The St Michael’s Primary School teacher was amongst educators from around the world up for the award, dubbed the ‘Nobel Prize of teaching’. Williams flew to Dubai to collaborate with the other nominees to improve global education systems and attend the award ceremony.

Williams says he relished this once in a lifetime opportunity. 

“I love my job and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the best teachers in the world and to have the opportunity to learn from the best in such an intimate setting,” he says. 

Born with a genetic heart disease and diagnosed with cardiomyopathy when he captained Australia’s junior lacrosse team, Williams often came close to death pushing his body to the limit. 

When doctors advised he quit sport, he would just adopt a new sport he thought his heart could handle. He also competed in the sports of hammer throw, then luge. While trying to qualify for archery for London’s Olympics, doctors insisted he stop or die.

Since then, Williams has traded the sporting field for a classroom. He began teaching full-time at his Ashburton school in 2012, and was immediately recognised as an emerging leader. 

“To see the parents get behind me, not only for nominating me for the award but then crowdfunding to raise the funds for my flights and accommodation was extraordinary,” Williams says. 

“It’s great to know I’m making a difference in their children’s lives.”

While Palestinian primary school teacher Hanan al-Hroub, was awarded the overall winner of the $1 million prize, Williams did share what he would have done had he been named the winner.

“I’m passionate about working with gifted children and giving them opportunities for extension, we focus so much on the other end of the spectrum with specialist intervention we sometimes forget about the gifted minority of students,” he says.

“I would invest in that area of the education sector to improve access to resources and opportunities for these students from underprivileged backgrounds.”