That teacher is Clark Williams, EducationHQ’s Unsung Heroes 2018 winner in the Technology category.

Nominated by a colleague for the wildly popular annual competition, Williams has been credited for doing everything with “patience, good humour and endless creativity”, and always putting his students first.

Williams was thrilled to have been nominated, let alone announced the winner.

“I’m stoked with it, it’s nice to get some recognition,” he says.

“It’s cool because the students came over and were like ‘oh, I voted for you’ which is really awesome.

“But it’s hard to put yourself out there and so I thought I’d just leave it to them to decide if they wanted to vote.”

Williams has been working at Haeata Community Campus since its inception two years ago.

It’s clear he relishes his role at the unique school, which has done away with subjects, and where learning is largely self-directed and inquiry-based, with no set class times for many students. 

As a trained art teacher with a background in design and photography, Williams says his role is very liberating.

“For me personally, [I enjoy] the freedom that we get to do what we want, so the management trust our judgement to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.

“I guess if I was in another school as an art teacher, I wouldn’t have access to the cool machinery that we’ve got, because that might be the technology space and people are a bit precious about those kind of things.

"But here, I’ve laid the makerspace out so it’s an open door policy, so anyone can come in, even if you’re a parent or if I meet someone in the community who is working on something I’ll say, ‘we’ve got all of this gear, come and use it’.

“We want to expose the kids to as much as possible,” Williams says.

It was this open door policy which led to students working with a local whakairo artist in their own fully equipped pounamu carving workshop, a New Zealand first according to Williams’ nomination.

“One of the students [said they] wanted to carve a piece of pounamu for someone and we said ‘OK, let’s see who we can get in touch with’,” Williams recalls.

After initially heading off-site to carve their pounamu, Williams set about having carving machines fabricated for the school, as well as setting up a philosophy which is culturally sensitive.

“So, it took a good year to set up but it’s awesome,” he says.

“We took two van loads of kids to the west coast just to get out on the rivers.

“We stayed at the local Marae and they took us out on the rivers to find our own pounamu and it was an unreal experience, a really awesome experience that no one would be able to have access to, because you can’t just walk on the rivers and grab it yourself.”

Williams also got behind one of his students who had a passion for photography, encouraging her to apply for the role of school photographer, rather than hiring a professional as most schools do.

“...The photographers that come in make really good money, it is their livelihood but they make really good money off what they do, and there’s no reason why we can’t be doing it ourselves and do just as good a job,” Williams explains.

“So I got a student who was really keen, to get a loan from the school to get really good high end gear and then pay back the loan from the profit she made off the project, which is cool.

“So we’ve got high end gear at the school now and the community funded it by buying photos.”  

It’s this kind of out-of-the-box thinking and resourcefulness that makes Williams an asset to the school, and opens his students’ eyes to different possibilities.

Hoping to curb the production of plastic waste which is a bi-product of failed 3D printing projects, Williams made contact with local man Michael Fox he heard was building a machine to turn recycled plastic into filament for the printers.

“So I met up with him and ended up inviting him to work in our space, so he’s come in now and he’s got his own little workshop in our space where all of his gear is set up, and he’s also got access to all of our equipment and we can use his expertise,” Williams explains.

“He’s building a machine where we can just feed in say, milk bottle lids, and it will output filament for 3D printers.

“...we’ve got a lot to learn with making that, but he’s a very clever dude so it’s quite cool having [that accessible] to all of the kids.”

Along with a certificate and the kudos of being announced this year's Unsung Heroes - Technology winner, Williams also wins a masterclass delegate ticket to National Future Schools 2019 (March 20-21) valued at $995.