Earlier today, I learned about the sudden passing of one of my teacher heroes, Joe Bower. It was utterly devastating to learn this news. It was only a few months ago that I got to meet Joe for the first time at a conference in Red Deer. We only had the opportunity to chat for about five minutes at the end of the day but we discussed the challenges of "rocking the boat" in our schools and how speaking out in public can bring you both praise and difficulties within the educational system. At the end of our conversation he invited me to grab a beer with some other educators but I had to decline as I needed to leave to Canmore. I promised him that beers will be on me next time he's in Edmonton as we said our goodbyes.
Joe was an extraordinary teacher and advocate for a more progressive education system that would benefit all students. Even though I was only able to meet Joe briefly in person once, his impact started long before then. When I first arrived on twitter a few years ago Joe was one of the first Albertan educators I started following. From there I immediately picked up his blog and was inspired by what he was writing and doing in his classrooms. Through his blog, Joe was a fierce advocate for the students he taught. He constantly reminded us that a student centred classroom should be our aim with putting an end to grades, standardized assessments, and begin focusing on the love of learning that each child naturally has.
For me, one of the most impactful blogs Joe wrote was the one about teacher blogging. In it, Joe pushed his readers to take up their own blog and just start writing and reflecting about what you're doing in the classroom. His challenge was to write one blog for each week of the year (52 in total). I took on the blogging challenge with a lot of enthusiasm but did not meet Joe's request. It took me a second year to get to 52 blogs but nonetheless it was Joe who motivated me to start writing about my experiences and sharing them with the larger educational community.
Joe and I messaged back and forth over the last few years every once in a while. It was great to get encouraging words from him over e-mail or twitter and was thrilled when he showcased one of my own blogs on his website. What I admired most about Joe though was not only his advocacy for students in his classroom, but also his determination to use his role as a teacher to create a more just and equitable world for all. Joe constantly pointed out how the issues outside of our schools permeate the lives of students within them. As teachers, role models and community members we have a role in understanding how these impact students and how we can inspire our students to change the world.
At this time, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and students. I can't even begin to understand how those closest to him are feeling at this moment. As a fellow Albertan teacher, I vow to continue Joe's work in transforming Alberta Education into a more equitable place for all students and teachers.
I never got to have that beer with Joe, but I can make sure that his work, advocacy and love of learning will not be forgotten in Alberta.
You can do the same by learning and then sharing his work here -> http://www.joebower.org/