There is little research that investigates the impact of awards for teaching excellence on teachers' professional lives over time or, for that matter, the factors that enable or inhibit teachers in stepping forward to test their teaching against accomplished standards of professional practice. This paper is the outcome of individual interviews and focus group discussions with 33 recipients of the NSW Quality Teaching Awards selected at random from the 2001, 2003 and 2005 cohorts and representing all levels of education ( pre-school, primary, secondary, TAFE and university) so as to provide a stratified sample of recipients. In the school sector, these teachers came from Government, Catholic and Independent schools. Responding to a series of open-ended questions, each Quality Teaching Award recipient reflected on what it was to "step out from the crowd" and nominate for recognition as demonstrating higher orders of professional competence. This was defined by criteria for quality teaching determined by the Australian College of Educators in association with the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association. The findings of the study not only confirmed the importance of voluntary awards to the identification, understanding and celebration of quality teaching but also gave insights into the use of peer-assessed and site-based validation processes in exploring and understanding professional practice.