Sep 2014

NZ’s Most Inspiring Teacher Winner Crowned

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Maeroa Intermediate’s Melanie Wihongi-Popham has been named the overall winner in a Warehouse Stationery initiative to recognise the hard work of Kiwi teachers, which saw more than 17,000 votes cast by students, parents and families.

NZMIT CMYKA Hamilton intermediate teacher has been crowned New Zealand’s Most Inspiring Teacher from nearly 5000 nominations around the country.

Maeroa Intermediate’s Melanie Wihongi-Popham has been named the overall winner in a Warehouse Stationery initiative to recognise the hard work of Kiwi teachers, which saw more than 17,000 votes cast by students, parents and families.

With eight individual nominations, Ms Wihongi-Popham has taken out the title of New Zealand’s Most Inspiring Teacher for ensuring her students get the best possible education while feeling nurtured and cared for in the classroom.

“Ms Wihongi-Popham needs cloning,” says parent Samantha White, who was one of the people to nominate the hard-working teacher. “She epitomises what a teacher should be in her every waking moment…I cannot start to adequately paint a picture about how much commitment she has. Melanie embraces diversity and inclusion, has high expectations of all her students and provides such a safe learning environment.”

Other nominations from parents and students described the Maeroa Intermediate teacher as dedicated, creative and caring, with a fun approach to learning that inspires her class in every subject.

With more than 25 years of teaching experience, Ms Wihongi-Popham says she was shocked to discover she was being named the country’s most inspiring teacher. “I love what I do so much, and anything over and above is just a bonus,” says the mother of six, who has taught at Maeroa Intermediate for the past 10 years. “At the end of the day, I’m a mum and a nan, and I’d like to think that all my moko will have teachers who understand them and care about them like I try to for my students.”

The passionate teacher says she believes there is more to teaching than what you can find in books. “Literacy is so important, but you have to give something of yourself to these kids too,” she says. “I love getting up every day and coming to school because every kid and every class I teach gives me a reason to smile.”

“We’re so proud of Melanie’s achievement,” adds Maeroa Intermediate principal Susan Wood. “She is a wonderful example of how hard teachers in New Zealand work to ensure their students are inspired and nurtured every day.”

Three runner-ups have also been named in each of three categories: in early childhood teaching they are Josie Fitzgibbon of Bell Block Pohutukawa Kindergarten, New Plymouth; Helen Topliss of Reach Forward Early Learning Centre, Albany; and Fiona Smith of Little Lights Kindy, Rotorua.

In the primary school category (which included intermediate teachers) the runner-ups are  Ramona Barbara of Gisborne Central School, Gisborne; Sara Sabin of Cosgrove School in Papakura, Auckland; and Hayley Anderson of Selwyn Ridge School in Welcome Bay, Tauranga.

And in the secondary school category, Patricia Pietersen of Elim Christian College in Botany Downs, Auckland; Benjamin Himme of Carmel College in Milford, Auckland; and Brenda Meyer of Mt Roskill Grammar, Auckland.

The 10 winning teachers and their schools will receive a share of $40,000 worth of travel, stationery and technology from Warehouse Stationery in recognition of their excellence.

The competition was judged by New Zealand Order of Merit recipient, teacher, and former netball star Bernice Mene; Director of Leadership at Palmerston North Boys’ High School and Deputy Commander 1 NZ Brigade at Linton, Paul King; and Margaret McCaw, a teacher of 35 years and mother of rugby star Richie McCaw.

“It was very difficult to separate the top teachers, and all nominees were worthy of an award,” says King of the final decision. “Teachers who live great values, personify good character and work hard, respect their students, and conduct their own lives with passion and enthusiasm shown by these teachers will clone future generations of great New Zealanders.

“They deserve to have their stories told and be encouraged further because such commitment comes at a personal cost,” he adds. “They will tell you they are just doing their job, but they are doing more than that. They are role models for all of us as they display a unique brand of servant leadership where they put the needs of others before their own.”

Fellow judge Margaret McCaw says it was heartening to see the number of nominees and the impact they’ve made on students and their families. “Teaching is a very demanding job but it has some of the most rewarding results and moments when you see your students thrive and succeed. It’s wonderful to know that not only are there so many inspiring teachers in New Zealand, but that those students they have inspired want to acknowledge them publicly and celebrate their hard work.”

The New Zealand’s Most Inspiring Teacher campaign saw a huge increase in public votes this year, with nominations up over 200% on 2014, and votes for those nominated up 160% to a whopping 17,785.

The CEO of Warehouse Stationery Pejman Okhovat says the overwhelming response to the campaign shows New Zealanders do appreciate the hard work of school teachers.

“We’re proud to be able to reward teachers such as Melanie and recognise her, along with the runner-ups, for their dedication to such an important and life-changing role,” says Okhovat. “It’s wonderful to read the positive comments for all the nominees and know that so many of New Zealand’s teachers are truly inspiring their students.”

For more information on the campaign, see www.inspiringteachers.co.nz

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Fleur Revell
Fleur Revell is one of the country’s most eminent PR consultants and public relations practitioners with more than 20 years industry experience behind her. Fleur is also a three times Qantas Media Awards winner and Feature Writer of the Year; and has an exceptional working knowledge of the New Zealand media landscape and its accelerating evolution in the digital age.
NZ’s Most Inspiring Teacher Winner Crowned
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