In fact, she says, she had no idea she had even been nominated.

The long-time teacher, originally from England, is nevertheless grateful to the colleague who put her forward for the award and who fondly calls Humphries her “school mum”.

“She kept saying I was like her mum because I’d help her and listen to things,” Humphries explains.

Humphries’ career in teaching has now spanned more than two decades, two countries and a stint as a sole charge principal, an experience that she said kept her busy.

“It’s quite a big ask because sometimes you have to do the cleaning ... and you’re always on duty, you’re never resting,” she says.

“I did at that time get a day a week, relief, where a teacher came in and took my class and I did the paperwork side of things.

“It’s pretty full on because we also lived next door to the school, so you’re pretty much on call all the time.

"My husband ran the pool, my son did the grounds and my daughter did the cleaning for a bit of pocket money, so it was quite a family affair at the time.

“It was a very good learning experience because you learned to do so much, the administration side as well as the teaching, and you learn balance and how to manage your time really well. So it was a really good grounding.”

Humphries’ current workplace is Whangarei Heads School, a full primary school where she has taught for 18 years.

With a little over 100 students it is a bit larger than her solo teaching experience, but nonetheless has what she describes as “a real family feel to it”.

“We all know each other, we all know the children, we all know the families, and that helps with the teaching and understanding those children,” she says.

Humphries places a lot of emphasis on keeping her teaching “fresh” through professional development.

“There are different ways in which children learn .. .so you can’t just teach one way, you have to be flexible and you always have to be open to new ideas, because that’s how your teaching improves and hopefully the learning grows for those children.

“I’m always trying something new.

"Last year, I was learning how to teach languages.

"We’ve got a Mandarin language teacher that comes in now, once a week, so another teacher and I decided that we’d do a language course ... that helps you be able to teach the language and understand how children learn a different language.

“I just love to learn as well.

"This year I’m doing the next stage in that languages course to improve myself and I’ve always been very keen on digital technology as well, so there’s lots I’m learning at the moment about Google Docs in education.

“It just keeps you fresh and keeps you challenged, and I think that’s what you need to do so that you don’t become stale.”

Humphries tests new digital tools by using the technology herself, reading and attending conferences, but warns against implementing every new idea.

“You have to think about it and think, 'what does it actually do that I can’t do with the teaching I’m doing already?' 

"Gadgets are good but they’re just tools at the end of the day.”

There are other changes on the horizon too, which she is looking forward to.

“We’re going to be looking at play based learning which we can now do because [scrapping] National Standards has freed us up a little bit.

"That’s the way to go at the moment, children do need to play and there’s lots of learning that can be done through play.

“At the moment we’re also looking at developing an outdoor classroom.

"We want to be able to do our maths and a lot of our learning outside, within that environment.

"That’s another thing that’s in development and that’s going to be pretty exciting,” she says.

With her fire for teaching still burning bright after more than 20 years, Humphries says her young charges are what keep her getting out of bed each day.

“The joy of seeing the children getting something, and understanding and getting enthusiastic about their learning, I think that’s really lovely.

"Every day is a new day as well, it’s never the same day.

"There’s always something that you learn from the children and they’re learning from you.

"That’s what I really love, seeing that joy of learning.”

She is also full of gratitude for her colleagues.

“I’ve always had a really good staff, we have a good team of teachers, so it’s been easy because they’re so supportive of each other and supportive of me.

"That makes your job a lot easier. It’s a hard job to do if you’re isolated.

“They always step up and help out, and because we are small we have lots of jobs that we have to do, but we all help out.

"If it’s a particularly busy time for one teacher in their area of responsibility, then we’ll all chip in and help out, and that’s the culture.

"If we are showing that and modelling that, then the children also see that, and they cotton on to ways of getting on with each other.”

With strong support from her colleagues and the school community, and an enthusiasm for teaching and learning, Humphries looks forward to what the future might bring.

“I hope I’ve got a few more years left in teaching.

"I’m happy doing what I’m doing at the moment; being a deputy principal is good because I get to work a lot with the teachers.

“I think I’ll carry on learning with the children and improving my practice and see where that takes me.”