Joe Bower, a Red Deer teacher who used social media to express his passion about how to make education better, is now the focus of an outpouring of caring and condolence on that same social media following his sudden death.
Bower, who was only 37, passed away surrounded by loved ones on Sunday after he suffered a heart attack on Dec. 28. He leaves behind his wife Tamara and children Kayley and Sawyer, as well as an extended family that has pioneer roots here.
He also leaves behind a global community — comprised of students, educators, politicians and many others — who knew him personally and/or followed his thought-provoking and inspiring blog “For the love of learning” located online at joebower.org.
Bower was also an author, and public speaker at events such as teacher conventions.
“Today we lost a great man, a husband, father, son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend, and educator. A passionate man who was committed to creating a better world. Joe Bower’s passion will be his legacy. He has touched the lives of so many and I am honored to have him as my big brother. The outpouring of love and support has meant the world to us. Keep sharing your stories and keep Joe in your heart today and always,” his sister Jennifer Bower-Hannotte said on Facebook on Sunday evening.
Hundreds of responses began to be posted on social media, especially Twitter, when it first became known he had a major heart attack, and subsequently when his death was announced. Tributes continued to pour in on Monday.
Bower had most recently been teaching in the Red Deer Public School District’s Alternative School Programs. He joined the district in 2000 and had taught mainly in middle school.
“The staff and the students where he worked are tremendously in grief today,” public schools superintendent Stu Henry said Monday.
“Joe was a terrific educator. He was really active on social media sharing his education philosophy,” Henry said.
“He had a really strong vision of what he thought a classroom should be like and how it should run.”
Henry said he had never seen any other teacher reach out on social media the way Bower did. For the most part, Bower’s view on education “was a message of hope,” said Henry.
“Everyone in our district is thinking about Joe’s family right now.”
Some of Bower’s philosophy — which focused on the student first — rejected the traditional classroom approach of homework, testing and grading.
In his last blog, posted Dec. 17, the popular teacher wrote about his views on testing and grading students.
“The most important things that children learn in school are not easily measured. The most meaningful things in life may, in fact, be immeasurable. The good news, however, is that the most important and meaningful things that we want children to learn and do in school can always be observed and described. This is precisely why it is so important to remember that the root word for assessment is assidere, which literally means ‘to sit beside.’ Assessment is not a spreadsheet — it’s a conversation. Tests and grades should be replaced with projects and performances collected in portfolios.
“When student learning is made visible to parents through portfolios, blogs, student-led conferences and parent-teacher interviews, then they are not nearly so desperate for less meaningful information such as tests and grades.”
Some Facebook postings following Bower’s death:
Alberta Teachers’ Association — “We are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of an outstanding Alberta teacher, a committed Association volunteer and a passionate advocate for quality public education. We extend our deepest condolences to his family.”
Sam Wright — “One of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”
Debbie McKinlay — “I graduated from the middle school program with Joe. He taught my oldest daughter Language Arts in Grade 8. Maybe taught isn’t the right word… he absolutely inspired her by taking the time to challenge her academically. I feel so sad.”
Some Twitter postings:
Greg Clark, Alberta Party leader — (Bower was one the party’s board of directors) “Alberta is a lesser place without @joe_bower (his Twitter account). You gave so much to #abed (Alberta Education), your family, your province and to education worldwide #RIPJoe”
Chris Wejr, a fellow education blogger and teacher from B.C. — “He stood up to so many for what is right, meaningful… And truly important for kids. Did this in his personal life2”
Ira Socol (U.S. blogger) — “I will remember Joe Bower (from my earliest Twitter days) for his consistent humanity.”
George Couros — (educator and author from Edmonton) “He has had such an impact on the lives of so many. He will be sorely missed.”
Thomas Lukaszuk — (former Progressive Conservative MLA) “Alberta lost a great educator. Such loss is not only felt now, but for generations to come.”
Steve Merredew — (local educator and coach) “We lost a good one, whose heart was truly many sizes too large. I pledge2continue @joe_bower work for better #abed & more equitable society.”
One of the most re-tweeted items on Bower’s death on Monday was something he himself had tweeted recently: “Want to collect data on how children are learning? Know them. Watch them. Listen to them. Talk *with* them. Sit with them. Be with them.”
Bower’s Twitter account began trending on Twitter after his death.