GRAND RAPIDS – Cindy Todd, professor and chair of the Art Education and Master of Art Education programs at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, has been honored by the National Art Education Association with three separate awards, including the prestigious National Art Educator Award, given annually to one NAEA member for outstanding service on a national level.
Todd has also been selected to receive two NAEA awards at the regional level: the Western Region Art Educator Award and the Western Region Higher Education Art Educator Award.
“Cindy Todd is an art teacher’s teacher. She exemplifies everything needed to support our nation’s future art educators and the students they will serve,” said NAEA Chief Learning Officer Dennis Inhulsen. “Through genuine experience as a classroom art educator, she has transformed herself into someone who nurtures, enlightens, and celebrates learning in and through art. Todd, with her purposeful approach to teaching and life, is the perfect role-model for teachers and colleagues alike.”
KCAD Dean of Academic Affairs Charles Wright added, “KCAD congratulates Todd on this well-deserved honor. She has long been a stalwart advocate for and a prime example of the critical value of creative thinking and learning, both in her leadership of KCAD programs and in her drive to connect and build with others outside of the college who share her passion and vision.”
The awards are the latest in a series of high-profile accomplishments for Todd, whose work at KCAD and in the local community both fuels and is fueled by her exemplary leadership in the field of arts education at the state and national level.
Preparing KCAD Art Education students to be not only good teachers, but also change agents in the world at large, she says, requires faculty who are actively influencing the field at the macro level.
“My colleagues and I know that the leading art education programs are the ones driven by a boots-on-the-ground approach, by people who are plugged into the broader conversations around the role of creativity the classroom, the neuroscience of learning, and the sociopolitical realities of K-12 education,” said Todd. “At the same time, it’s critical that the ideas we bring to the bigger table are first tested and proven here locally. If you’re not practicing it and seeing gains, it’s never going to tip the scale.”
Since joining the NAEA and the Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA) as a professional in 1999, Todd’s involvement in both organizations has grown exponentially. From participation in various conferences, summits, and leadership forums, she quickly transitioned to committee service, keynote presentations, and eventually, leadership roles that heightened her ability to make an impact.
In 2007, she was named to a two-year term as President Elect of the MAEA, followed by successive two-year terms as President and Past President. As president, Todd represented the MAEA on the NAEA National Delegate Assembly and determined sites for and supervised work on the MAEA annual conferences. She also co-authored policy for the MAEA and updated the organization’s bylaws to ensure that practices were fair and appropriate.
In 2013 Todd was appointed to a special NAEA Leadership Task Force that worked closely with the NAEA board of directors to research and revamp the organization’s existing leadership and outreach strategies. The group’s efforts ultimately established the NAEA School for Art Leaders, an annual seven-month-long program that enables art educators to experientially learn quality leadership practices, implement them, and reflect on the outcomes as a group. The goal of the program is to empower participants to positively influence local and state educational policies while also building a nation-wide network of art education leaders and advocates.
In 2014, Todd was named to a two-year term as Vice President Elect of the NAEA’s Western Region, and completed her two-year term as Vice President in 2018. As Vice President, she chaired a group of NAEA regional presidents that addressed interests and issues at the state and national level and worked together to author official NAEA position statements and organize action plans for implementing organization-wide initiatives. Most notably, Todd and her colleagues instituted an equity and inclusion initiative that has prompted immersive training programs for educators and students, among other targeted action plans.
Outside of her extensive involvement in both organizations, Todd is an invited participant on Michigan’s Arts Round Table, a team of representatives from various arts organizations in Michigan that helped shape the state’s 2018 response to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the US law passed in December of 2015 that governs the nation’s K-12 public education policy. She and her colleagues successfully lobbied for the inclusion of arts-related criteria in the state’s school assessment model—which ensured that Title I funding could be used to support art education interventions—establishing the use of “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) as a cornerstone of education policy rather than the outmoded “STEM” concept.
“Michigan has now developed a report card for successful schools in which 14% of the grade is based on access to and time spent on art education. That’s never been the case,” said Todd. “Schools are now highly incentivized to prioritize funding for the arts, and that’s a strong indication that the State Board of Education understands how important creativity is to K-12 education and to the future of our state and nation.”
Long before Michigan’s embracing of STEAM, however, Todd was helping build a case for its importance at the local level. In 2010, she co-created the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) educational program Language Artists, which integrates literacy and the visual arts to help 3rd graders develop strong reading and writing skills alongside critical thinking and collaboration skills. Since its inception, the program has been awarded three separate grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and has helped improve writing proficiency scores on the state of Michigan’s M-STEP standardized test by 40%.
Since 2011, Todd has been a key designer on the collaborative team that created and guides the curriculum design of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ (GRPS) newest theme school, the Public Museum School. She and KCAD Associate Professor Gayle DeBruyn contributed broad expertise in design thinking and innovative pedagogy to development of the curriculum, which blends experiential, place-based learning with an emphasis on creative, transdisciplinary problem solving into what’s known as place-based design. Following a highly successful launch in 2015, the Public Museum School won one of ten $10 million grants awarded through the XQ Super School Project in 2016.
Alongside her colleagues, DeBruyn and KCAD Art Education Professor Donna St. John, Todd has also served since 2009 as a community consultant for Coit Creative Arts Academy, another GRPS theme school that infuses visual and performing arts into all aspects of its curriculum.
At KCAD, Todd’s experiences have helped her create a dynamic learning environment where students are always on the cutting edge, plugged into the latest brain research and pedagogical thinking as well as how the systems governing K-12 education in America are evolving. As a result, students are engaging with their field, and succeeding in it, at a very high level.
In both 2017 and 2018, a KCAD Art Education student was named the NAEA’s Preservice Art Educator of the Year, a prestigious award that’s rarely given to students from the same institution in successive years. In 2017, Master of Art Education alumna Tricia Erickson (’10) was named Art Educator of the Year by the MAEA. And just this year, Art Education student Lynn Loubert¬ was elected to the NAEA Board of Directors for a two-year appointment as Preservice Division Director Elect, followed by a two-year appointment as Director.
“If we’re not encouraging our students to go beyond their college courses and enlarge their perspective, then we’re doing them a disservice. If ours’ are the only views our students are exposed to, we risk them becoming near-sighted.” said Todd. “We get our students involved in the big picture because we don’t just want them to personally succeed; we want them to lead.”
“Todd’s accomplishment in being recognized with all three of these awards in one year, and especially the 2019 National Art Educator Award, is a unique acknowledgement of her energy, intelligence, and effectiveness as a teacher and a leader in the field of art education,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “The entire community of KCAD congratulates her. We know that our students and our entire institution benefit from having such a remarkable colleague in our midst and we are honored to work with her every day.”
Todd and the other 2019 NAEA awardees were officially honored at the 2019 National Convention, which took place in Boston March 14-16.