Remembering a Teacher’s Legacy: Mr. Eric Ratzlaff

A few days after I posted this entry, it was seen by Catherine, Mr. Ratzlaff's daughter.  She sent me a picture of the banner (a photo I had never seen)...and sure enough, there we are: I'm holding the end on the left, my good friend Deanna is holding the end on the right, other students surround sending their love, and Mr. Ratzlaff is centre--with a smile we'll always remember.

A few days after I posted this entry, it was seen by Catherine, Mr. Ratzlaff’s daughter. She sent me a picture of the banner (a photo I had never seen)…and sure enough, there we are: I’m holding the end on the left, my good friend Deanna is holding the end on the right, other students surround sending their love, and Mr. Ratzlaff is centre–with a smile we’ll always remember.

“A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.” -Henry Adams

What legacy do we leave as teachers?  What lives on beyond our days in the classroom?  Today I was sad to hear of the loss of one of my favourite high school teachers, Mr. Eric Ratzlaff–but I also know this wonderful teacher I had at Abbotsford Senior Secondary leaves a great legacy.

Mr. Eric Ratzlaff, TeacherMr. Ratzlaff was funny, kind, smart, and he loved teaching and he had a great way with students. He taught for 37 years, and yet I remember in high school hearing that he was retiring that year and thinking, “It’s too soon!”  He had so much energy and passion!

Hearing of his coming retirement, I remember not being aware of what specifically was planned to honour Mr. Ratzlaff (I learned later there was a retirement party), and I remember thinking we as students couldn’t let this teacher go with out making sure he knew for sure he made a difference and was loved by his students.

I remember my friends and I cut up colourful pieces of paper and brought them around to students in Abby Senior and invited them to write their well wishes to Mr. Ratzlaff. Then, we glued the many dozens, probably 200+ thoughtful notes on a giant piece of that long rolled paper you find in schools.

When we presented the giant banner to him, and he was moved and graciously, kindly accepted–but I remember thinking that in his humble way he didn’t seem to grasp in the moment how truly awesome he was in our lives–he was almost embarrassed by the attention.

Mr. Ratzlaff laughed with us later the next day saying how awkward it was to walk home with such a giant rolled up card! We teased him back that we were glad to give him an occasion to really think about the weight of his impact on students!

Mr. Ratzlaff, thank you for giving yourself to teaching, for sharing your joy in learning, and for the way you respected and inspired students. Your legacy lives on–I know I carry a memory of your teaching with me in the teacher I have become, and in thinking about the teacher I want to be.

Thank you, Mr. Ratzlaff, for everything.

Read Obituary.

A big thank you, to Mr. Ratzlaff--a great teacher.

A big thank you, to Mr. Ratzlaff–a great teacher.

My New Website:

Hey, everybody!  I’ve had a great time with this blog–what a learning journey!  It sure is neat to look back through your mind in a way, as you scan a few years of blog posts.  I will continue to add blog posts here as I get the inspiration, yet perhaps you have noticed: I have a few new websites:

And one that I want to highlight today is my new personal website:



 Come on over and check it out!


My Talk at TEDxVictoria: “The Power to Question”

It’s here–my talk at TEDxVictoria is live!  It was an amazing experience to grow through preparing and sharing this talk, “The Power to Question“, on stage at the MacPherson Playhouse.  The day was surreal, magical–the speaker line-up was outstanding and it was a privilege to be able to share the stage with them.  I made so many new friends and have such high praises for the TEDxVictoria team.  They took care of everything and the day went beautifully.

I still get a little nervous when I click play on this video…I remember the feeling backstage, the anticipation and butterflies.  Usually when I speak I can see the audiences faces, but with the bright stage lights, the audience was all in black. It was all black, but not a void–I could feel the warm, supportive presence of the audience. Thank you to everyone involved in TEDxVictoria 2013–and thank you to you for checking out this talk!


