The outdoor education instructor, who works at Nayland College in Nelson, says he had no idea he had been nominated for the award.
During his off-the-cuff speech at the award ceremony when he began to thank his boss, whom he assumed was the nominator, he was interrupted and told that in fact, four people had nominated him.
“I think that just made it even more special for me," he says.
"It’s a beautiful thing to be recognised in such a way [and] to know that more than one person has seen the way I teach and interact with students and obviously thinks I’m doing a good job."
The students apparently hold him in high regard too; Parfitt’s lessons are referred to as “story time with Mark”.
“It’s quite a funny line!” he laughs.
“I try to bring more than just technical instruction to the lessons I do in the outdoors, and the kids are so much more engaged when we’re out there on camp.
"For example, if we’re out in the Kahurangi National Park and we’ve got a flock of kea around us, what better time for a fantastic story about a really endangered, beautiful, endemic bird we’ve got.
“I’m so often shoving stories down their throats and I guess they like it!”
He says this isn’t unusual amongst outdoor education specialists; most, like him, try to add a bit more context to their lessons.
“We all know that there’s so much more to what we’re doing out there rather than just having a good time.”
Parfitt runs the camps for the outdoor education program at Nayland; the college has 11 outdoor education classes at present, and each has at least one camp per term, plus practicals during the week.
There’s a lot going on, and Parfitt says the program is tried and true – and growing.
He’s always been an active person, and as a kid was often found tramping or hunting with his dad.
Parfitt found that he really enjoyed his own outdoor education program at high school, developing a passion for rock climbing and white-water kayaking.
He went on to pursue the subject at polytech and moved to Canada for a time to teach white-water kayaking and skiing, later returning home, where he guided people in canyoning for a few seasons before scoring his current role at Nayland.
“I guess what I enjoy most about it is the outdoors, kayaking and climbing in particular, has given me so much, and just being able to pass it on to another generation and hopefully seeing that passion grow in them,” Parfitt explains.
He says students thrive on both the physical and mental challenges offered in outdoor ed, ensuring they stay engaged and interested.
Outdoor activities can also be very inclusive, Parfitt believes.
“One of the special things about my favourite pursuits, kayaking and rock climbing, is it’s always a level playing field,” he explains.
“If we take kids mountain biking, for example, you might have a junior downhill champion and a kid who’s never owned a bike in their life in the same class.
“But when I take kids kayaking, it’s a pursuit that nobody’s really had the chance to engage in before and it’s a really challenging pursuit, so no matter how talented one individual is compared to another, they all start in the same place – they’re all scared to go upside down in a kayak for the first time, and I think that makes it really easy to be inclusive.
“No matter how experienced you are with sport, when you’re out in the elements you’re all the same.”
When asked to pick his favourite camp, Parfitt sighs – “just one?”
He says he enjoys the Year 13s’ camps because the students are allowed to plan their own trips.
“The adventures we get to go on with those students are always really special,” he says.
“They’re studying the weather beforehand, they’re choosing the appropriate route for themselves and then we're just kind of following along to make sure everything goes well.
"They’re really enjoyable trips because [it's like] you’re somewhat out there for maybe a five-day tramp with your peers.”
And while the STEM obsession continues in schools around New Zealand, Parfitt says outdoor ed has a strong role to play in the childhood and adolescence of students – not only in their personal growth and development of confidence, but in fostering a love of nature and ensuring the outdoors live on for future generations.
“I think it’s hugely important and not just for today’s kids but for the future of our native ecosystems and environments, that connection to the outdoors is what will make people want to look after it in the future and if they’re looking after it, the next generation after that is going to have a place to recreate and have a lot of fun,” he says.
“There’s lots going on outdoors and it’s hugely important. I wish that more schools had the benefit that our kids have at our school, we’re really fortunate with our outdoor education program.”