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The Incredible Legacy of Joe Bower (@joe_bower)

By January 4, 20166 Comments

The Incredible Legacy of Joe Bower (@joe_bower)

As I sit here at this computer, I am overwhelmed by emotion at the death of Joe Bower. I can’t imagine what his family is going through right now. I’m at a loss of words about what to say. I’m not a close friend or family member and yet . . . I just wanted to point out that Joe Bower had a huge impact on my life and on my teaching. My students and my own children are better off as a result. (If you haven’t read his blog, go check it out) 

I still remember one of the earliest conversations I had with Joe Bower. I tweeted something to the effect of, “Schools should be preparing kids for the future while reaching them where they are currently at.”

He tweeted back with, “Why should schools prepare kids for the future?”

Initially, I was bothered that he was disrupting the ultra-retweetable echo chamber.

That began an hour-long conversation about motivation, assessment, and the purpose of education. Over the next three or four years, we would go back and forth like this often. Each time, he would push my thinking. There were moments when I had a hard time with it. Joe spoke with clarity and conviction and he was more concerned with the well-being of children than with the comfort of teachers.

Over time, our conversations shifted from blog posts on Cooperative Catalyst and eventually into Google Hangouts. I still remember the time when, in the middle of a Skype, he said, “Nuance is a good thing but it isn’t an excuse to not take a side on an issue.”

Joe Bower wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. He was a man of conviction and courage and sometimes that conviction would make me uncomfortable or even angry. But, over time, I realized that there was something else to him.


It’s the kind of thing I realized as we became friends on Facebook and I caught a glimpse into Joe Bower as person. I realized that he didn’t just speak about these ideas about putting children first. He lived them – whether it was as a blogger, as an advocate, as a teacher, as a coach, as a teacher, or as a father. He believed that childhood was short and that children ought to experience joy and autonomy.

I still remember a conversation with him when he shared what it was like to work with children in a hospital. There was a genuine tenderness and compassion that we need more of in this world.

I never got the chance to meet Joe Bower in person. I was hoping I would run into him this spring when I’m up in Alberta. But if I did see him, I’d tell him thank you. Thank you for pushing my thinking and changing my practice. Thank you for advocating so boldly for children even when it made people angry or uncomfortable. Thank you for changing my mindset about teaching and fatherhood.

I’m not sure if Joe ever knew how many lives he changed out of his relentless advocacy for a more student-centered approach to education. But he will be sorely missed in our community.

The last tweet he pinned to his Twitter profile was a bold reminder of everything that matters in education:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Lovely tribute, thanks for writing this.

  • Xeryfyn says:

    Ah. You found the words I am struggling to say. Thank you for this post.

  • gericoats says:

    Wow. I have followed Joe for years, as you said he challenged me to think differently and my practice improved as a result. I am deeply saddened to read this post as it is the first of this news. Again, wow. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful man who helped teachers be better from a man who helps teachers be better.

  • blocht574 says:

    Thanks for sharing John, I feel similarly. I was shocked to hear of Joe's passing yesterday.

  • Stephen says:

    Love this: "Nuance is a good thing but it isn't an excuse to not take a side on an issue." We need more people passionately taking a side… the side of children and learning.

    Thanks for posting this. Joe's voice lives on in his writing. Huge condolences to his family.

  • mrsbingley says:

    Thank you for sharing this, John. I was so privileged to live in the same province as Joe, to go to his sessions and speak with him at conferences. His gentleness was something that was so apparent. He will be greatly missed.

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