The Unexpected Gift of Kindness

The Unexpected Gift of Kindness: How a Teaching Award Nomination Turned My Life Around.

Last month, I stood at the front door of 10 Downing Street. Not, I hasten to add, because I harbour any secret political ambitions(!), but because I had been invited to attend the 25th Anniversary of the Pearson National Teaching Awards.

I won the Gold Award for Digital Innovator of the Year in 2021. At the time, I said that it was the highlight of my career, and that was not an empty statement. Winning the award subsequently set in motion a chain of opportunities and experiences that have shaped the last two years of my working life, for which I am profoundly and deeply thankful.

Once inside Downing Street, I listened to Lord David Puttnam, founder of the awards, talk movingly about how they were the life’s achievement of which he was most proud. He said that over 25 years, no one has ever accepted an award on behalf of just themselves.

Winners always acknowledge their schools and the communities who have ensured the award ended up in their grateful hands. I reflected then and have continued to do so since the kindness of my colleagues who had privileged me to listen to him.

2020 to 2021 were some of the most challenging years of my working life, as I know they were for most people. Being Director of Technology for Learning for Denbigh High School in Luton and the Chiltern Learning Trust, I had never been busier when the pandemic struck.

As staff adapted quickly and the students moved to online learning, I supported pedagogy and practice across eleven schools. Denbigh also became part of the DfE EdTech Demonstrator Programme. I was proud to help other schools and colleges nationwide develop digital strategies and adapt to the most challenging circumstances.

I consider myself a positive person and one of my most frequently used sayings is, “Life is a gift – it’s why we call it the present.” I am fortunate enough to usually have a loving family and a happy home life, which underpins my ability to be resilient and work hard. However, in 2020-21, through a series of unpredictable events, that stability began to crumble.

I will not go into all of the details here as much of it is still too personal, but friendships, family and even my health began to splinter. My typically safe and stable world spun entirely off its axis, culminating at Christmas in 2020 with my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. As 2021 began, I was completely losing my faith in human nature.

At that point, one afternoon at school, I was called into an “emergency” Denbigh High Senior Leadership Team Meeting. Covid was still sweeping the country, and I feared the worst. Our headteacher, Donna Neely-Hayes, had prepared a briefing, and, socially distanced in our chairs, we were all directed to view the large screen in the Main Hall. Except this wasn’t a Covid briefing. Instead, the slides were statement after statement of staff saying kind and lovely things about me.

My weary brain struggled to process what I was seeing until the final slide: “We want you to know that we have nominated you for a National
You are a finalist for the Teaching Award for Digital Innovator of the Year.”

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried. Properly cried as the previous few months came pouring out of me, and my wonderful colleagues gave me flowers and filled in the gaps about what would happen next.

What happened next was a series of unparalleled kindness unfolding over the following few months. First, there was an online session where everyone, from our Trust CEO Adrian Rogers to students I had worked with previously, spoke positively about me to the Pearson judges. Next came the announcement that I had won the Silver Award, delivered in Denbigh fashion through a surprise assembly with confetti cannons, “Denbigh Darcy Day” t-shirts, and my husband smuggled into school in the back of a staff member’s car. Covid restrictions began to lift temporarily, and I enjoyed an excellent afternoon tea at the National Portrait Gallery with our Deputy Head, Jess Pather, and the other Silver Award winners.

The awards themselves were due to take place on 28th November, but the threat of cancellation was high due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. I genuinely pinched myself on the day as we were excited that the Denbigh staff group had travelled to London and taken our seats at The Brewery. I never expected to win the gold. I know everyone says that, but I couldn’t believe, after the past year’s events, that I would get a proper, fairytale ending. I had been practising my “gracious loser” face for months. But, in the end, I didn’t need it. I did win, and the award now sits on my fireplace at home as one of my proudest professional achievements.

Every time I look at it, I am reminded of kindness.

The kindness of my wonderful friend Erin Stewart, who took time out of her already packed day to nominate me in the first place. The kindness of the Denbigh and Chiltern Learning Trust staff lifted me, supported the nomination, and celebrated with me at every stage of the journey. I have been lucky to work with the students over the past ten years because of their kindness. Lord Puttnam is right. When you win one of these trophies, you feel gratitude for those you can call colleagues. The awards retake place this year in November, and I will enthusiastically cheer on every single nominee and think of the kindness of others who have put them there.

Conclusion: The Unexpected Gift of Kindness: How a Teaching Award Nomination Turned My Life Around.

During personal challenges and a global pandemic, a simple act of kindness from a colleague set in motion a chain of events that transformed my life. The unexpected nomination for a teaching award recognised my contributions and reminded me of the profound impact of kindness. As we celebrate the power of kindness, remember that even the most minor acts can have a ripple effect, lifting spirits, restoring faith, and shaping lives. Kindness is a powerful force that can profoundly impact our lives. It can help us to overcome challenges, build strong relationships, and achieve our goals. I am incredibly grateful for the kindness shown throughout my life, and I encourage everyone to practice kindness in their everyday lives.

Emma Darcy

Twitter @darcyprior

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