By Sarah Elmquist Squires
Managing Editor

Willow Creek Elementary students hard at work learning, playing, and growing. (p/c Willow Creek Elementary facebook)

Willow Creek Elementary School has been named a national model PLC school by Solution Tree, a national collection of educational practitioners who model best practices in PLCs, or professional learning communities. Willow Creek’s designation means it joins the ranks of Riverton’s Rendezvous Elementary, Aspen Early Learning Center and Ashgrove Elementary School with the national recognition, which includes opportunities for educators at the school to share with other schools the work they’ve done to connect with students.
What’s a PLC? It’s a teacher group that shares notes on how to best help students. There are four core questions at the heart of that collaboration: What do you want students to know? How will you know they know it? What will you do when they don’t know it? And, what will you do when they do know it?
Years ago when the concept of PLCs first took root in public education, it involved time set aside for teacher groups to collaborate on those questions. But today, at model schools like Willow Creek, the PLC concept travels far beyond an hour or two set aside for a meeting. “We don’t just go to a PLC meeting at our school,” explained Willow Creek Principal Jeremy Hill. “We are a PLC at our school … It’s not just one hour a week or one hour a day, it is who we are, it is embedded in what we do. Every opportunity that they have to work with soeone else is a professional learning moment.”
Hill credits his predecessor and his team with their hard work over the years to enhance that collaboration. “They took that system and ran with it. I just inherited it … All I do is give them the space to do it, the resources to do it.”
Teacher groups meet along subject areas and grade levels and across buildings to share and model one another’s successes, and examine data to study what types of enrichment and outreach actually work for their students. Every educator is a leader in this effort, Hill explained. When a staff member finds some success in what they’re doing in the classroom, they lead the charge in sharing it with their colleagues. “Building that leadership capacity among all our staff has helped everybody to take ownership of leading the growth of our school,” Hill said.
Those educator groups don’t just add up math and science statistics, but rather, they examine all the needs of the kids they serve. “We don’t only focus on what kids need academically, but also what they need emotionally, or what they would need from a behavior standpoint, too,” he shared. Covid, in particular, caused a lot of trauma among students and families that educators are still seeing today, Hill added. “So our system has to address all of these things.”
Willow Creek currently partners with Fort Washakie and Wyoming Indian elementaries to share best practices in behavior programming, Hill explained. Their teachers visit Willow Creek, interview kids and staff members, and then can bring back ideas to their own schools to model.
The Solutions Tree designation will open up more opportunities for Willow Creek to share and model all the progress its made in teacher collaboration, and it’s something to celebrate, too. On Monday at 3:15 p.m., Willow Creek staff will gather with the school board, superintendent, and other district staff to unveil a banner boasting the designation, and to honor all the hard work that went into it.