Kaikohe pre-school teacher Trivia Barrett-Howard says earning a national educator's award is mainly down to the nurturing environment she works in.
Ms Barrett-Howard, from Little Gemz Childcare in Kaikohe, has been honoured with an ASG National Excellence in Teaching Award (NEiTA) for making an impact in her local community.
She is one of 20 recipients of the honour, and the only teacher in Northland selected from nearly 300 nominations throughout New Zealand.
"It was a huge surprise because I had no idea I'd even been nominated," Ms Barrett-Howard said after a presentation of her award at Little Gemz last week.
She said although she strives to keep improving her own teaching, her work and job satisfaction is always based on "the essence of what the centre is all about".
"Whanau, culture, love - it's all interwoven into everything we do here."
In keeping with the vision of ASG NEiTA, Ms Barrett-Howard ensures the children's achievements at Little Gemz are documented through learning stories, wall displays, celebrations, play and photos. The centre is bicultural and whanau orientated, and aims to reflect the same feelings as if children were at home.
The early childhood centre was started 10 years ago by Ngaroimata Yoke, whose daughter Deborah now manages it.
Ms Barrett-Howard has lived in Kaikohe all her life, gaining a primary teaching degree through Wananga o Raukawa, studying at Northland College.
On graduating five years ago, she started work at Little Gemz.
The most important focus in her life has always been her whanau, marae, community and her work, she said.
ASG NEiTA chief executive John Velegrinis said community recognition is very powerful and Little Gemz should be proud of the impact it is making.
"Communities love being engaged in education and in some cases, they can be the richest educational resources. So I congratulate Ms Barrett-Howard for really making a difference in the Kaikohe community through education," Mr Velegrinis said. "We say that education is one of the most critical investments that parents, families and communities can make, but we need teachers like our ASG NEiTA recipients to drive this education and really invest in nation building through our young people."
The awards comprise early childhood, primary and secondary categories. The six national winners will be announced at a ceremony at Parliament Buildings in September.