Sneak Peek: “Personal Interest Projects” Course

Hello! As many of you know, I’ve been having a blast writing and recording videos for my new online course in “Personal Interest Projects”!  I’ve been sharing elements of this course with my student for 8 years and have recently refined it to the point where I am so excited to be able to launch a comprehensive version for students online.  This course teaches you my “10-Step Personal Interest Project Framework”.

Here is a sneak peek of one of the videos in this course:

“Step 2: Narrow a Question”

My Teaching Story: The Teaching Coats Project

CourageRenewal_Tiffany Poirier

Parker Palmer’s book “The Courage to Teach” found me when I needed it most.

The book’s powerful message deeply moved me–one line in particular became the inspiration for an arts-based research study into teacher identity: “The Teaching Coats Project“.


This week, it was an honour to share a personal story through a guest blog at

Thank you for being a part of the journey!


Tiffany’s Top TEDxWestVancouverED Takeaways.


Today was a truly inspiring day as a member of the audience at TEDxWestVancouverED!  Craig Cantlie, West Vancouver Vice Principal and teacher and TEDx organizer, was the master of ceremonies at this event that involved 14 dynamic speakers–and their presentations flowed together beautifully.  Kudos to the whole TEDxWestVancouverED team that also included Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson! (And thanks for taking care of us with gift bags, the tasty lunch and treats at break times!)

Here are a few big ideas I found resonating with me long after I got home:  (Please note: I compiled and typed up this up based on notes I jotted down during the event and did not intend these notes to be taken as a comprehensive summary of the TEDxTalks–I could never capture all that wisdom in a single blog post!)


Unknown-1Dean Shareski proved that we must include joy as essential to living and learning—joy doesn’t have to be a part of a specific curricular area to merit serious attention.  It hit me in the heart big time when Shareski quoted Erica Bauermeister: “Adults need to have fun so that children will want to grow up.” Thanks, Dean, for bringing the joy!


Unknown-2Scott Slater talked about how learning environments are not just pedagogical decisions but a reflection of cultural values, and since we tend to anchor learning to experiences and places, those places should be magical…places to inspire reverence!  The experiential program Slater is a part of is a powerful model of a community working together in harmony with each other and nature.  I love their mantra: “We belong here.”


Unknown-3Kelly Skehill is the high school math teacher you WISH you had!  She shared examples from her classroom of how she engages students and makes learning relevant with real world problem solving projects.  No doubt kids learn more in a math classroom that involves analyzing amusement park rides, designing waterslides, connecting concepts with heli-skiing, and planning their own “Dragon’s Den”-style pitches!

VIDEO BREAK: Sir Ken Robinson, “Bring on the Learning Revolution”


Unknown-4Zoltan Virag, singing the praises of Christopher Smalls’ notion of “musicking”, proved why music is not a thing, but an action. Ever the consummate teacher, Virag taught the audience about cool new ipad apps for composing music and discussed the stunning array of creative 21st century music tools that can empower all learners.


Unknown-5Wise grade ten student Lauren Bauman reminded us of the importance of supporting students in making their own connections and forging their own paths through exploring powerful questions in dialogue with others—ah, a young spirit after my own heart!  I’m with you on that, Lauren!


Unknown-6Shelley Wright walked us through a beautiful example of how her students took charge to achieve a meaningful goal in a fundraising effort.  Now here is a teacher who wears her heart and intense care for her students on her sleeve!


Unknown-7Ron Hoffart challenged audiences to rethink the design of learning environments and challenged us with the notion that “a school is not a building”.  It was fascinating to imagine with him more flexible learning spaces, garage doors between classroom spaces that open up with a button, and stylish and functional libraries that feel more like a Starbucks!  I loved his metaphor of how school libraries in the past were like grocery stores and libraries of the future should be more like kitchen—places where the ingredients come together and action and artistry happen!

