Carol Parker was delighted when she won primary head of the year at the Welsh teaching awards in Cardiff's Millennium stadium last month. But it was the reaction of her 150 pupils back at Cwmaman infant school that thrilled her.
"These little ones, just five years of age, were passing me in the corridor and saying 'well done, Mrs Parker' and 'we are proud of you in this school, Mrs Parker'," she said. "They were telling me the things that we say to them when they do well - it was really lovely, something I won't forget."
For the past 23 years, Mrs Parker, 54, has been teaching in the village of Cwmaman just outside Aberdare in the Welsh valleys between Merthyr and Rhondda.
For five of the past six years, she has been the simultaneous head or acting head of the three village nursery, infant and junior schools - running them all as separate organisations with their own staff and budgets.
It is a job she could not have done, she says, without her husband or her laptop. Retired building firm owner Emlyn is "absolutely brilliant in the house", which allows her to concentrate on her career, and her portable computer lets her work more sociably.
"The laptop is the best thing that ever happened to me," she laughs. "My husband used to complain he only ever saw the back of my head as I worked in my study. Now that I have the laptop I can sit with everybody and nobody notices if I work until 10 or 11pm."
Her efforts, together with the commitment of staff, helped turn around the struggling Glynhafod junior school, which now has a new head appointed by her.
At her own request Mrs Parker has returned to the infant school, now merged with the nursery, to continue with a job she "absolutely loves".
She enjoys the challenge of management and of being first with new initiatives, but she also wants to raise the aspirations of her pupils.
Cwmaman is in one of the most deprived areas in the country, with 40 per cent of pupils on free school meals, a large proportion of single-parent families, and high unemployment. "On the whole it's up to the staff to encourage the children to aim for the highest they can get," she said.
The school also lays on classes for parents - one mother took two computing courses at the school, went to college, and is now working for the Welsh Assembly.
Mrs Parker says her community role is made easier by the fact that she is now teaching the children of her original pupils.
"You get to know the grannies and aunties," she said. "You build up relationships with the families. If there's an issue they know they can come and speak to me any time, and they do."
Born the middle of five children into a working-class family, Mrs Parker always wanted to teach. Her mother, who ran a newsagent and general store, trained when she was 47 and taught for 13 years, including four as a deputy head.
"I was very proud of her indeed - it was an incredible achievement," she said.