want the best possible outcome. And that is exactly what art teaches.”

An important part of Atkinson’s journey and growth has been her doctorate in leadership from Trevecca. She worked on her degree throughout the pandemic, but because the program was online, she was able to continue with relative peace and consistency. She learned to work with other students like her in a way she had never had to as a teacher. 

“Being an art teacher, especially an elementary art teacher, you are a solitary individual. No one does what you do,” Atkinson said. “Interpersonal leadership changed my whole world. Having to look at myself and how I reacted to things was fascinating. My cohort had individuals in different educational situations dealing with different issues and it was just really helpful to get those different perspectives.” 

Atkinson’s Ed.D. degree has also set her up to meet the needs of art teachers through her role as the only elementary research commissioner for the National Art Education Association.

“After I completed my Ed.D., I realized that I had a greater audience to reach than just the students in my classroom,” Atkinson said. “I had a whole field of art educators who needed somebody that understood research and that could translate it for them. I would not have been able to serve in that capacity if I had not had a fabulous research foundation at Trevecca.”

For Atkinson, all of her skills, experience and recognition have come together to create experiences for students that prepare them for the real world and give them a sense of independence and accomplishment that stays with them years after they leave her classroom. 

Her candidacy for her recent awards was due in part to her creative application of principles of art education. Recently, she orchestrated the creation of the first outdoor classroom of its kind in Tennessee. First, she created a curriculum about the value of place and took the students outside to measure and graph an area on school property and start planning. After obtaining the input of a site planner and other locals involved in architectural design, the class received funding from the city and brought their artistic vision to life. 

“We had a groundbreaking and a grand opening. All the kids that helped design it came back for the opening. This was a type of learning that is much more powerful and personal and it stays with you longer,” Atkinson said. “I'm not trying to create 530 Picassos, I’m trying to create 530 creative doctors, creative writers, creative pharmacists and creative engineers. Everybody in every field needs creativity.”

Atkinson received recognition and her awards at the National Art Education Association’s national conference in April.