VIDEO BREAK: Sugata Mitra, “School in the Cloud”


UnknownGary Kern challenged us to consider the possibilities of new, creative and more responsive assessment models as ways to free up real life, real-time learning.  I loved his example of the NIKE FuelBand…makes me dream of new inventions for helping my students in their self-assessment process.  Thanks Gary, my students and I will have fun as we brainstorm together futuristic new assessment inventions—hey, you never know where this could lead!


Unknown-8David Helfand shared the vision and practices of Quest University—which I am now convinced has to be the future of post-secondary education.  Imagine: a truly liberal arts education co-created in intimate class sizes of 20, u-shaped desk arrangements, lead by impassioned “tutors” (the professors) who collaborate and co-mingle their knowledge to the benefit of students (instead of wall themselves up individualistic departmental glass towers) —and courses are delivered in a block system to allow for deeper immersion and focus!  I happened to stop by Quest last summer when I was hiking in Squamish, and let me say, it is easy to see why some have found this mountainous, lush green, wild flower-painted setting close to loads of outdoor adventure possibilities a student’s dream come true!


imagesChris Kennedy looked at teaching and learning through his eyes as a father of four. He made an impassioned call to teachers to find ways to share with parents and involve them even more in their child’s learning…and to just love the kids!  (This moment, I admit, got me a little teary eyed).  As the superintendent of West Vancouver, Chris himself truly “walks the talk” by connecting with the greater community through his own widely popular and personal “Culture of Yes” blog and his own impactful work connecting in and with his community.


cd2f73_5016703230c7329fec4fe3e339f69d33.jpg_srz_221_166_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzTracy Dignum discussed learning, memory retention, and the power of sleep in moving memories from short-term memories to long-term memory.  Cramming isn’t the answer…we need students to experience, process and make sense of their learning in ways that are meaningful and that will stick with them.

VIDEO BREAK: Shane Kocyzan, “To This Day”


Unknown-9Katy Hutchinson’s powerful, beautifully woven story of courage, forgiveness, and restorative justice gripped the entire audience.  Hers was the only TED talk during which I did not take notes—I simply couldn’t–I was too in the moment, re/living her story with her.  I felt synergy with her journey and my heart went out to her and her children—I too recall the day when I was five and my own mother told me my father was killed.  My father died in a tragic helicopter accident—an act of human error or fate or God…I don’t know…I’m still processing that loss 28 years later.  Today Katy’s strength and decision to work to heal herself and others has lifted me in my own journey of healing. Thank you, Katy, for your tremendous gift.


Unknown-10Qayam Devji—Wow! What else can I say? This grade seven student is going to take the world by storm. Both Lauren and Qayam are great examples of intelligent, motivated and inspiring young leaders!  It was wonderful to hear Qayam talk through his planning and revelations in the process of putting together a TEDXKids event.  Best wishes to you in your venture!


Beairsto, Bruce_0Bruce Beairsto urged us to consider the power of a professional framework as a starting point for collaborative professional learning and action.  It was fitting to end the event with his call to not let the powerful messages of the day fade away as we left the building…Bruce—thank you, your call to action is one of the reasons I wrote and shared this blog post!


We all process events in our own unique way—I would love to hear from you about what TEDxWestVancouverED messages are still resonating in your heart and mind.  Please post any thoughts below…or share on Twitter at #TedxWestVancouverEd

UPDATE 2014:  TEDxWestVancouverED inspired me to apply and present my own TEDx talk so I applied for the next local event!  It was an honour last November to take the stage at TEDxVictoria and explore the importance of nurturing children’s big questions.  Here is my own talk, “THE POWER TO QUESTION”

Pop-Up Projects — This grade 4/5 group stands out!

Here is a video of my grades 4 and 5 students who had fun developing their visual-spatial intelligence and project skills …through learning to make their own pop-up books! Enjoy as they share their fun work!  I modeled some techniques for them to try (Stuff I learned in a continuing ed. course at Emily Carr U. a couple of years back)–still their books were completed independently and reflect all their own creative ideas! They asked me to post their video so they could share it with their friends and family.  My pleasure–I see something new each time I watch this. Great job, guys!