January 4, 2016 2:44 pm
Updated: January 4, 2016 10:05 pm

Educators mourn sudden death of popular Red Deer teacher Joe Bower

WATCH ABOVE: Tributes are pouring in from around the world for an Alberta teacher who passed away this weekend. Kendra Slugoski reports.


EDMONTON — He wasn’t a fan of homework or traditional testing and championed a more hands-on teaching style. Now condolences are pouring in for the Red Deer teacher who died suddenly over the weekend.

Joe Bower, 37, had a fatal heart attack on Friday, according to his sister Jennifer Bower-Hannotte.

“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,” she wrote on Facebook.

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Bower worked for the Red Deer Public School District for 15 years. Most recently he ran an alternative education program for students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The district sent out a statement Monday, describing Bower as a “passionate and committed educator who was a strong advocate for students and teachers.”

“Joe will be deeply missed, however, he will be fondly remembered and his legacy will endure.”

In an email to Global News, one of Bower’s former students called him “an inspirational teacher” and recalled how he taught the class how to change a tire.

Scroll down to read messages from his former students.

The central Alberta teacher advocated for making the public school system more progressive and student-centred. He shared his beliefs on his blog for the love of learning, which garnered followers all over the world.

“Joe’s courage inspired me to be more outspoken myself,” said fellow teacher and friend Kelly Aleman. ” “He just did what he believed he needed to do for children. He was always thinking first and foremost about the children that he worked for and he was unapologetic about that approach.”

He thought teachers needed to stop grading and schools needed to stop chasing high test scores.

Bower believed students should experience their successes and failures, not as reward and punishment, but as information.

Bower also believed teachers should “be less like judges-in-waiting who do things to students to garnish compliance and more like safe and caring allies where students are provided a learning environment where work with children in an effort to nourish their natural curiosity and desire to learn.”

“He had a saying that he liked to say all the time,” said Aleman. “Assessment is not a spreadsheet; it’s a conversation.”

“He was really a passionate advocate for authentic assessment.”

Bower’s passionate quest to help students be their best made a huge impact on many educators around the world.

“The education world lost a warrior,” wrote Pernille Ripp, a teacher in Wisconsin who shared his beliefs. “A true trailblazer who in his sharing and speaking up gave me the courage and the guts to make my teaching better.”

George Couros, division principal for Parkland School Division, also wrote a blog post about his late friend.

“Joe and I had so many conversations, and although we did not agree on everything, he was always open to learning.

“We would push each other, and when you have people like that in your life, you can only come out better.”

Bower’s Twitter account was trending on Sunday afternoon. News of his death elicited condolences from dozens of friends, colleagues and politicians.

Did Joe Bower ever teach you? If so, Global News would like to hear your stories. Email edmonton@globalnews.ca.

Message from Jenna:


My name’s Jenna Hendricks. Mr. Bower taught me middle school from 2005/6-2008/9 at West Park Middle School. He was also my volleyball coach.

I remember Mr. Bower had an alternate way of teaching that just worked so much better with me. He was such an inspirational teacher and I learned so much from him. He also taught the class one day to change a tire! (Haha).

During volleyball season I was in charge of making a warm up CD. He requested two songs: “Black Betty- Ram Jam” and ” Joy to the World – Three Dog Night.” Every time those songs came on he would get so fired up and it was awesome to see a coach so involved. Every time I hear those songs on the radio I always picture him stomping his feet and clapping his hands getting into it! It was so awesome! I remember whenever we were on the bench there was no way we were allowed be quiet. He would always start chanting a song and would cheer loud with us.

I also remember Mr. Bower teaching us the basic volleyball spike. Which I later on played college volleyball for Olds College.

I can’t thank Mr. Bower for what he had taught me over the years and the great and fun experiences with him. He will truly be missed. Thank you so much Mr.Bower.

Jenna Hendricks

Message from Kayla:

Early Monday morning I read the news that Mr. Bower had passed. I was in shock as I got ready to take on the day, as the shock wore off the sadness kicked in. I thought, ‘He was so young. How could this happen? He was so full of life.’

Mr. Bower taught me at West Park Middle School 12 years ago. He did more than teach social studies. He taught everyone that they had a chance, a chance to grow and be someone. He cared for every one of his students, even if you were a pain most of the time. He thought everyone had potential.

When I started college, I was not sure where I was suppose to go. I had no idea where my little spot in this world was meant to be. I went back to West Park to pick up my younger brother and by accident stumbled into his office. We spoke for a good 45 minutes, he put confidence in my soul and showed me a path that looked bright.

I am now two years into my career and have never looked back. I give him credit for who and what I have become today.

Thank you.


Message from Taha:

To whom it may concern,

My name is Taha Gargum. I am currently a student studying at U of A. I had Mr. Bower for a full year during my Grade 8 year, which would incidentally be his last year teaching at West Park Middle School.

I remember it being the first day and walking into his class with my friends, and just by looking at the desk arrangement – with all the desks being around the centre of the classroom as opposed to normal structure of having the desks in columns and rows – that I was in for a different time… an enlightening time.

You could tell from the very first day that he loved talking about learning. My friends and I would often joke around with other students in other classes saying: “In Mr. Bower’s class we learn about learning!” His passion towards innovating the educational system, to go away from students being evaluated just by numbers to actual student growth was inspiring.

If there’s one word that would encapsulate Mr. Bower’s relationship with his students, it would be respect. He respected his students, he respected what we were actually interested in, he respected that we have dreams and he let us tailor our learning to help achieve those dreams. He would sit down and talk to us as actual people, and listen to us as actual people. He respected us, and in return we all respected him dearly.

Thank you for your time,

Taha Gargum

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