Nicola Hill of Slade Primary School made the shortlist of 50 teachers across the globe chosen by Cambridge University Press to ‘celebrate the vital role they play in the lives of their students’.
Last summer the 46-year-old mother of three set up a ‘Look for a Book’ scheme, leaving children’s books in plastic bags around Tonbridge and Hildenborough.
They are then circulated among the community for free. Finders can keep the books, but Mrs Hill encloses notes suggesting they also repackage and leave them elsewhere.
Mrs Hill, who teaches Year One, also encourages readers and parents to leave their own notes inside when they have finished with the stories.
She was chosen from more than 6,000 nominees, originating in 97 different countries, which were submitted to the elite university’s publishing company.
One of the competition’s criteria was that they ‘prepared students for their futures beyond school and made the ordinary, extraordinary’.
A panel of expert judges will now choose the six finalists, to be announced on January 20, after which the public can vote for their favourite. The overall winner will be revealed on February 3.
Mrs Hill was thrilled to hear the news, saying: “It was a lovely surprise. My headteacher Mrs [Karen] Slade received an email just before we broke up for the Christmas.
“She passed it on but it was not until I was at home that evening that I saw it was an international award and that I had been shortlisted from over 6,000 nominations!
“The staff at Slade and the parents have been ever so kind and supportive about the nomination. I have received some lovely messages.”
She added: “I feel very proud and think that it was really lovely that somebody took the time to write in and nominate me.
“I have been teaching for over 23 years, and 19 years at Slade. I absolutely love my job and look forward to going to work and seeing the children every day.
“I think it is important to make learning fun – and I learn just as much from the children I teach as they do from me.”
Mrs Hill was put forward for the award by Slade parent Kerry Taylor-Smith, who said: “Back in the summer holidays, shortly after Nicola Hill ‘Gee’ started this initiative, my son Michael and I nominated her for the Dedicated Teacher Award.
“If finding new ways to encourage young people to read isn’t dedication and going above and beyond then I don’t know what is.”
When Mrs Hill launched the scheme in August with her 10-year-old daughter Emily, she told the Times: “In this digital age it is even more important to find ways in which to encourage children to ‘get outside’ and also to read books. I loved this ‘treasure hunt’ idea.
“I had also just sorted out my youngest daughter’s bookshelf and had two large bags of books so I had lots of them to hide!
“In the first week we had just over 350 members. I was overwhelmed by the response and the positive comments of people loving the idea.
“And it was lovely seeing the children excited about finding the books, and many people have talked about hiding books of their own.”
Similar projects have been set up in Tunbridge Wells, Kings Hill and Sevenoaks. “Reading is important, as books are magical,” said Mrs Hill.
“It helps children develop their imagination and it is such a lovely activity that parents and children can do together.
“So much can be learnt through books and it helps children to connect with the world around them. I also liked the fact that the benefits of the scheme go beyond reading.
“It helps children learn about empathy, as when they have finished reading they can choose to hide the book for others to enjoy. And it gets them out and about.”
Michael McGarvey, Cambridge University Press’s Director of Education, said: “Teachers say and do life-changing things every day – often without realising it.
“This could be something as simple as a kind word at a difficult time, or explaining a concept in a way that suddenly makes everything click into place for the student.
“For that, we’d like to join with people around the world to say thank you together.”
For more information go to the Facebook page Look for a Book in Tonbridge and Hildenborough.