LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Erin Willard

Position: Kindergarten Teacher
School: Sonoma Elementary School
School District: Harper Creek Community Schools
City, State: Harper Creek, MI

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Erin Willard was nominated by her principal, Shalen King-Short.

There are teachers in this world who can change the lives of not only the students, but the parents, staff, and community.  Mrs. Willard is one of them. She is a beamer; she can always be counted on to bring the perspective of the students first whenever she's collaborating with someone. She is part of the school leadership team and is always willing to step up to any challenge.

Mrs. Willard embodies a nurturing atmosphere in a way that can not be compared to anything else. Her room prior to COVID-19 looked like a forest, with materials from nature and learning stations that were authentic and inspiring.  She created a sense of wonder and excitement in a way that no one could recreate.

"As a new principal, I can say I wondered about her play based, plant based classroom," said King-Short. "While working in her room, the level of learning and exposure to not only curriculum, but to lifelong, essential learning, was astounding.  Watching her teach gives you chills. The students know what they are learning about, and it is amazingly authentic.  During a lesson last year, her students were asked to make a den.  As the principal, I thought, 'This is not deep thinking.' As the students began to share out, however, I was shocked! They were sharing things like why they built it a certain way, with vocabulary that sounded like third graders.  They explained the features of the den, how they kept predators out , and the geologic parts they added and why."

Then, COVID-19 happened, and Mrs. Willard's sense of belonging and mastery was broken.  How can someone who has this amazing system full of materials from outside the building recreate it in a safe way?  If anyone could do it, it would be her.  With the help of a local church, Mrs. Willard moved her classroom outside!  She created an amazing learning space where her students spend time each day learning about the world around them and connecting to nature in their outdoor classroom.  She took what she knew about play, children, motivation, and the importance of being outside and created an authentic learning space for students to learn.

"Erin is a true life long learner who supports the students, parents, staff, and community through her teaching," said King-Short. "She is an exemplar educator who has changed the lives of all the students she has worked with. She has changed mine, as well. I am privileged to work with Mrs. Willard."

Comments (5)

Cheryl Bess Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Willard is truly a master teacher! She is so passionate and does what she knows is BEST for her learners! She thinks completely outside of the box and has so much fun guiding her kindergarteners to be successful! Congratulations Eric Willard! You have made a difference in so many lives!

Jennifer Henrich Posted over a year ago

Erin has always been an amazing teacher. She taught at Beadle Lake when my youngest son went there and all the parents were impressed with her then too. Her connection to her students and her style of teaching is is top notch. As a coworker I have always been so impressed with the consistently high reading scores that come out of her classroom every year. Erin is so deserving this nomination.

Lisa Savage Posted over a year ago

I appreciate her calmness, her grace, her smile, and her ability to meet the needs of her students!

Julie C Posted over a year ago

Erin has all of the attributes it takes to be an amazing Kindergarten teacher. She shows love by allowing her students to use their imagination, has a calming demeanor, and instills the WANT(not Have) to come to school everyday in her students. I enjoy working with her at Sonoma Elementary.

Jessica Pollard Posted over a year ago

Congratulations! Truly deserved. Mrs. Willard is an inspiration. She actively promotes free-thinking and creativity among her students. This year has challenged educators in a way we never thought possible. She has risen to the occasion and has gone to great lengths to still provide meaningful, hands-on learning opportunities for her little learners.