In Homage to Joe Bower, The Teacher from Red Deer

13 January, 2016

The night of January 3, Joe Bower, a teacher from Alberta, Canada, died of a sudden heart attack, a few days after his 37th birthday.

Too early, inexplicably, tragically. Still, the light and inspiration Joe radiated will far outlast him.  His death is a tragedy for the family, friends, students and colleges who were close to him. But it also moved many people to express their deep mourning for this special person – a person who worked to not only create better schools but also a better world. Joes work, writings and his blog demonstrated his courage in single-handedly taking on the system  and challenging the status quo. It also inspired many teachers around the world.

Members of this Chair‘s work, his fellow speakers and other participants in a conference in Barcelona in December 2014 had known Joe for only a few days. But we all immediately knew what a jewel was amongst us. His talk was so wonderfully down to earth and practical in application. In fact, it was less a speech and more of a conversation with the audience who he so naturally engaged with his logic and thinking processes – and led to joint conclusions. It was a real joy to watch him capturing attention, empathising with his audience and directing this academic forum as if it were a high-school class session! Clearly, here was a high-calibre pedagogue, a real master.

Cena bona

But this alone does not make a great teacher. Love and respect for children, compassion for their personal struggles and achievements, for their pain and joy – these were the qualities which made him great. As Cathy Davidson wrote, he set the bar for humanity and for our profession as educators sky high.

Joe’s human qualities, his profound honesty and his modesty are revealed by little details. He told the conference that he was not born a good teacher; in fact, he had started out a terrible teacher! On being asked why it was so difficult to get in contact with him, he confessed that when he received the invitation to come to Barcelona as a keynote speaker, he thought that was a (bad) joke and he had deleted the letter! And after all, how he could just leave his 126 students and go to Barcelona?

In his honour we have decided to share these notes and photographs of the conference where Joe so captured our admiration.

We also want to share some videos of his intervention during the X International Seminar:

His fellow speakers sent us their tributes to his memory.

I am shocked to get this awful news. There are not many people like Joe. He will be much missed. How dreadful for his family. Brenda Gourley, UK

I just learned of this from Graham and my heart is aching for him, for his family and loved ones, and for educators everywhere who were inspired by him.  His passionate concern for young people as human beings learning the world was a model to all of us.  His righteous anger at a system of formal education that did not respect the contribution and each of every child were inspiring.  He set the bar for humanity and for our profession as educators sky high.  His legacy is our aspiration to be better, and his loss is keenly felt by any and all of us who knew him, directly or indirectly. Cathy Davidson, CUNY, US

Joe was a wonderful, dedicated educator who was as committed to his students as anyone I have ever known!  Helen A. Soule, Partnership for 21st Century Learning, US

...extremely shocked to hear of the sudden and tragic death of Joe Bower. I did not know Joe well personally, having only spent a few (very entertaining) days with him at a conference in Barcelona in 2014. However, his huge reputation preceded him – a blogger of international repute, an inspirational grassroots educator and a fantastic role model for aspiring teacher activists. Joe was a great guy, and an inspiration to us all. He will be sadly missed. 
Mark Priestley, University of Stirling, UK

It was a privilege to meet Joe, hear his ideas and become more familiar with them through his blog. They remain a testament.

Sincere condolences to the family and friends Rest in peace, Joe.

Emma Kiselyova and Albert Sangra

UNESCO Chair, UOC, Barcelona

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