Sue Winters has worked in education for 40 years but doesn't feel like she's worked a day in her life because she's loved every day.
Winters' four decades of service have been acknowledged in the Queen's Birthday Honours today as she was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for her services to education.
She's humbled by the recognition.
"There are so many people serving so highly in the education field I feel very, very humbled to have been recognised with this honour.
"I've never felt like I was working or serving in my work ... I've loved every day."
Winters' teaching career started in the late 70s at Whakatane High School and continued in Rotorua. She was chairwoman of the Bay of Plenty Maths Association and secretary of the NZ Association of Mathematics Teachers.
She served in the leadership teams of Rotorua Girls' High School and Western Heights High School and as principal of Reporoa College where she became involved in the Volcanics eLearning Community.
"Part of that was becoming the chairperson of the Virtual Learning Network Community, a national body of schools and kura, collaborating in online learning."
Winters also spent three years leading future-focused learning at Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru, a role she considers her career highlight.
"To be able to work across 40 state and integrated schools and kura at home was a huge privilege for me ... Everything I'm passionate about came together in that project."
Winters was state-educated herself and strongly believed every learner should have high-quality, state-funded education, no matter where they lived.
She said children and families needed to sit firmly at the centre of politics and funding in order for that to happen.
"I was raised with the expectation I would use my education to benefit other people.
"If you have the opportunity to improve things for others you need to take that."
Winters is still involved in education, running her own freelance business working with individual schools around leading the change and innovation.
"I've always challenged the status quo but innovation needs to make things better, not just be something different."
Winters thanked her late parents, family and mentors who had challenged her and continued to have high expectations of her.
"None of the service I've given has been given alone."